Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Question And Answer: Breakfast

          I’ve been working in the fields of exercise and nutrition for over 15 years.  I see many of my own private clients each day and a number of doctors in Boston send me out to meet with their patients for weight loss and disease risk reduction.  I’ve noticed that certain questions tend to come up time and time again and I thought it would be a nice feature to answer some of them for you on this Blog.  Today’s topic is breakfast.

Question:  Skipping breakfast is a good way to decrease the day’s calories and lose weight, right?

Answer: Absolutely not!  When you skip breakfast you switch on a mechanism that will increase weight gain, not weight loss.    You must remember that we evolved in times of famine and food scarcity.  To survive, humans had to develop ways around these tough times in our evolution.  If you finish dinner at 7:00 PM and then wake up, skip breakfast and eat lunch at noon, you have gone 17 hours without eating.  This tells the body that there is a lack of food around and the body makes 2 relevant adjustments.  1) It slows down your metabolism. 2) It preserves your body fat and will burn muscle for energy.  Neither of these will help you lose weight.  Eat a nice sized breakfast every single day.

Question: I’m just not hungry in the morning, doesn’t that mean that I don’t need to eat?

Answer: Not at all.  You will develop a hunger for breakfast once you get into the routine.  If you have to force yourself at first, so be it.

Question: Is it alright to drink coffee in the morning?

Answer: Absolutely.  Feel free to drink a cup or 2 of coffee each day, regular or decaf.  Recent research suggests that coffee drinkers have a slightly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, so it may actually be good for you.   However, make sure you don’t add sugar or artificial sweetener to your coffee (a little milk or cream is ok).

Question: Can I do smoothies for breakfast?

Answer: I’m not a huge fan.  #1) I like real food in general, I don’t like powders or supplements for protein.  #2) Most smoothies include adding whole fruits and blending them to a puree.  This separates the sugar in the fruit from the fiber and will cause a greater spike in blood sugar and insulin than if you ate the whole fruit as nature intended.  This will have a negative effect on subsequent hunger and body weight.  A simple breakfast like nuts, fruit and a few slices of turkey breast takes no more time to make than a smoothie and will better stabilize your blood sugar.

Question: I do my cardio in the morning, should I eat before or after?

Answer:  This depends entirely on you.  Some people can workout on an empty stomach and feel fine (like me).  I don’t eat before my cardio if I do it first thing in the morning.  If you feel really hungry and weak without breakfast, I would suggest splitting your breakfast in two parts and eat half before your workout and the other half after.  I don’t think it is a good idea to workout on a full stomach.


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5 comments:

  1. What counts as breakfast? For example, does it count if I wait until I'm at the office to eat, or should I eat within a half hour of waking up?

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  2. Thanks for the comment TNJ,
    My general rule is within an hour of waking up. If you are pressed for time, grab some slices of turkey breast, an apple and a handful of nuts. This is a quick and easy blood sugar stabilizing breakfast that you can eat in your car on the way to work. I often am out of the house at 5:30 AM to see my first client and I use that strategy a lot.

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  3. I agree with your comment on CalorieLab as to weight and death rate studies. I do not agree with the need for eating breakfast. I think with the overnight fast, one will burn more fat if they exercise in the AM before breaking the fast with breakfast. Of course it could just be a surgeon thing due to time factors and my adapting to that.

    Dr. J

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  4. Thanks for the comment Dr. J.,
    It makes sense from a physiological perspective that skipping breakfast would increase fat burning due to overnight glycogen depletion. However, I have found in my practice that clients are far more successful reducing body fat if they include breakfast every single day. From a research perspective, 78% of participants in the National Weight Control Registry (a Brown University Medical School weight loss cohort) ate breakfast each day. Also a lot of my clients will get quite weak with an intense AM cardio workout without eating but that is certainly an individual thing.

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  5. Thank you, Tom! I'm familiar with the Registry, and support your attention to the individual needs of your clients.

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