As a health coach, new clients come to me stumped by breakfast. They worry about what and how much to eat. They experience a kind of “healthy breakfast” pressure driven by research stating breakfast is not only THE most important meal of the day, but skip it and you risk lower performance on the job, increased risk of cholesterol, heart disease, weight gain and other undesirable health consequences. Interestingly, much of this research has come under fire recently due to bias (think Quaker Oats funding research trials on oatmeal). The cherry on top of the breakfast conundrum comes in the form of media-driven Paleo and high protein diet trends. High protein is our latest nutritional fix-all, only metabolically, it doesn’t fix all. No wonder my clients struggle with this meal. I struggled with this meal.
Full disclosure: I don’t like “breakfast.” As a kid, I hated breakfast. After years on the breakfast battlefield with my Mom, she finally caved and I had a chocolate drink every morning from age 10 until I moved out. I don’t believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day, they’re ALL important. I like quiet in the morning (and that includes inside my own head), chewing, or worse, the sound of a blender, is torture. Furthermore, breaking my fast with anything high protein leaves me ravenous and exhausted…all day! Paleo is a terrible idea for a mixed metabolic type like me. So, I understand the breakfast dilemma. To help you create a healthy morning routine and get you to your next, most important meal of the day, here are a few tips.
The only steadfast, break-your-fast rule: Have a full glass of water upon waking. It stimulates the digestive system, rehydrates you after hours of sleep and primes your metabolic system to burn calories efficiently. Begin there.
Starting your engine: Most people do best when they put something in their stomach (in addition to coffee) within the first hour upon waking. Eating within 30-60 minutes of waking is critical for people who are hypoglycemic, diabetic, have hypothyroidism or are trying to lose weight. If you’re drinking coffee all morning without eating, it’s a sure fire way to start packing on the pounds AND put yourself at risk for Syndrome X (aka metabolic syndrome or prediabetes) and diabetes. It’s just not worth it. Find something you can put in the furnace. For me, a summer breakfast starts with a cup of fresh berries between 30 and 60 minutes after I wake. I follow that up with a handful of raw cashews and sunflower seeds when the crunching ban in my head has been lifted. Find your blood sugar sweet spot, don’t wait till you get “hangry” (hungry and angry…trust me, not your best look), light headed or ravenous before you eat something.
Quality and Quantity Count: Metabolically speaking, there are 3 types of people. Some people feel better with more protein, some tolerate and burn carbs very efficiently, some folks are combo types. Pay attention to how you feel when you eat a meal that’s 50% protein, 40% and 30%. Which makes you feel best, digestively, energetically, mentally? That’s one way to know how to balance your plate and eat right for your metabolic type. If you are a breakfast eater, generally speaking, women do well with 300-400 calories in the morning, men with 500. Again, get to know what works best for you. If you’re a breakfast skipper (like me) have a little something (anything) that’s healthy and go from there.
Step outside the box. Processed breakfast cereals don’t exist in parts of the world where people are the healthiest and live the longest. If you’re a cereal eater, find one that includes ingredients still in their original form. Muesli, granola and oatmeal are great examples. Foods processed into stars, hearts and clovers, while magically delicious, don’t offer much in the nutritional pro column. Breakfast can be a sandwich, leftovers from the night before, a salad. In Turkey, it’s a type of feta cheese, hard boiled eggs, flatbread and olives. In Thailand, there are about 19 “traditional” options for the morning meal. There’s no rule stating your breakfast has to come out of a box. Take the “most important meal of the day” breakfast pressure off the table. If you pay attention to how you operate best, and open up your mind and your fridge, the possibilities are endless.