Picture this: You get up in the morning and need to drive your car to work. But your gas tank is empty, so unfortunately you can't. Now picture yourself getting up and skipping breakfast. How far to you think you will get in your day? I love this analogy because obviously you can't run a car on empty, but most people don't understand that it's the same for our bodies.
Food is our fuel and if you want to start your day right you must eat. Without food it's harder to concentrate, you're more likely to be tired and cranky, and you're probably thinking about lunch way sooner than you should.
Why then do so many people have a zillion reasons for why they can't eat breakfast? Common excuses I hear include: not hungry, no time, don't like breakfast foods, and trying to lose weight. Honestly I can't accept any of those. If you aren't hungry, maybe it's because you ate too much food too late the night before or simply because it has become habit. No time? Set your alarm clock for 10 minutes earlier or don't hit the snooze button. Don't like breakfast food? Eat lunch food instead. Trying to lose weight? Skipping meals only make you hungrier and you will overeat later.
I typically tell my patients to eat within one hour of waking. I know for some people this truly is impossible, therefore I am a little flexible with this "rule" and say as soon as you can. But honestly, the longer you wait to eat, the hungrier you're likely to get, making you more likely to scarf down more than you should or eat poorly.
So what does a healthy breakfast look like? The ideal meal should include high-fiber carbohydrates for quick energy, lean protein that digests slowly to promote fullness, and some healthy fat for satiety. This breakfast combo should keep you satisfied for at least three hours. If it doesn't, and you feel hungrier after eating breakfast, then it's probably because you had too many carbs and not enough protein.
Some of my favorite, easy breakfast ideas are:
• One cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt, with a ½ cup of high-fiber cereal (minimum 3 grams fiber, and fiber grams should be higher than sugar grams) and a cup of blueberries.
• A whole-wheat English muffin with 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter and banana slices.
• One cup of high-fiber cereal (such as Kashi Go Lean or Puffins) with 1 cup nonfat milk, a sprinkle of almonds or walnuts, and ½ cup sliced strawberries.
• A half-cup of dry oats cooked (quick cooking, not instant) with 1 cup nonfat milk, a tablespoon of chia seeds, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and ¼ cup of ricotta or low-fat cottage cheese.
• Two slices of whole-wheat toast smeared with tofu cream cheese, topped with three scrambled egg whites and a tomato slice.
Now if you really aren't hungry when you wake up or simply "have no time," try these:
• One "granola" type bar (such as Luna, Kashi, or Kind).
• One hard-boiled egg and a banana.
• One cup Greek yogurt flavored with fruit.
• One whole-grain waffle with 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter.
• One cup low-fat or nonfat chocolate milk.
• One Mini Babybel cheese with an apple.
And again, if you loathe breakfast food, who says you can't eat lunch or dinner foods, such as a turkey, tuna, or egg-salad sandwich—all made with low-fat mayo on whole-wheat bread? Obviously the take-home message here is to EAT something.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.