You don't have to eat breakfast at home: when and what to have

When do you breakfast?

Do you prefer to snooze in rather than breakfast at home? Do you find it a hassle or hard to eat breakfast before you leave home?

Yes? You are not alone.

Research indicates that 30% of Australian consumers eat breakfast at a desk. Cars and cafes are two other common breakfast venues.

The very meaning of breakfast is changing.

Today’s breakfast for a growing number of people is ‘anything consumed before lunch’. Breakfast used to mean the first meal after waking. A meal break the overnight fast. Typically, it was an easy convenient meal eaten at home before heading off for the day.

IF your body’s true hunger and satiety control signals are working perfectly and you can be trusted not to override them, it is smart to allow those signals to decide not only the best time but how much to eat, The wall clock’s time and amount eaten may or may not vary from day to day and meal to meal.

Did you notice the big IF in that paragraph? Well here’s another.

IF you have dieted for a big part of your life or you have a medical history or taken medications that dictate a fixed eating pattern (e.g. insulin injections) your hunger-satiety signaling is probably corrupted and can’t be totally trusted.

Let me tell you a true story, a case study about Jay (not his real name*).

Jay leaves home early to miss the peak hour traffic that would turn his 30 minute trip into a 90 minute nightmare. The day starts with hot milky coffee sipped from a thermos mug that perches precariously in the drink holder on the car’s dash. Jay’s been doing this for five years now. He says he has no time for breakfast and the coffee takes him through to mid morning.

An annual staff medical check prompted his visit to me. The check revealed a weight gain of 6 kg in five years, raised blood pressure, cholesterol on the wrong side of healthy, and low vitamin D levels. A combo that he put down to his high stress job. A combo that I suspected was not helped by his early starts. Sure his coffee ‘took him through’ to mid morning but by then his hunger was out of control and he’d select a big brunch from a hotbox in the food court. If meetings were scheduled mid morning then the plate of biscuits magically stayed within arms’ reach. And after a big brunch, he was not hungry for lunch so he had no need to leave his desk for more food until 3 or 4 pm - about the same time his homeward drive would start. To survive the drive, he’d pick up a bag of crispy potato chips and chocolate bar from the fund-raising box and a double shot mugachino.

Do you see the domino effect emerging? By skipping breakfast, Jay fueled his mid morning hunger with life-sapping food. His next fuel-up was something easy to eat and drink on the way home - foods that I call high saturated fat energy bombs. The only sunlight he saw was through windows and unfortunately the particular wavelength of sunlight needed to activate vitamin D in the body can’t get through glass.

Jay quickly switched on to understand the problem but couldn’t work out a way to have breakfast and prevent the cascade of health-sapping food choices.

The solution proved very easy for him to do and within 2 months his cholesterol levels and blood pressure were improving and his weight had dropped almost 3 kg.

The solution? Eat a healthier breakfast at work as soon as he arrived before he started work. All he needed to do was keep a range of breakfast items at work or set up breakfast-to-go in the evening at home ready to grab on work mornings.

Whole fruit, plastic tubs of preserved fruits, wholegrain cereals, mini long-life milk cartons, sachets of porridge, pre-boiled eggs, bagged sliced bread, packed lean sliced meats, avocado, fresh corn cob, nut spreads, dried fruits and nuts featured.

Some of these items doubled up for meetings and drive-home snacks which meant he skipped the biscuits, chips and chocolate.

He found that his energy levels, concentration and creativity improved when he ate good quality, nourishing foods. He lost the hollow hunger that drove a desire to eat biscuits at meetings. He naturally shifted his lunchtime choices to energy-boosting sandwiches, wraps, cold meats and salad rather than mystery greasy hotbox food.

* name changed to protect privacy

End of case study

Where you breakfast and what you consume are as important timing.

Why is where important? Where doesn’t mean at home. Where simply means a place where you devote close to 100% of your attention to what enters your mouth. Down tools when you’re eating. All reading matter and screens closed. Newspaper, magazine, book, computer, phone, TV and internet closed. Close your eyes to focus on the task at hand - breakfast. Did you notice Jay ate before he started work?

Dashboard and desk dining are neither focused nor satisfying. Traffic or the tottering ‘to-do’ list take the focus away from eating. There’s a high chance you won’t recall how much you’ve had or whether you’ve eaten; you won’t be in touch with your body’s appetite-control signals.

With distracted eating, there’s also a risk you will eat too quickly and not bother to chew well, which may cause indigestion, and for some, ‘heartburn’ and reflux. Have you ever gulped down a partly chewed mouthful to answer a phone and felt the food catch uncomfortably on its way down the food pipe to the stomach?

Help your body out; digestion starts in the mouth when chewed food is mixed with salivary juices.

What about timing? Although time of day is not so critical, when you leave it too long or late to break-the-fast, extreme hunger will cloud your decisions about the quality and amount you choose to break-the-fast. You will overeat.

How much time you take to eat is also something to consider. It’s a jostle between haste and taste. Slow down to taste and appreciate your food but not so slow that you keep picking to empty an unfinished plate especially if your brain and body are already hinting that ‘enough is enough’.

Whether you eat breakfast before your busy day starts is ultimately up to you, as is what you choose to eat and drink.

The best advice is to think and plan ahead with these goals in mind.

Make sure nourishing high quality foods are available. It doesn’t have to be traditional breakfast-style foods such as cereal, toast and eggs. It can be any health-giving, nourishing food.

If you leave food choice up to impulse and genuine hunger, it is likely that you will have no real choice and you will make some poor decisions, eat more than you need and end up in a less healthy position than you need to be in.

Ideally, set aside a genuine block of time (break time) to eat without distraction or interruption when you decide it is time to break-the-fast.