Think you'll skip breakfast this morning so you can splurge on holiday goodies later and avoid some weight gain? Not so fast.
"This strategy invariably backfires," says David Katz, MD, associate clinical professor of public health and medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of The Way to Eat (Sourcebooks, 2002). "It triggers the 'primal fear of hunger response.' Throughout most of human history, being without food was a threat to survival, so when food was plentiful, we'd overcompensate for the lean times. It's built into our genes. If you go without eating, particularly around the holidays, and you wind up in front of a sumptuous spread, in the span of an hour or less, you'll eat more calories than you should have had all day long."
Eating a good breakfast does more than cut the risk of bingeing later on — it revs up your metabolism, provides energy for your body and brain, and is a key strategy for weight loss and maintenance.
"As the word implies, it really is breaking a fast when the body wakes up empty," says Leslie Bonci, a registered dietitian and director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Among participants in the National Weight Control Registry, an ongoing study of more than 4,000 people who've lost a minimum of 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year, 80 percent are regular breakfast eaters. Meanwhile, other research shows breakfast skippers have 4.5 times the risk for obesity.
A study at the University of Texas at El Paso found that people who ate a substantial breakfast consumed an average of 100 fewer calories a day than when they didn't eat breakfast. Though that may not sound like much, over a year it could mean a 10-pound weight loss.
Breakfast also seems to blunt the effects of hormones that contribute to weight gain. A 2002 Welsh study found an association between eating breakfast cereal and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that stokes appetite and promotes dangerous fat accumulation around the belly.
So what should you eat for breakfast? Experts agree it's best to include lean protein and fiber. The body has to work harder to digest protein than carbs, so it burns more calories in the process. And because a protein and fiber-rich breakfast is digested more slowly than a carbs-only meal, blood sugar levels stay steady, so you don't get hungry as quickly. In a 12-year study of more than 74,000 women, those who ate the most fiber were half as likely to gain weight as those who ate the least. Starting the day with fiber even holds blood sugar and insulin levels steady regardless of what you eat later. And, of course, fiber has other benefits, such as lowering the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and colon cancer.
12 Breakfasts for Your Diet
When you start your day with breakfast, you're less likely to overeat later on. Skip the doughnuts and white-bread toast in favor of breakfasts like these, recommended by registered dietitian Leslie Bonci. They all include lean protein and fiber, which are digested more slowly than sugary, refined-carb foods, so they keep you satisfied and healthy. And they all have fewer than 400 calories, which will help keep you feeling full without gaining weight.
Apple Brown Betty
Apple, cored and sliced, microwaved on high for 3 minutes, then topped with 1 tablespoon golden raisins, 1 tablespoon chopped almonds, and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, with 8 ounces light vanilla yogurt
Nutritional Information: protein: 12.2g; carbs: 47.6g; fat: 15.6g; sugar: 36g; fiber: 6.4g
One egg white, scrambled, on a whole wheat English muffin with 1 ounce Canadian bacon and 1 slice low-fat cheese
Nutritional Information: protein: 21g; carbs: 28g; fat: 4.8g; sugar: 6g; fiber: 4.4g
8 ounces light yogurt mixed with 2 tablespoons nuts and 1/2 cup berries
Nutritional Information: protein: 17.8g; carbs: 56g; fat: 17.8g; sugar: 45.7g; fiber: 4.4g
Steel-cut (or regular or instant) oatmeal made with 1/2 cup skim milk, 2 tablespoons nuts, and 1 tablespoon molasses
Nutritional Information: protein: 11.5g; carbs: 50g; fat: 8g; sugar: 19g; fiber: 6.1g
Smoked Salmon Sandwich
Whole-grain bagel topped with 2 ounces smoked salmon (or 2 ounces canned salmon), 2 tablespoons low-fat cream cheese, and 2 tomato slices
Nutritional Information: protein: 21g; carbs: 42g; fat: 8.7g; sugar: 1.6g; fiber: 2.9g
Two slices of Canadian bacon and 1/4 cup shredded cheddar in a folded-over corn tortilla, heated in a small dry pan until cheese melts, plus 1 small apple
Nutritional Information: protein: 25g; carbs: 32g; fat: 7.5g; sugar: 15g; fiber: 4.3g
Apple with Peanut Butter
1 apple sliced and spread with 2 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
Nutritional Information: protein: 8.4g; carbs: 25.7g; fat: 16g; sugar: 16.5g; fiber: 5.1g
Waffles and Yogurt
2 whole wheat waffles with 4 ounces low-fat fruit yogurt
Nutritional Information: protein: 9.4g; carbs: 49g; fat: 3.4g; sugar: 25.5g; fiber: 6g
4 ounces skim or soy milk blended with 4 ounces low-fat yogurt and 1/2 cup berries
Nutritional Information: protein: 9.6g; carbs: 46g; fat: 2.3g; sugar: 40.6g; fiber: 2g
Cereal and Fruit
3/4 cup bran flakes with 1 small banana, sliced, and 6 ounces skim milk
Nutritional Information: protein: 9.8g; carbs: 44.8g; fat: .65g; sugar: 34.5g; fiber: 5.2g
2 egg whites scrambled with 1 ounce low-fat cheese and 2 tablespoons salsa wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla
Nutritional Information: protein: 22.7g; carbs: 12g; fat: 7.4g; sugar: 0.4g; fiber: 1.2g
Apple with Cheese
1 apple with 2 ounces low-fat cheese
Nutritional Information: protein: 14.4g; carbs: 20g; fat: 4.2g; sugar: 14.3g; fiber: 4g