Breakfast and the Brain
Updated: May 14, 2020
It’s a Monday morning, your faulty alarm failed to wake your deep sleep, and your eyes open to the sound of Mom’s voice yelling why you aren’t awake. You check the time – only 15 minutes until you need to leave the house for school. It’s a cold and dark morning and the last thing anyone wants to do is go to school, but there is no choice in the matter, so you reluctantly jump out of bed, get dressed, and grab your backpack before running out the door. Teeth are brushed are clothes are on, and you are proud you made it. You may not realize it in the moment, but you forgot the most important part of the morning: breakfast.
Mornings are stressful and everyone can relate to this common routine where everyone is frazzled and running out the door. While breakfast may be the easiest meal to skip – maybe you’re under a time crunch, lazy in the mornings, or simply not hungry – this article will hopefully make you realize just how critical this is to our success. By just taking 5 extra minutes to get food in our stomachs or even grabbing something to eat in transit, we can help our bodies wake up, increase metabolism, and provide the boost we need to have a successful day.
To begin, the word “breakfast” isn’t just arbitrary – it stands for “breaking” the “fast” from not eating overnight. While we are sleeping, our bodies – especially our brains – are still incredibly active. So when we go from dinner to the time we wake up without eating a real meal, our brains think of this as fasting; just because we are sleeping does not mean are bodies can “turn off”. So whether or not you are aware, when you wake up, your body is both dehydrated and hungry. We need a way to tell ourselves to wake up and prepare for the day and breakfast is the best way to do so. In fact, while drinks with caffeine can be especially beneficial for jumpstarting the day, even just a glass of water can make a big difference in waking ourselves up. After going all night without liquids, we need water to cancel out the dehydration, thus boosting our energy.
Not only is breakfast important for helping ourselves wake up, but it plays a major role in our brain activity and how satisfied we are throughout the day. By eating a morning meal, we are actually able to regulate our brain’s chemical signaling when it comes to overeating and cravings. Not only this, but it allows our bodies to increase metabolism and break down food as it comes throughout the rest of the day. This goes back to an earlier article I wrote on metabolism, which explains everything in more detail, so I urge you to read that as well. But in short, if we don’t eat breakfast, our bodies go too long fasting and essentially “lose trust” in when the next meal will come. And as a result, when our first meal comes later in the day through lunch, our body chooses to hold onto that food instead of breaking it down. This can lead to a slower metabolism and actually more unintended weight gain overtime. Even more, we all know when we go too long without food, our cravings only increase (hint: why super strict dieting always ends in a binge of desserts), so research shows that people who skip breakfast have a much harder time regulating unhealthy cravings and tend to overeat throughout the day. The CDC even posted recent research showing that the adolescents who skip breakfast tend to struggle the obesity and weight gain.
If all of that isn’t enough to convince you why breakfast is so important, there is also research dopamine levels (think: happy chemicals our brain produces) tend to be higher in those who regularly eat a morning meal. Part of what happens we eat in general is our brains produce dopamine, so by eating a regular meal in the morning and not extending the overnight fast to lunch, our body can more easily regulate our necessary brain chemicals like dopamine. This may help you better regulate moods and mental health.
So not that you realize just how critical it is to eat in the mornings, let’s talk about what those foods could be.
While anything is better than nothing, not all breakfasts are made equally. To get the best results in terms of boosting energy and lowering food cravings later on, you want to aim for a combination of both protein and carbohydrates. The protein helps increase how long that food will keep you full, while simultaneously decreasing your cravings for high-fat and unhealthy foods. And the carbs kickstart your brain and bodies by providing the currency our bodies can use to get energy. Whether it is a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, eggs and toast, fruit and yogurt, a smoothie with protein powder, or something else, your morning meal will help your body perform better. And for the people who wake up without feeling hungry, the best thing to do is start small. You don’t have to eat a full meal to get the results you need at first, so start by just eating something that is appetizing and work your way towards getting both protein and carbohydrates over time. Whatever you eat, just know that you are setting your day up for success more than you consciously know.
The bottom line is that by ensuring you get something in your bodies within an hour or two of waking up, you are able to boost morning energy levels, influence your metabolism, and have an overall easier time controlling food cravings and mental health. In the same way that an athlete would never train without proper fuel, we don’t want to put our bodies and brains under the stress of school or even regular day activities without giving ourselves the energy we need.
On another note, thanks for such a successful photo campaign last week! If you didn't see it, look out for a post featuring all those who participated! We had a record number of site visits and followers through social media - thank you for the tremendous support. Together, we can continue to make a BIG difference!