To breakfast or not to breakfast – this is the million dollar question, a topic that’s often highly debated in the health sphere.
I will admit it, I have never really been a breakfast person. Even as a teenager, I remember my mother chasing after me with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in the mornings so that I would at least not go to school on an empty stomach. Through my adult years I have had breakfast on and off, and in recent years, with the advent of the intermittent fasting trend (I will write a blog post about this soon!), I found the perfect excuse to skip this meal. Having said that, I have always recommended to my clients never to skip breakfast, especially for fertility, hormonal balance and for weight loss. But I’m only human and sometimes I don’t practise what we preach, right? *slaps own wrist*
There have been periods of time when I have woken up early to do a high intensity workout, had a coffee for breakfast and not eaten food until 11am because I was too busy. The fact that I was not hungry and actually felt ‘energised’ seemed to confirm my idea that I did not need breakfast. Little did I know that the reason I felt so ‘good’ was because I was running on adrenaline. And once I started to experience untoward symptoms like hair loss, weight gain around the middle and my thyroid function tanking, I quickly realised that my habits were contributing to these symptoms.
Today I’d like to explain why it’s important to eat first thing in the morning, and what a balanced breakfast looks like. But let me start by explaining about what happens overnight and in the morning with cortisol and liver glycogen.
The stress of darkness
In his book Generative Energy, Ray Peat writes that darkness not only increases the rise in our stress hormone cortisol, but also progressively damages the mitochondria (the cell organelles that generate most of our energy), which are then restored during the day. Falling glucose levels also signal for cortisol to rise, so if there is not enough glucose stored in the liver to take us through our nighttime fast, cortisol and adrenaline will be released and will cause us to wake up in the night (or give us nightmares).
Sleep minimises the increase of cortisol, however this hormone will still fluctuate during the night, depending on our glucose levels. Our blood levels of cortisol are usually higher in the morning, and tend to wane throughout the day. Cortisol rises quickly when we first awaken and continues to rise for about 60 minutes (this is often called ‘the awakening response’). By eating breakfast as soon as possible after waking up, we can blunt those cortisol levels and put our body in a more relaxed state. By further eating regularly throughout the day, we will keep our blood sugar levels stable, staving off any unnecessary adrenaline and cortisol spikes triggered by low blood sugar. Interestingly, eating regularly throughout the day will also have an impact on the quality of our sleep, which will in turn lower our body’s stress levels.
Furthermore, our stored glycogen in the liver (which is where our body gets its energy from) is usually very low in the morning. Without adequate glycogen stores we are also unable to convert thyroid hormone, which will in turn could lead to symptoms such as low energy and mood, weight gain, low body temperature, menstrual and fertility issues. By eating a good breakfast soon after waking, we are restoring our glycogen levels and energy levels which will help with blood sugar regulation throughout the day, and help our thyroid work optimally. Breakfast really does kickstart out metabolism!
Numerous studies have also shown that skipping breakfast is associated with more risk factors for disease, such as cardiovascular health, type 2 diabetes and even ‘all cause mortality’. One study even found that ‘Skipping breakfast is related to cardiovascular risk factors such as lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, and high serum total cholesterol.’ Skipping breakfast has also been associated with an increased risk of obesity. How? Prolonged periods of fasting – even just the overnight fast and avoidance of breakfast – can increase insulin resistance or increased insulin levels in the next meal consumed. This can further exacerbate stress in the body, which will have a knock-on effect on all other aspects of health (you can read more about stress and hormonal health here)
But I’m not hungry in the morning!
Hans Selye, the founder of the stress theory, noted that a well known symptom of stress was loss of appetite. A strong appetite is a sign of a healthy metabolism and digestive fire. If you don’t feel hungry in the morning, chances are you are running on adrenaline. And the only way to break this cycle is by eating. You can start small, for example a boiled egg and some fruit, until your appetite returns and you can have a larger meal. If you drink coffee, you should wait until after you have had some food to consume it, so as not to exacerbate the stress response of having caffeine on an empty stomach. I always advise my clients to have a protein and a carbohydrate for breakfast for optimal blood sugar balance (with some fat to aid satiety). I will admit, I had to force myself to eat breakfast in the mornings, and actually recruited my daughter who would remind me every morning ‘EAT YOUR BREAKFAST!’ I now wake up hungry, and really enjoy having freshly squeezed orange juice, some eggs and fruit and a milky coffee with sugar. Pure bliss! I am also a fan of non breakfast foods for breakfast, such as bone broth soups and leftovers from dinner the night before. But the freshly squeezed orange juice (with a pinch of salt to further help the adrenals) is the first thing that touches my lips in the morning and it feels glorious.
My favourite breakfast options:
- Scrambled eggs with some fresh fruit, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a milky coffee with collagen and sugar
- A slice of spelt sourdough bread with chicken liver pate’, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a milky coffee with collagen and sugar
- Stewed apples (with cinnamon, cloves and honey) with some greek yogurt, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a milky coffee with collagen and sugar
- Soup made with bone broth, a side of fruit, orange juice and coffee as above
And guess what? Within 4 weeks of eating breakfast regularly, changing my exercise routine to mid-morning (and only when I had the extra energy) as well as fuelling myself regularly through the day, my hair stopped falling out and my thyroid levels greatly improved.
Our modern lives are filled with stressors, and most of us are constantly on the go or have a million things going on in our heads at all time. We are bombarded by information 24/7, and this year more than ever we have so much going on around us. All of this ‘busy-ness’ requires energy from our body, and fuelling it correctly is the best way to make our bodies resilient to life’s stresses.
So tell me, are you a breakfast person or not? Are you struggling with any of the symptoms above and need some more tailored advice? I’d love to help! If you’re ready to feel empowered and back in control of your health, click here to book a free discovery call with me and let’s chat about how some bespoke diet and lifestyle changes can help you flourish.
Ray Peat ‘Generative Energy – Restoring the Wholeness of Life’
Eating patterns and type 2 diabetes risk in older women: breakfast consumption and eating frequency https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712552/
Association of Skipping Breakfast With Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality