More Nutrition Confusion: Skip Breakfast?

If you forget to feed me breakfast, you’d better hide your sandwich.

Skip breakfast and feel more mental clarity, lose fat better, live longer?  Huh?!  Haven’t we all been told that people who eat breakfast supposedly live longer.  I also read a recent study that found men to be 20% more likely to develop diabetes if they are habitual breakfast skippers.  I also have believed – based on studies and my own experience – that skipping breakfast does NOT make my head clearer, but instead makes it hard to focus.

But here I am, looking at an article in my husband’s latest Men’s Journal making a case for regular fasting, every day or several times a week for time periods of 24 hours, plus or minus.  “Skip breakfast, feel better”, the magazine cover teases.

Proponents claim that you will burn more fat by using ketones for fuel instead of carbohydrates.  Some of them even recommend exercising in this state of temporary starvation.

I must admit that my brain started bouncing back and forth between these two very different viewpoints, until I stepped back a little to see the big picture – always a much more valuable outlook.

How the science will shake out on the topic is yet to be revealed.  There are studies and experts on both sides.  What I know is that any of the proposed methods suggested in the article would be very difficult for any of my weight loss clients, as well as for myself.

The methods used by those who were interviewed for the article are:

1.  Mark Mattson (“The Alzheimer’s Expert”):  No breakfast or lunch Monday through Friday, while working out 4 of those days.  (My note:  Most people I know binge when they go this long without food, with or without exercise.)

2. John Olson (“The NASA Guy”):   ” . . . normal diet on all days except Tuesday and Wednesday.  Then I limit myself to about 600 calories per day . . . . ”  (My note:  Talk about setting yourself up for a binge and food obsession!)

3.  Valter Longo (“The Cancer Expert”):  “I don’t eat lunch – that’s how I keep my weight in place.  My diet is mostly vegan with low protein.”  (My note:  You keep your weight in place by eating fewer calories than you burn.)

4. Brad Pilon (“Intermittent-Fasting Guru”):  “The way to make fasting work for the masses is to do 24-hour fasts.  It’s easy to remember:  ‘I stopped eating at 2pm today, and I can start again at 2pm tomorrow.’  My program is composed of two 24-hour fasts a week . . . . ”  (My note:  Really?  This is a fast for the masses?  It may be easy to remember when to eat, but how easy is it to do that twice every week?!)

5.  Mark Sisson (“The Paleo Guy”):  Most days, I simply have a compressed eating window.  I eat two meals a day, generally between 12pm and 7pm.  Since I train at 9:30 most mornings, I train in a fasted state and don’t eat for a few hours afterward.”  (My note:  This would probably be easier for me to do than the other methods mentioned, although still far from easy.  I think many people would still be prone to overeating after fasting until noon, unless they consistently wake up late.)

I think it’s great when anyone finds something that works for them and is healthy, but  I don’t think we can definitively say whether or not the intermittent fasters have discovered a healthier way to eat.  Even if we could, this would still be unrealistic and unsuccessful for most people battling extra fat.   Research suggests that overweight people may have exaggerated hunger already.  Hardly a plan for the masses!

This reminds me of the people who deliberately eat significantly fewer calories than they need everyday in order to live longer.  While studies make a case for increasing longevity by doing this, it is clear – at least to me – that this is not a way most people would choose to live.  Starvation – temporary or more permanent – leads to overeating.  This is what I observe, and this is what leads me away from recommending anything too extreme.

How many times a day should you eat?  The answer is not simple.  My personal belief is that 2 times is too few and more than 5 or 6 is not usually necessary or helpful.

10 responses to “More Nutrition Confusion: Skip Breakfast?

  1. I like your outlook. Everyone is different!
    I can understand how fasting could be good for the digestive system at least. Give the thing a rest, y’know. But it’s not for me. At least not right now.
    I try to eat 3-5 meals a day. Depending on time/hunger/laziness, etc.

    • Thanks for your comments. I think fasting is really hard for most people if it’s more than once in a long while. It is definitely not for me either. For most people, it is only very short-lived weight loss.

  2. I agree trying to fast, workout, and not eat the entire contents of the refrigerator would be extremely tough at night. Now if I was only provide a set amount a food to last a given day/week it would make losing easy.

    • Thanks for commenting Elizabeth. Yes, I guess if you only had access to a certain amount of food, that would be easier, . . . but then when you got access again, well that could be tough, depending on how deprived you were to begin with. Interesting thought!

  3. I follow a simple plan..I eat when I am hungry! Sometimes when I’m not hungry too just to ensure I am getting enough carbs before a longer run!

  4. I lost over 25 pounds years ago and have kept it off by holding off on eating until later in the day. My experience is reflected in a study by Cornell’s Dr. David Levitsky, showing that when people skipped one or more meals, they ate more afterwards, but not enough to close the caloric gap. They ate less overall.

    For me it works GANGBUSTERS,, and doesn’t feel like I’m “dieting.” However, I understand there are special concerns for women attempting this. An excellent summation that I’ll link to mentions those points.

    There’s more than one way to succeed, but this is the way I’ve done it.

    • Thanks for your comments on your experience – glad it worked for you! I have read conflicting studies. It just goes back to what I believe overall – different methods probably work for different people, because there is way more than biology to human eating behavior.

  5. Hi Kim – What is your source for Longo’s quote? Thanks.

    • That is a very good question! It does not seem to be included in the online version of the article from Men’s Health. I remember at the time of posting that I was not able to link to the magazine online (probably because it was still on the shelves). My recollection is that there was a small side box in the print version that talked about each experts personal fasting style (apparently omitted in the online version). If you are serious about finding it, you can probably find a back issue at the library. Sorry!

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