Should You Eat Breakfast? How Soon Should You Eat After Waking Up?

In this post, I’ll talk about

  • How skipping or delaying breakfast may help boost metabolism and promote fat burning (a brief on intermittent fasting)
  • But how skipping breakfast may increase your risk for liver disease, obesity and diabetes, and affect your energy and productivity on the other hand (conflicting, eh?)
  • How soon you should eat breakfast after waking up
  • What are some good food choices for breakfast

As I’m looking back on my Gut Health Journals I found that skipping or having a really late breakfast seems to help relief my GI symptoms at least in the morning, especially when my symptoms are really bad the night before. However I don’t think that’s sustainable for me as I’m seeing some unintentional weight loss (maintaining a healthy weight and preventing muscle wasting is important for me).

I think it’s safe to say that many of us are accustomed to 3 main meals a day, at least that’s how we were brought up with by our parents and grandparents. Growing up, I was also told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that skipping breakfast is bad for you (not so much for weight gain but poor energy – that was how I was taught back in the day). But in the past few years, Intermittent Fasting and Time-Restricted Eating have surely gained a lot of attention, whereas the other side of the health world would argue that you should eat multiple small meals throughout the day (the magic number seems to be 6 or 8). So many conflicting messages, what should I do???

  • Skipping Breakfast (or Eating It Much Later) May Boost Your Metabolism and Promote Weight Loss – A Quick Glance at Intermittent Fasting.

Breakfast literally means “break fast” – to break our overnight fasting after a long sleep. Studies have shown that with Intermittent Fasting, by extending the overnight fast, your body may see improved metabolism which may also be associated with improved weight loss. The theory is that when our bodies are starved of carbs, it turns to an alternative energy source, fat. As our blood sugar level drops, insulin level also drops to tell the body to use fat instead of sugar. There’s also an increase in Human Growth Hormone and Norepinephrine during fasting. Studies have shown that Intermittent Fasting help boost metabolism by as much as 14% as these 3 fat-burning hormones work more efficiently and effectively (Insulin, Human Growth Hormone, and Norepinephrine)

However, be cautious that although short term fasting may help boost your metabolism, it’s been long established that long term fasting may have the opposite effect. There’re also debates on whether Intermittent Fasting make you gain or lose muscle mass. My thought on IF is that it can be a good monthly or seasonal “cleanse” for our bodies, but not a sustainable every-day eating ritual for myself.

There’re different kinds of Intermittent Fasting, but here’s an example. If you do a 16 hour fast, let’s say you had dinner at 7pm the day before, you would “break fast” at 11am the next day, which really isn’t that much later than the “conventional” breakfast time. There’re other more aggressive eating plans that have you break fast much later in the day. I will have to admit that I don’t have the will power to try that just yet!

  • But Wait – I Thought Skipping Breakfast Is a Bad Idea? Effects on productivity, stress, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular & liver health.

According to a 2009 survey conducted by Food Insight, “over 90% of Americans agree that it’s the most important meal of the day, and yet a mere 44% eat breakfast every day. ” That does not shock me as we all live a busy life nowadays, sometimes skipping breakfast seems to be unavoidable as there’s just not enough time, and sometimes we just don’t feel like having anything after waking up, regardless of how important we think breakfast is.

Some people say that skipping breakfast is a bad idea as it “confuses your hunger hormones, setting you up to over eat later in the day“. Others say that it can “hamper your focus, alertness and productivity“, which can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and nutrient deficiency in the long run.

According to a study presented in the 2016 Meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, when your eating pattern doesn’t sync with your circadian rhythm (i.e. skipping breakfast), you may have a higher risk for fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer over time along with a higher risk for obesity and diabetes. This is because the liver’s metabolic pathway is thought to sync with our circadian rhythm, which enables the liver to adjust nutrient supply based on the change in demand as our routine changes throughout our “inner clock”. Therefore, when our eating pattern (frequency and time) is disrupted, it may disrupt our inner clock, resulting in further disruption of the metabolism in the liver. This theory may also explain why shift work is often associated with various health problems.

  • So How Soon Should You Eat Breakfast After Waking Up?

In an episode from the Ultimate Health Podcast (my favourite health podcast!), Dr. Alan Christianson, who developed The Metabolism Reset Diet, recommends that we eat breakfast within the first hour after waking up. He explained that the longer the gap is between waking and consuming protein, the more suppression there is on the Phase II Liver Detoxification process, where the liver neutralizes and excretes the metabolites from the toxin break down process. Moreover, by consuming a protein-rich breakfast (along with resistant starch), there’s less risk for muscle wasting as we don’t turn to our glycogen storage in our muscles for fuel (our bodies opt to glycogen instead of glucose for fuel when there’s limited supply – i.e. when we fast).

The American Heart Association recommends eating breakfast within the first two hours after waking up, especially if you have imbalanced blood sugar and hormone levels. Their study also revealed that having an irregular eating pattern may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

According to an article from the Harvard Medical School, having an irregular eating pattern also make your cortisol (stress hormone) level out of whack. In turn, an elevated cortisol level can often lead to over-eating. When we “stress eat”, we often make poor food choices and give in to sugar-rich “comfort food”, which make our blood sugar level out of whack – a vicious cycle!

So the general consensus is to eat breakfast within 1 to 2 hours after waking up. However, we know things are often easier said than done – sometimes I just don’t have the appetite to eat anything within 1-2 hours waking up, especially when I have to get up in the middle of the night to catch an early flight, or when I have a big presentation to do that day. Some people also don’t have the luxury to eat regularly as they do shift work. So what do we do?

  • What should you eat for breakfast? On shift work, morning appetite and listening to your body.

My takeaways from all the research above is that it’s more important to set a regular eating pattern in terms of time and frequency of your meals throughout the day (a routine), than to focus on how soon you should eat after waking up.

My recommendation is to listen to your body. If you don’t have the appetite to eat in the morning, there’s probably a reason why – your body is screaming at you that you get up at an unusual time today, it’s confused and need some getting-use-to, so you have to adjust your body clock back to normal in order to have your appetite back. Now that we know there’re risks to not eat within 1-2 hours after waking up, to make a compromise, we can have a small and nutritious morning snack when feel like a big morning meal – this can be a smoothie, a small fruit, a hard boiled egg, yogurt and granola, a handful of roasted nuts, or even just a spoonful of natural nut butter! The general guideline is to choose protein-rich whole foods, good fats, and complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars or overly processed foods like refined grains and sugars. Just be conscious that if you choose to have a small breakfast and becomes hungry later in the day, have some health snacks and drinks nearby so you don’t opt for junk food.

I found that the better sleep I get, the more appetite I have after waking up, which is a good sign – your body is telling you that it needs some nourishing food to function! When I have poor sleep the night before, I often do not feel like eating in the morning. It’s just so fascinating how our body work and that we often take it for granted.


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