How to kick the habit: Skipping breakfast

How to kick the habit: Skipping breakfast

Val Gleason, CEO of Newton Medical Center

Val Gleason is the president and chief executive officer at Newton Medical Center. Gleason joined Newton Medical Center in 2004 as vice president of physician services and most recently served as the hospital’s chief clinical integration officer.

She graduated from Newman University with a B.S. in Business and holds an MBA from Baker University. She’s a board-certified nurse executive, advanced.

Val is the president of the American Heart Association – Wichita.

How important is it to eat breakfast? Medical research and popular opinions abound.  Some may skip breakfast out of long-standing habit, fear of gaining weight, religious rituals, bad advice, or other personal reasons.  The latest hot topic of intermittent fasting may contribute to breakfast-skipping. 

But is skipping what has been referred to as the “most important meal of the day,” worth it? According to American Heart Association (AHA) researchers, those who regularly eat breakfast have lower rates of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure.  All of these are desirable of course, but what does breakfast have to do with it?

A University of Iowa study found not eating breakfast “raised the odds for death from any cause by 19%.” From heart attack or stroke, it was a whopping 87%. This is an alarming statistic because the study tracked significant numbers of Americans (6,550) over a long period of time (1988-2011).  Another study showed that breakfast-skippers are significantly more susceptible to having a stroke and more than three times likely to have a fatal stroke compared to breakfast eaters.

Myths and Facts

Scale with tape measure and apple sitting on it

It’ll improve weight loss

Related to fasting for weight loss, new AHA research indicates that we may burn more calories on days we skip breakfast. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately by 3 p.m. on those very same days, dangerous elevations of bloodstream inflammation markers associated with heart attack and stroke also occur. So, it stands to reason that eating breakfast results in better heart health. 

If your goal is weight management, daily exercise gives you a win-win. It not only promotes weight loss but also helps reduce harmful inflammation.  And for these reasons, it’s probably better medicine than skipping breakfast.

If you’re thinking of cutting calories to lose weight, eating three sensible meals per day at breakfast, lunch and suppertime with a healthy low-calorie snack in between is reasonable.  Paired with regular exercise, it remains the time-tested success formula for weight control.

Woman in yoga pants and top sitting criss cross applesauce with prayer hands in "Namaste" pose.

Intermittent fasting improves overall health

What about this intermittent fasting that many celebrities and others are touting for weight loss and “health?” Some current scientific studies favor eating during specific windows of time and fasting during the remaining daily hours. For example, one would fast for a window of 10-18 hours daily and eat during a window of only 6-14 hours.

Beware. The shorter eating window probably encourages skipping breakfast. Perhaps a better idea is an older idea: eat a good, hearty breakfast, a moderate-sized lunch and a much smaller supper. It’s a pattern our grandparents and great-grandparents would have found familiar.

If you’re considering an intermittent fasting diet, the data suggests it may be better to start eating early in the day and stop eating by early evening. Our bodies just seem to handle hunger hormones, inflammation patterns, and blood sugar control better when food intake is skewed toward morning rather than evening hours. Many studies conclude the later in the day one begins eating, the higher the risk of weight gain and insulin resistance, which is the body’s inability to effectively use its own insulin. It can progress to Type 2 diabetes, which requires medical treatment and medication. 

Type 2 diabetes is thought to be preventable in most people. This is another reason those who are relatively health, including people with insulin resistance, are encouraged to eat three meals a day and to exercise. If you or someone you love is living with diabetes, please join Newton Medical Center’s Diabetes Education happening on the first Thursday of every month for tips and tricks on how to manage it.

Praying hands over Bible/Quran/Koran

Skipping breakfast and religious beliefs

Many of the world’s religions practice fasting, which might include skipping breakfast. The fast may be observed for periods ranging from one day per week to forty or more continuous days.  Some religious fasting practices are quite strict and can be dangerous for athletes, elderly, people with diabetes, and women who are pregnant or nursing. These people should talk to their doctor and clergy in advance because many religions permit reasonable exceptions for medical reasons. 

Final thoughts

Medical evidence discourages habitually skipping breakfast. Why bring poor health upon yourself when a yummy breakfast can be the best meal of the day? For excellent breakfast recipes and ideas, the American Heart Association offers heart-healthy recipes for inspiration.