It’s 10am and you’re S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G!
You think to yourself “Oh, not again. Today is going to be a good day. I can make it until lunch if I just distract myself with work.”
Fifteen minutes later, your mind goes back to food. You finally give in and hit the break room. That girl baked cookies again and there are donuts leftover from yesterday. Weighing the options, you choose the cookies (they’re homemade, right?). They aren’t that good, but you eat 2 of them to tide you over. Back to your desk you go.
Then it hits again. With a fervor.
You look at the clock. It’s 10:45! #%$*^#@! You contemplate taking a bite out of your own hand. (That vanilla lotion smells pretty good, after all.) You can’t concentrate. You feel light headed. All you can think about is food.
You figure the day is already a “throw away day” at this point and finally grab a donut.
Lunch comes and goes. You ate more than you had planned. Even still, by 2:30pm your energy is waning, your eyelids feel heavy, and you
want need coffee. Preferably a Venti Hazelnut Macchiato. With a double shot of espresso.
I’m gonna stop right there. Sound familiar? Many women find themselves in a cycle of energy lows and cravings day after day.
It’s not only disruptive to your focus and productivity, but you spend probably double the time feeling bad about “giving in” as you do actually eating food.
You’re tired of feeling guilty.
You’re tired of craving the “bad stuff”.
You’re tired of not having the energy to get through your day.
Let’s rewind and see if you can pinpoint where things went wrong.
1) It was the cookies?
2) It was the donut?
3) It was the super sweet, espresso-on-steroids drink?
Ok. Trick question. The problem started before you even got to work.
It was breakfast.
Either you didn’t have any, didn’t eat enough, or it wasn’t balanced.
About 50% of the time when I hear this story (and it’s often), I’m able to guess the client’s breakfast.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of?
It’s made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners. – Roald Dahl
Why is cereal a breakfast mistake?
No, it’s not ’cause it’s made of wood shavings.
Cereal is not a good breakfast because it doesn’t keep you full. Cereal is made from grains. Whole or not, grains contain carbohydrates. And when they are heavily processed into puffs, flakes, O’s, hearts, and who-knows-what, they are digested into sugar almost immediately in your body. (This is only intensified when said puffs, flakes, O’s, hearts, and who-knows-what are coated in sugar.)
Just watch your bowl of cereal get soggy when it sits for a few minutes. There’s not much more digesting that needs to take place by the time it hits your stomach.
And while your tummy may feel full for 30 minutes or so, that sensation is fleeting. The spike in your blood sugar will soon come crashing down. Your body is only trying to help you out.
Yes, really. Your body is on your side.
It knows high blood sugar is harmful to your blood vessels, kidneys, brain, eyes, etc… and just wants it to come back down to normal. The problem is that rapidly dropping blood sugar triggers the emergency lights to come on. Your ancestral brain fears that if something attacks, you won’t be able to flee!
So, your body does what it’s designed to do. It makes you hungry. It makes you hungry for something that will raise your blood sugar and give you energy: more carbohydrates.
This is why cereal for breakfast leads to food cravings. This is why I consider cereal “junk food in disguise”. This is why you feel hungry constantly and can’t stop eating when you have cereal for breakfast.
Next time you are beating yourself up over having that cookie or donut at 10am, blame breakfast, not willpower.
Better yet, simply notice the response your body has to different foods during the day without judging, without blaming, without reacting. This is easier said than done and requires consistent practice.
Many people notice that having a decent amount of protein and fat in their breakfast stops cravings before they start, even the pesky mid-morning ones. It’s a trick I teach every one of my nutrition clients and I have yet to meet a person for which this hasn’t worked.
Experiment with proportions.
Some people need more food in the morning than others. Some need less. Some need more fat. Some need more protein. Most need less carbs.
A lot depends on what you’re doing (activity levels) and how soon you’re able to eat again. I choose to eat much more for breakfast on days when I’ll be unable to have a mid-morning snack. If I don’t, I get hangry.
No, that’s not a typo. I get hangry.
No one likes being hangry or being around hangry people, especially when they are at work.
Just in case you’re not convinced that your carbohydrate-rich breakfast is playing a role in your mid-morning cravings, check out this research:
In a 2005 study comparing the satiety effects of breakfast with eggs vs. bagels (matched in calories), found that participants eating the egg breakfast were more satisfied and ate less food in the 3.5 hrs after eating.
A similar study in 2010 showed men who ate eggs instead of bagels (again, matched in calories) not only ate less food in the few hours after breakfast, but ate less food over the next 24 hours without trying, even when eating at all-you-can-eat-buffets. When they measured labs post-breakfast, they found significantly lower levels of appetite stimulating hormones after the egg breakfast (as well as better blood sugar and insulin levels). Protein-rich breakfasts also help appetite regulation in overweight teenage girls.
And again, eggs for breakfast beat out cereal or croissants at reducing food intake later in the day.
“The breakfast meal with the greatest effect on satiety and subsequent intake of energy was distinct in having the highest protein and lowest carbohydrate content relative to the other two breakfasts.”
Eur J Nutr. 2013 Jun;52(4):1353-9. Variation in the effects of three different breakfast meals on subjective satiety and subsequent intake of energy at lunch and evening meal.
So my challenge to you is to pay special attention to your breakfast choices and your food cravings. If you can’t ditch the cereal or don’t want to, consider ways of increasing the satiety factor. Perhaps try topping your cereal with a heap of sliced almonds or mix it into full-fat plain Greek yogurt instead of milk.
Better breakfast options than cereal:
- An egg or two, sauteed spinach or kale, butter, 1 slice whole grain sourdough or sprouted grain bread (or no bread at all)
- Sausage-veggie scramble (with or without eggs)
- Whole fat, plain Greek yogurt (or at least 2% fat), with sliced almonds, berries, and maybe some chia seeds
- Breakfast burrito/taco – eggs, sausage/bacon, veggies, cheese, avocado in 1 small tortilla (leave out the potatoes and rice. If you’re low carb, try a “burrito in a bowl”.)
- Leftover dinner – with some form of protein and veggies. I love dinner for breakfast, but maybe that’s not your thing.
I’d love to hear how the breakfast experiment goes. Leave a comment below describing your satisfying breakfast of choice and how your food cravings changed during the day.
UPDATE: If you’re wondering why the photo for this post is a healthy-looking bowl of oatmeal, I invite you to read my continuous glucose monitor experiment.
Until next week,
PS – The healthy breakfast mistake is especially problematic for pregnant women. In early pregnancy, making the healthy breakfast mistake can mean worsening nausea, fatigue, and intense carb cravings. In late pregnancy, eating a high carb breakfast with insufficient fat and protein plays a role in excessive weight gain, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. For more on prenatal nutrition, see my book, Real Food for Pregnancy.
PPS – My Instagram feed has plenty of examples of *actually* healthy breakfasts that will keep you satisfied all morning and help balance your blood sugar for the whole day.