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The “Healthy” Breakfast Mistake

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.

This is hanger, defined. You can snag this pillow on Etsy.


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.

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.


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  1. I notice such difference when I don’t have an appropriate protein/fat combo like eggs with my breakfast. I love simple oatmeal, but even when I dress it up with some nuts or chia seeds, it doesn’t keep me full as long. My go to these days is an egg poached or scrambled with some greens, plus a slice of homemade oat/seed/nut bread. The balance has been working beautifully!

    • Hi Kate,
      Yeah, I’m with you. Oatmeal just doesn’t cut it for me (even though steel-cut oats were my breakfast of choice 10+ years ago, since everyone told me they were so “healthy”). No matter how much I dress them up with chia, nuts, or other fat/protein, oatmeal still leaves me in a never ending battle of hypoglycemia and food cravings. If I do eggs, greens, butter (and maybe good bacon/sausage), I have energy to spare all day.

      Happy to hear you’ve found what works for your body. 🙂

      • I love oats with almond milk , egg whites and flaxseed oil . And honey and banana

    • Love this article Lily….Thanks for sharing! I used to have a big bowl of oats every morning but it never kept me full. Now, I do eggs with some greens if I have, a fruit and a little bit of oats or sago (tapioca pearls). This seems to work for me. Kate, I am interested in the recipe for your oat/seed/nut bread if you are willing to share 🙂

  2. Thanks for the article. I am in a constant battle with my husband over the importance of breakfast. His strategy is usually to hold off on eating until about 4pm when he gets home from work, and then eat a 1/2lb of cheese with a 1/2 loaf of bread. We have a lot in common, but not our eating habits!
    I usually eat one of Bob’s Red Mill’s hot ‘cereals’ for breakfast – it’s either a 5 or 7 grain combo with flax seeds, and I add some vegan protein powder to it. In the end, I get about 15 to 20 grams of protein and 5 or 6 grams of fiber. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this. I agree that oats are less filling (in the long term) than eggs or greek yogurt, but this grain combo seems to work well for me.. maybe it’s because they are only milled grains and not highly processed. Would love to hear your feedback!

    • My husband use to do the same thing and we would have the same conversations it sounds like go on in your house! Then he started getting terrible migraines and after over a year of trying to figure out the underlying cause (he convinced himself he had a brain tumour, one doctor wanted to give him antidepressants which thankfully he didn’t take because he wasn’t depressed) he finally figured out that it was his blood sugar being all over the place. It was so bad he couldn’t function and everything was a challenge. We even delayed having a second child because he felt so terrible all the time he wasn’t able to be present with our toddler. Now that he eats regularly throughout the day with protein at his meals he hasn’t had a migraine in months! Even better – he is back to being the husband and father that I remember 🙂 Wanted to mention this in case anyone else is going through this and hopefully it won’t take a year to figure out.

  3. Thanks for posting this article! It’s so refreshing to read what I have been saying for years. Have managed to get my bf off the cocoa pops sync into a low GI granola (best I could do!) I am 29, slim but have PCOS so therefore insulin resistance! Whilst I take SR Metformin daily diet is a battle, My best breakfast is 2 slices of seeded brown bread with 3 eggs scrambled in butter. Works brilliantly BUT can’t eat it everyday (that’d be 21 eggs a week) so my alternative is 60g cereal (all bran &/or no sugar muesli) in Total 0% fat Greek yogurt mixed with a big dollop of sugar-free peanut butter! Weird but really tasty! Keeps me full about 3-4 hours.

    • Cottage cheese and peanut butter is amazing too! 🙂

  4. I think that it’s more important to listen to your body when choosing what to eat for breakfast. I fell into the trap of following a higher protein/lower carb breakfast because of advice like this, but it made me so sick. I think that I wasn’t digesting protein very well in the morning. I finally gave myself permission to eat a no protein breakfast – such as a home made buckwheat pancake with ghee and a little cinnamon sugar (no syrup though!). It’s so satisfying and I digest this very well. And if I’m hungry at 10am, I eat. No processed foods though!

  5. My Italian (foster) grandfather ate 4 eggs every morning and a bowl of cornflakes with full-fat milk. For lunch, usually half-sandwich made with a thick slice of ring bologna and slice of hard cheese on cracked wheat bread. A typical dinner [meat–fat, if poultry, the skin and all; a starchy vegetable and/or pasta, rice, bread; salad with olive oil and wine vinegar dressing (which he drank afterward); and other vegetables, often from his own garden]. He didn’t care much for sweets. He drank wine and the occasional highball. He lived to be a healthy 97 years old and the autopsy showed the arteries of a 20-year-old. All my life I’ve been told to steer clear of fat…now that the nutrition experts have changed their mind about that, even though we were not blood-related, I shall begin following Grandpop’s relaxed, healthy regime of eating. Well, to the best of my ability as over the years I have become vegan and it is taking some doing to figure out how to incorporate healthy fats and more protein into my diet. Perhaps I will be able to overcome my aversion to consuming animal products. I don’t know, but am open to it, if my mind and body will accept it. Usually, meat, dairy and egg products trigger an allergic response or sensitivity response. We shall see…

  6. I have been eating a protein breakfast most days and have found them very satisfying, but the problem I have found with eating the protein breakfast is it has left me constipated. So how would you suggest I rectify this?

    • Try 5 minute Quaker Oats cooked with greens (I use frozen chopped spinach) cook for 3 minutes, they’ve carefully break 2 fresh eggs into the same pot, cover on low heat and cook an additional 3 minutes.
      I do not use sweetener with the oatmeal when eating it this way.
      A satisfying breakfast, especially on a cold morning

    • drink more water! high protein meals can totally be dehydrating.

  7. Jeepers!
    Another refreshing post. Truly thought provoking and inspiring.
    Our bodies are intricately designed and work on on a state of fine balance to sustain life – so really the way we fuel our bodies was never made to be easy, but wow it’s a mind field!!!!!
    Your posts are so refreshing – now to put it into practice ?

  8. My favourite breakfast is home made granola with milk, but I am realising that I have a very full feeling after I eat and then get hungry by 11:00 . Tomorrow morning I will definitely try a protein breakfast. Thanks and very interesting posts

  9. So maybe I’m doing it wrong…but I find that after a breakfast of two eggs with butter and sausage I’m starving within an hour. Does this mean I need to add a carbohydrate? Retrain my body? Eat more or add some additional protein or fat? I find I can eat fairly low carb for lunch and dinner and be just fine, but not for breakfast. Any advice?

    • Play around with it. Personally, I do better with a little carbs at breakfast (whether that’s berries, veggies in an omelet, or even some potato/sweet potato, etc.) along with my fatty protein-y item. Keep tinkering until you find the right balance for YOU.

  10. I am not arguing but am curious – why does it matter whether your greek yogurt is full fat or no fat? At the end of the day, don’t they both have the same amount of calories, protein, and everything else? If the point of the research-based materials is to have a breakfast that is high in protein, why make the distinction in your article that yogurt must not be skim yogurt?

    • Fat in dairy products is filling + provides fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K which aid in the absorption of calcium + contains CLA, a type of fat that may protect against certain cancers.

      Not to mention, low fat diary intake is linked to obesity in children and fertility problems in women, while full fat dairy is protective.

      This paper is worth a read: Kratz, Mario, Ton Baars, and Stephan Guyenet. “The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease.” European journal of nutrition 52.1 (2013): 1-24.

    • they don’t have the same amount of calories at all. full-fat yogurt is always more caloric at the same serving size than non-fat. higher fat content usually means more satiety (you feel full for longer. fat is not bad for you!) and fewer additives to replicate the mouthfeel of fat, for one.
      for another, full-fat yogurt doesn’t taste like tangy chalk.

  11. Wonderful article. For me the key is balance. If I eat only oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, I’m hungry again much sooner than when I eat oatmeal, a fresh orange and ounce of fresh mozzarella cheese or an egg fried in coconut oil.

    I never eat cold cereals or bread in the morning, and I avoid wheat altogether. Long before Dr. William Davis came out with his Wheat Belly Diet book, I discovered that products containing flour – – not just wheat per se – – were fueling my cravings all day long. Meals such as cold cereals for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta for dinner were killing me slowly and keeping me obese and feeling tired and sick all the time.
    I am not celiac nor do i have any specific allergies to any grain products. I have found that even gluten free products trigger cravings and blood sugar fluctuations because of the flours from which they are made.

  12. I have been blending greens but adding fruit juice, bananas, and/or oranges….not losing any weight. But my skin looks great. Going to cut back on fruit and up the protein/healthy fats see how that works. Thanks for the tips.

  13. I have been eating a combo of organic quinoa and rice with some homemade rhubarb strawberry sauce which I made with only 2 Tb.of honey….so it’s mostly fruit….
    I just looked at the carbs and my head went down. Here I was thinking I was eating something really healthy,but it really wasn’t. 31g of carbs and 4 g of protein….1.5 g of fat
    I am not good with eating in the morning a lot of things make me feel nauseated kind of like morning sickness when I eat early in the am. What I did find though is that it filled me up and I didn’t get a lot of cravings….since I work in a school there is always something around to eat that has sugar or gluten, gluten I do not eat so thank goodness for that but there is chocolate around and that is my go to. So now I have dried fruit and nuts in my drawer…..maybe you can help me figure out what I can eat…eggs are not my thing unless they are in a quiche which I am making right now with fresh fiddleheads I just went foraging for…until next time…..

    • It might be a crazy coincidence, but I have a delicious recipe for a grain-free fiddlehead quiche on the blog. 😉

      Perhaps make mini quiches in muffin tins and freeze them for later?
      Greek yogurt or cottage cheese on busy mornings?
      Leftover dinner for breakfast?

      There are lots of options. Get creative and stay mindful on what combos work best for you! Good luck! 😉

  14. Hi Lily,

    I think this is a great article. I am a holistic nutritionist myself but I always love learning from others. I personally am going through an elimination diet due to food sensitives and I used to rely on eggs for a good protein breakfast, but sadly eggs turned out to be my highest sensitivity, along with gluten and dairy. That makes breakfast a lot more challenging than it used to be. What would you recommend to someone who cannot have eggs but wants to keep up the protein? I don’t want to eat sausage or bacon everyday as it’s still high in sodium, preservatives, plus it’s red meat. I’ve been doing oatmeal with almond milk most of the time (unless I happen to have dinner leftovers).


    • Dinner for breakfast? Veggie hash with your protein of choice (chicken sausage, maybe)? A shake with rice protein powder or collagen protein? Nuts with your oatmeal?

      By the way, salt isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nor is fatty red meat. 😉

  15. I’m doing a serving of low sugar bran flakes, or all bran. Added raisins. Coffee cream. And a kiwi all of it. I’m loading on fiber which keeps me full. Oatmeal add ground flax. It’s like a damn brick in the stomach. Lol I do one table spoon of ACV diluted. Saves the day on cravings. I have a binge and starvation eating disorder living on sugar and crap. And I am dealing with it. I’m trying to do three square meals a day adding fruit instead of gummy bears, and a bedtime snack bran flakes. I just want to learn to eat normally. Also picked up some kefir grains… ACV interacts with the grehlin so I can eat the fruit and not starve.

  16. Am i crazy? If i just have a premeir choc protein drink for breakfast im not hungry til noon but if i add two slices of white toast and a slice of cheese, i m starving to death my 9:00 AM
    What gives?

  17. I stared to eat a bowl of cereal every morning with peanut butter powder and splenda and I lost weight

  18. It was a true blessing to find this article because I just as of today I started on fruit smoothies!!! Im so grateful for all the tips and information about fruit! Im going to add whey powder or eat some peanutbutter with my fruit smoothies. And I’ll make sure I use dairy with fat…
    Thank you so much,

  19. Something that keeps me going for longer is bullet-proof coffee. My body seems very satisfied with that fat+caffeine boost. It can keep me going till a very late morning snack or even lunchtime. I put two tablespoons Kerrygold butter and a teaspoon of organic, raw coconut oil in my coffee, process it in the nutri-bullet for a few seconds and it’s good to go!
    It also leaves me feeling more alert – sometimes when I have a snack with carbs later, I notice my energy goes down. Good reminder that fat is superior to fluff!

  20. My go-to breakfast is Fage nonfat, plain yogurt with blueberries and walnuts…sometimes with a teaspoon of honey and some cinnamon. I just can’t do heavy breakfasts (eggs). It’s just yuck for me unless I’m craving eggs. And honestly, it doesn’t keep me any more full than my yogurt. I tend to want neutral or slightly sweet breakfasts instead of savory. But yeah, oatmeal alone will leave me hungry an hour later. Same with cereals. Although, mueseli with some coconut or almond milk, cinnamon actually does keep me really full until lunch. I guess it depends on what your body likes/wants/needs.

  21. My husband and I both have 2 eggs for breakfast every morning for the past 5 years! He used to eat 4 weetbix and be hungry at 9 am, and now can last til lunch time no problems! Nothing beats fresh home grown eggs!!

  22. Does this apply to young kids/toddlers? Or should they need a little more carbs?

    • I still aim for “no naked carbs,” but yes, kids can handle more carbs than adults usually. Just do your best to make them high quality/unprocessed carbs.

  23. Hi Lily, Thanks for this article. I live in Australia, and I’m wondering whether perhaps we have slightly different definitions for some of these foods! Would you be able to provide a definition or a link for “oatmeal” and “steel cut oats”?

    Here, steel cut oats are whole oats, very minimally cut by steel blades. We need to soak them overnight and cook them for 30-40 minutes to prepare. We call this “porridge” and in our home, we soak and cook in organic whole fat cow’s milk, then serve with organic whole fat cow’s milk Greek yoghurt or, occasionally, butter, 1/2-2/3rds of a piece of fruit, some spices, and a handful of nuts and seeds. We have this 1-2 times per week, and don’t experience the same issues you’re referring to, so it’s got me wondering about definitions! It also looks quite different to the picture you posted; it’s much more textural and chewy, as well as being darker in colour.

    Love your work, and thank you for everything you do. Kathryn

  24. I feel like I just read about my daily battle. Get up and eat a “healthy” breakfast I didn’t particularly enjoy, starving less than two hours later. Eat and repeat all day. After reading several of your articles, then buying and reading your pregnancy book and some of the literature referenced I finally decided to give this change a try.

    I gladly let go of my overnight oats and my tasteless, pork less breakfast pursuits, and the soy milk I drank by the cartons in my endless cups of coffee, cereal, bagels , and frozen pre-made biscuits.

    It has been four weeks now since I started this experiment. I stay full until lunch. No desire to snack constantly. No need for endless cups of coffee. Most importantly I am enjoying what I eat. It has flavor. It is filling. It is colorful and has variety from day to day. I’m not boxed in by macros or calories and can easily adjust to eat more or less based on what my body needs that morning.

    My favorite breakfasts so far:
    A. two eggs from pastured raised chickens cooked in grass fed butter (I used to LOATHE eggs but my they taste so good with some butter, a splash of grass fed heavy cream, and a little salt and pepper), 2 links pork sausage from pastured heritage pigs, sautéed veggies (great way to use up little bits and pieces left over from other meals), and a cup coffee with grass fed half n half.
    B. One slice sourdough bread, half an Avacado, sautéed tomato, a good sprinkle redmonds real sea salt, 1 slice heritage grass fed pork bacon, 1 egg (from pastured chickens) over easy in grass fed butter, coffee with grass fed half n half.

    I haven’t counted macros or calories in a month and I weighed today and haven’t gained any weight. My eczema is improving and my migraines have decreased in frequency.

    I’m excited to see more improvements as I continue making changes to lunches and dinners next!

    Thank you

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