Breakfast has always been considered the most important meal of the day - just think about the number of times mum has nagged at you about skipping breakfast.
OK, to be fair, she's got her point. Breakfast can still be an important meal for some, but eating well has little to do with your meal time.
Some myths about breakfast
The most powerful meal of the day: Have you ever realized that you are hungry in the morning because you are told so, not because you feel so? Intuitively, it might make sense that your body is hungry after sleeping and requires food immediately to get started for a new day. Quite the contrary, people who skip breakfast have reported that they are not hungry several hours after waking up until they have their first meal.
You gain weight/fat if you skip breakfast: Some assert that if you skip breakfast, your body enters starvation mode and tends to store more fat. However, this study shows that our metabolism will burn glucose first, then the fatty acid and ketone bodies to preserve protein, so you actually burn more fat while not eating. Another argument is the body is hungrier during the day and craves for more energy by consuming more food, resulting in consuming more calories and gain fat. Breakfast-skippers may have bigger meals, but the the total calories consumed do not increase significantly compared with people who have breakfast.
Do not eat after 5 p.m: It is generally believed that eating after 5 p.m will make you gain weight. The simple rule of thumb to lose weight is that you have to burn more calories (by exercising and other activities) than you consumed. So if you only eat a very big meal after 5 p.m but the calories intake is less than calories used, you definitely lose weight. John Cisna, a former teacher in Iowa even lost weight on fast food diet.
That leads me into...
My experience with Intermittent Fasting (IF)
First off, you don’t need religious or spiritual reasons to practice IF. Secondly, this is my own experience and it worked for me - you may need to consult your physician to assess your health before starting IF.
I'll admit, the primary reason I started IF is because I am a lazy person who does not want to spend so much time preparing meals. However, I still prefer having my own cooking than buying take-away food.
Starting IF can be difficult because it is widely believed that breakfast is the staple in any diet. I faced objection from my parents as they were concerned about my health. However I promised to have my health checked before and after I tried IF within 2 months, and if my health was still on point, I could practice IF.
I had 2 main phases, the fasting and the eating phase. The first 2 weeks were quite a struggle as my body was used to having breakfast. I skipped it but I had my first meal around 10 a.m. Gradually, I extended my fasting period to reach my goal of the 15-hour fasting window. During the beginning, I was grumpier as I was hungry, but when getting used to it, my hunger faded away.
During the fasting phase, I do not eat for 15-16 hours after my last meal from the day before. If my last meal was at 10 p.m, I "break my fast” at around 2 p.m the next day. Just do the math to figure out your eating time. During my fasting frame, I consume nothing but water. The core of the fasting phase is that I do not have anything high in calories (it is believed anything less than 50 calories is acceptable but I was loafing to read the food label so I just drink water), keeping my insulin level down. I also have a black coffee (as it contains no calories, if you need some sweetener, try stevia) to suppress my hunger and assist me with my weight control.
For first meal, I usually have vegetable and some meat to break my fast and reserve my carbohydrate for dinner. A typical meal is egg/tuna salad. Do not overuse (don’t use) salad dressing as they are high in calories and sugar.
For my main meal, I keep it simple. As long as protein, fat and carb and fiber present, I am good to go. I usually have rice/pasta/bread with beef/chicken/fish and do my digestive system a favor by adding fiber from vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli or bok-choy.Recap
- No eating for about 15-16 hours.
- Have some black coffee to “facilitate” your hunger. If you don’t like coffee, have some tea or just skip it.
- Break your fast lightly, reserve the carb for the evening.
- Eat the dinner that you deserve. But before that, try to have some warm lemonade (again, raw without sugar).
- If you need to gain some weight, have some snack before bed, nuts are recommended.
Before we go.. Do not overdo it
You can be excited to try IF with all the benefits you hear about. However, before trying anything, consult your doctor. Go easy on yourself by starting with small fasting period and experimenting with different windows to suit your daily schedule and adjust your eating patterns. If you feel uncomfortable, just stop.
Some fellows may want to test their fasting limit by extending the fasting window. When I went beyond 18 hours, I felt more alert but light-headed. My brain was more conscious but my body was exhausted to follow the cerebral direction so I hardly fast more than 18-20 hours. If you desire to be a harcore “faster”, do it step by step to familiarise yourself. To make it easier, do it on your rest day, have the last meal at 7 p.m and fast for 24 hours until next 7 p.m.
Another tip - do not go hard in winter. I usually feel dizzy if I fast for 14 hours in winter, probably because I need more energy to warm myself.
Remember: Fasting is not an excuse to eat junk food. Sadly, some people think that they can get away with their diet by fasting. A lot of folks simply skip breakfast, do not eat for an extended period during the day and stuff themselves with unhealthy food in the evening. Although the above extreme example shows that you can lose weight by having calorie deficit, “junk” food earns their name for a reason and this can negatively affect your health in the future. “You are what you eat”, appreciate your body by feeding it with healthy food or you will have to pay your due later.
Duc Nguyen is a curious experimenter and coffee enthusiast, based in Sydney, Australia. He enjoys sharing his experiences with health and fitness.