No excuses, eat your breakfast

Everyone knows that breakfast should be the most important meal of the day. Unfortunately, no one seems to have time to consume a real breakfast. If they do, then it’s usually a high-carbohydrate quasi-dessert that is so portable that they can eat it in the car. Although our world is becoming time-compressed, our biological rhythms are not. While you sleep, your body is literally digesting itself to provide energy for the brain. Much of this energy comes from digesting muscle mass to make glucose as the supplies of stored carbohydrate in the liver are rapidly depleted during the night forcing the body to start digesting muscle to supply enough glucose to the brain. Rebuilding lost muscle mass demands protein replenishment upon waking, and you aren’t going to get achieve that goal by eating a typical breakfast cereal and definitely not by drinking a cup of coffee as a stimulant.

It has been known for some time there is a strong relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity and subsequent establishment of poor dietary habits (1,2). Furthermore, the higher the protein content of the breakfast, the greater the satiety. That increase in satiety is correlated with increased PYY (the satiety hormone) levels in the blood (3). It was also demonstrated more than 10 years ago that giving a higher-protein breakfast meal to overweight adolescents resulted in significant appetite suppression. This lack of hunger is correlated with dramatic changes in the levels of insulin and glucagon in the blood (4).

Now a new study pre-published electronically indicates that a high-protein breakfast also dramatically alters brain function (5). Overweight adolescents who normally skipped breakfast were either given nothing for breakfast, a carbohydrate-rich breakfast, or a protein-rich breakfast for six days. On the seventh day of each breakfast cycle, they had a fMRI scan of their brains while being shown pictures of various palatable foods on a screen. After consuming the higher-protein breakfast for six days, there was far less activation in the regions of brain associated with food motivation and reward when shown the pictures of highly desirable foods.

One surprising observation from this study is the primary reason given by the overweight adolescent subjects for skipping breakfast was not that they were trying to lose weight, but they just lacked the time or were not feeling hungry upon waking. The lack of time in the morning is understandable because adolescents don’t get enough sleep anyway. However, the lack of hunger is probably due to the rise of hormonal levels early in the morning to rouse someone out of sleep. This acts like a powerful stimulant (and if you need more, then drink coffee). But the lack of breakfast means eating more snacks with higher calories throughout the day. Bottom line, even if you aren’t hungry at breakfast, just eat it anyway. But make sure it has adequate levels of protein if you want to lose weight.


  1. Deshmukh-Taskar PR, Nicklas TA, O’Neil CE, Keast DR, Radcliffe JD, and Cho S.
    “The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006.” J Am Diet Assoc 110: 869-878 (2010)
  2. Sjoberg A, Hallberg L, Hoglund D, and Hulthen L. “Meal pattern, food choice, nutrient intake and lifestyle factors in The Goteborg Adolescence Study.” Eur J Clin Nutr 57: 1569-1578 (2003)
  3. Leidy HJ and Racki EM. “The addition of a protein-rich breakfast and its effects on acute appetite control and food intake in ‘breakfast-skipping’ adolescents.” Int J Obes 34: 1125-1133 (2010)
  4. Ludwig DS, Majzoub JA, Al-Zahrani A, Dallal GE, Blanco I, and Roberts SB.
    “High glycemic-index foods, overeating, and obesity.” Pediatrics 103: E26 (1999)
  5. Leidy HJ, Lepping RJ, Savage CR, and Harris CT. “Neural responses to visual food stimuli after a normal vs. higher-protein breakfast in breakfast-skipping teens.” Obesity doi 10.1038./oby.2011.108 (2011)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

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This entry was posted in Zone Diet and tagged , , , , , , by Dr. Barry Sears. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 30 years to the study of lipids. He has published more than 30 scientific articles and holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 13 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". These books have sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

18 thoughts on “No excuses, eat your breakfast

  1. Funny, isn’t it? — So many talk about having no time to think about meals or taking care of themselves but they find the time when they are diagnosed with something for a hospital stay, or particular foods they may be required to eat until the symptoms go away. A “Thank’s” to you for your work and sharing your knowledge with the rest of us. I know our family benefits from your efforts to educate all of us.

  2. Living in Italy, a country where “white is wonderful” – pasta and bread at the top of the list – to try getting people to put protein (other than yogurt or a little milk) in their breakfast is another nutritional Everst to climb. Eggs have been demonized to the point of having them occasionally for lunch or dinner. Cheese is often dessert, not a main course. Meat in the morning? Not going to happen. Whey protein is a shady product for bodybuilders. The usual breakfast? Cappuccino and croissant. Or just cappuccino…o just espresso. The info in here and out there, but it is not getting through to the masses. And sadly, a big percentage of the medical world is still in the dark, in spite of the marvellous work that Dr. Sears has done together with his Italian partners. As a fitness professional, I am a voice crying in the wilderness, but will continue! Viva la Zona…Viva Barry Sears!

      • I also live in Italy and the greatest frustration is that ZoneDiet website doesn’t ship your wonderful bagels nor anything else to our country!

        Your Enervit partner here provides pitiful choice, so all I can do is read your illuminating blog and hope that your items will be soon available for shipping to Italy?

        Yours sincerely,

  3. Change is always hard, but a little planning goes a long way. I must admit, though, it has taken me a long time to get to this mindset. I now cook steel-cut oatmeal (several days worth) and store it in the fridge. I also cook turkey sausage (several days worth) and store it in the fridge. Early AM … just heat up the amount for that day’s breakfast and eat. Only takes 60 seconds to heat it in the microwave. I do doctor my oatmeal with walnuts and a few dried cranberries.

  4. Even for breakfast I insist on sticking with a zone meal. An even distribution of protein and carbs usually does it for me. I like to keep my potassium levels at normal so orange juice- a small amount- does the trick. I’ll sip a BIT of coffee but feel I don’t need it. I wouldn’t dream of skipping breakfast EVER.

  5. I shower & am in the car usually before 6:00AM. I have found that a Zone Bagel with all natural peanut butter does the trick & keeps me going until lunch, not to mention the fact I can drive while I eat so time is not an issue.

    • Driving while eating? Does that make you ponder whether that is a good way to digest a meal? I know many do it and I have too, but it’s not the best idea, is it?

  6. Is there a way to access fat around the waist and thighs when a big portion of it was due to taking Prednisone for 12-13 years?


    • Synthetic steroids like prednisone are powerful regulators of genetic expression. It is still not clear what their lingering effects might be because of our crude understanding of epigenetics and how they may impact gene expression for years after their discontinuation.

      My best advice is a very strict Zone diet using only those food ingredients available 10,000 years ago (they will have the least inflammatory impact) and the use of high-dose fish oil to further reduce cellular inflammation.

  7. I can very much identify with this posting. Any suggestions for protein other than eggs & cheese. I suppose an omelet with fresh veggies isn’t so bad? Sometimes I have oatmeal w/o sugar. Strawberries, bananas & almonds or walnuts along with a shake of cinnamon add pizaaz to what might be an otherwise boring dish of oatmeal.

  8. Evelyn Wallace says: June 2, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I like to keep my potassium levels at normal so orange juice- a small amount- does the trick
    * * * * * * * *

    The only way you can know your potassium levels is with a specific potassium test. Do you take this potassium test regularily to make sure your potassium levels are in a normal range or do you guess? A normal diet will furnish adequate potassium. hmmmmmmmmm!

  9. I feel this is among the such a lot important information for me. And i am satisfied studying your article. But want to commentary on some common issues, The website style is wonderful, the articles is in reality excellent : D. Excellent task, cheers

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