Food Q&A: Should I Eat Breakfast?

Our resident nutritionist answers the age-old question, "Do I have to eat breakfast even if I'm not hungry?"
Should I Eat Breakfast nutritionist and food editor Leslie Fink, MS, RD, answers readers' questions about food, nutrition and weight loss.

Q: Do I have to eat breakfast even if I'm not hungry? Because when I do have cereal, I seem to be hungrier for the rest of the day.

A: Cereal may not be the best way for everyone to fuel up. In fact, a meal containing mostly carbohydrates might leave some people's stomachs feeling empty. In that case, eating a little protein in addition to your bowl of flakes (a yogurt, for example) or moving away from cereal altogether (try grilled cheese, an egg sandwich or PB&J) may tide you over better until lunch. Why? Dietary protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, making you feel fuller for longer.

But do you need to eat even if you're not hungry? Maria Walls, RD, senior nutritionist at Weight Watchers International, offers this advice: You can skip breakfast and lose weight successfully. "What's most important," says Walls, "is the total number of PointsPlus® eaten over the course of the day."

However, some research suggests that breakfast skippers may be more prone to overeating later in the day. And research from the National Weight Control Registry has shown that weight-loss maintainers are more likely to eat breakfast than not. The bottom line? "Use your weight loss as a guide," says Walls. If you don't eat breakfast and you're losing weight, leave everything as is. But if skipping breakfast leads to afternoon munchies and extra large dinners, consider other tactics:

1. Plan for some healthy mid-morning snacks to help you ride out the hunger wave better until lunch.
Try hummus and pita, some fruit and yogurt, or vegetables and a wedge of light cheese. Or eat your breakfast at "brunch time." After all, breakfast is a morning meal, not necessarily a pre-dawn one. No one says you need to eat the moment you wake up.

2. Assess your nighttime eating habits.
Are you consuming a lot of food after dark (especially higher fat foods), and as a result feeling too full to eat in the morning? If so, recheck those dinner portion sizes and try upping the carbs while minimizing the fat—pasta with marinara sauce and beans coupled with a salad strikes a nice balance—and see if that helps wake your morning appetite.

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