Whether you call it breakfast or it’s just the first meal you’re eating later on in the day, what you choose can help set you up for weight-loss success. “Eating the moment you wake up isn’t necessary, but research is strong for the benefits of eating a morning meal,” explains Olivia Brant, a registered dietitian certified in sports dietetics. “Your metabolism can get a boost from eating in the morning and a nutritious choice will set the pace for the rest of your day.”
To ensure you get the most out of your breakfast when aiming to lose weight, take a cue from these RD-approved rules:
“Too often, I see people eating sugar-heavy meals for breakfast, which means elevated insulin levels first thing in the morning and the resulting energy crash,” says Samantha Presicci, RD. For example, oatmeal with honey and fruit-based smoothies are popular breakfast choices that seem healthy. And they are — but they might not be the best choices for weight loss. “Having a sweet breakfast first thing often leads to sugar cravings throughout the day,” adds Presicci.
“Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and it helps signal your brain that you’re full,” notes Presicci. That means you’re less likely to be ravenous by the time lunch rolls around. Eating more protein has other benefits, too. “Consuming adequate, high-quality protein helps avoid muscle loss, which can often happen with weight loss, especially when someone tries to lose too much weight too fast.” Aim for at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast.
“Carbs are an important source of energy in the morning, but it’s smart to pair that toast or cereal with fat, protein or fiber to help boost the satiety factor and keep blood sugar levels stable,” explains Abbey Sharp, RD. In fact, if you can get all four components (carbs, fat, protein and fiber) into your meal, even better. “That could mean adding avocado and an egg to toast, or Greek yogurt and nuts to berries.”
No, not that kind. Instead, Sharp recommends adding a spoonful of flax, chia seeds or hemp hearts to your morning meal. “These easily boost the satiety factor with protein, fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fats.”
Look to include foods that are high in volume compared to their calories, recommends McKenzie Flinchum, RD. “They will fill you up and keep you fuller for longer, which can help you stick to your calorie needs and goals. A few examples are high-fiber foods and foods that contain a higher water content such as fresh fruits and vegetables, boiled potatoes and cooked whole grains.”
“Coffee is an important part of many people’s mornings,” says Annie Reed, RD. However, flavored creamers, sugar, oils and butter used in drinks like bulletproof coffee can turn your morning cup of joe into a full-fledged dessert. “Try drinking your coffee black or with a splash of milk,” suggests Reed. “It may take some time to adjust to the new taste, but eventually, you will learn to love your new way of drinking coffee without sabotaging your calorie goal.” Similarly, make sure your smoothies have a good mix of protein and healthy fats. You can save calories by adding flavor with spices and using water or milk as a base instead of juice.
Cooking a balanced breakfast from scratch every morning isn’t realistic for everyone. It can make your morning go much more smoothly if you’ve prepped breakfast ahead of time. “Overnight oats, baked oatmeal and egg cups can all be made in advance and then warmed up later,” says Sharp. “Making breakfast so easy it’s second nature helps you avoid stopping for pastries or fast-food on the way to work.”
We often eat breakfast on the go, but whenever possible, sit down to eat. “Seeing your food on a plate or in a bowl in front of you can help with the satisfaction part of the meal,” explains Flinchum. “It is very easy to overeat if you eat while you’re distracted. Your meal will be much more satisfying if you consume it mindfully.” This approach may also help you feel full sooner, and more satiated, which is key for avoiding feelings of deprivation as you lose weight.
Another way to make your breakfast more satisfying is to eat slowly and savor each bite, says Regina M. Gill, RD. This is a common strategy in mindful eating, which can help with weight loss. “To get the most enjoyment out of your eating experience, meals should last at least 30 minutes,” recommends Gill. Of course, that’s not always realistic, but trying to extend your breakfast time by just 5–10 minutes can still make a difference.
“I worked with a client who couldn’t understand why he was uncontrollably ravenous at 4 p.m. on some days but not on others,” says Kim Arnold, RD. So, she asked the client to do an experiment: journal his food choices for a week, noting cravings and hunger intensity.
“After our experiment, he realized that on the mornings he ate yogurt and fruit for breakfast, he was super hungry later in the day and would snack uncontrollably. On the mornings he had oatmeal, he didn’t experience those cravings,” says Arnold. ”By switching out the yogurt breakfast, he saved himself hundreds of calories.”
Try tracking your intake with an app like MyFitnessPal and use the notes feature to record cravings and hunger levels. Take some time to identify personal trends, which you can tweak to support your weight-loss goals.
Originally published November 2020
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