If you find yourself ravenous at lunch and unable to pass up fries...and something cheesy...and a brownie, it's not your midday meal that needs work—it's your breakfast.
Previous research has found that people who don't nosh in the a.m. are 4.5 times more likely to be overweight, and among a registry of folks who have lost more than 60 pounds and kept it off for at least five years, 78 percent start every morning with a meal.
Now new research from scientists at Imperial College London explains what happens in your brain if you do or don’t "break the fast." In a study, 21 normal-weight people looked at pics of high-calorie foods while undergoing MRIs. One day they were given no breakfast before the scan, another day they were fed a robust 730-calorie breakfast an hour and a half prior to the MRI, and on both occasions they were later treated to lunch.
While not shocking, the results are telling: The area of the brain involved with “food appeal” was more activated in those with an empty belly. As a result, meal skippers were more attracted to the food photos, and they downed more calories at lunch—one fifth more. The scientists say the study supports the notion that fasting fuels hunger, ups the allure of high-calorie foods, and ultimately increases overall intake. In other words, skipping breakfast is essentially a recipe for weight gain.
RELATED: Sick of cereal? Try these 13 healthy breakfasts recommended by nutrition experts to keep you satisfied until lunch.
A lot of my clients tell me they're just not hungry in the a.m., but you can change that. Start by eating something small and light, such as a mini banana. Once your body gets used to it, tack on something else, like almonds. Next add a single-serve container of organic nonfat Greek yogurt or a dairy-free alternative, then start stirring in a whole grain such as toasted oats. Before you know it, you’ll be waking up ravenous, which is a good thing—it means your metabolism is now in high gear.
And if time is an issue, there are plenty of quick, nutrient-rich options. Here are three easy, breezy choices:
Spread seasoned ricotta on a slice of 100% whole-grain toast and top with fruit and nuts.
Doctored-Up Cold Cereal
To a serving of puffed whole grains, add organic skim milk or a dairy-free alternative, fresh sliced fruit, and nuts, and season with citrus zest.
Think of them as an iced version of hot cereal and load them up with oats, milk, nut butter, fruit, and spices.
According to a recent survey, just 44 percent of Americans eat breakfast seven days a week. Are you one of them? Please tweet your breakfast challenges or favorite healthy options to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.