Why am I hungrier on days when I have breakfast?
November 28, 2006 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Why am I hungrier on days when I have breakfast?

I don't usually eat breakfast. (I do maybe one day out of three.) When I do, I'm much hungrier for the rest of the morning: if I don't have breakfast, I can wait till 1pm or later to have lunch, while if I do I'm starving by 11:30. This seems odd to me, since I've always heard it's healthier to eat breakfast (and that it helps you eat less overall).

Possibly relevant background info: I'm currently on a mild diet. (I just stopped drinking soda and snacking as much, but I pretty much eat normal meals and have a small snack whenever I'm hungry. I've lost 15 pounds in three months.) I don't think there's a difference in how busy or awake I am on days when I have breakfast, but there might be one I'm missing. The breakfasts I do have are usually fairly small: a bowl of instant oatmeal or cereal.
posted by raf to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Part of the reason could be because you don't have breakfast every day. If you ate it every day, your body would learn when to expect food. As it is, you're keeping it guessing and possibly throwing things a little out of whack.

But the bigger reason is most likely because of what you're having. Unless you're eating whole grain cereal like Kashi or whole, unsweetened oats, your breakfasts are probably rather high in sugar and have negligible, if any, protein. Try having eggs, or a piece of cheese, or plain yogurt (the flavored kind are too high in sugar), and I bet you'll notice a difference.
posted by boomchicka at 12:01 PM on November 28, 2006

Yes, my breakfasts are rather high in sugar and low in protein. Why would having some sugar in the morning make me hungrier than having nothing? I don't understand the link between that and my hunger.
posted by raf at 12:10 PM on November 28, 2006

I've noticed the same thing- on the days I have even a little breakfast, I'm hungrier in the afternoon then if I have no breakfast at all. BUT, on the days I have no breakfast or a small breakfast, I am completely famished by the time 9-10 p.m. rolls around, regardless of what I ate for lunch.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:27 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am not a doctor/dietician/healthy eater, but here's my understanding vaguely remembered from neurology study in college. When you put sugary foods (sucrose, fructose, candy, etc.) in your blood, these are short-term caloric boosts that your body burns through very quickly (i.e. the energy you get from sugar is up and then crashed very quickly). The crash of this sugar causes your body to "miss" these nutrients, i.e. to inform you of the loss of caloric energy by making you feel hungry - hunger is simply a sign that the body is lacking caloric energy. If you haven't put the short term calories in your body in the first place, you don't have anywhere to crash from.

I also believe, but may be mistaken, that when you eat it increases your metabolism so your body functions at a higher level, thus requiring more caloric energy/replenishment sooner. This may be why they say that people who eat breakfast tend to be skinnier or lose weight more easily.

On the other hand, proteins and such provide caloric energy over a longer term, delaying the time at which your brain says 'Hey, I'm crashing" and asks your stomach to growl.
posted by bunnycup at 12:29 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, metabolism is complicated. Here is a simplified version.

Generally when you don't eat you enter a period of "fasting". Humans are great at this and blood avoids the stomach, so to speak, fewer acids are created because there's nothing to digest and so on and so forth. When you break fast with sugar, it is quickly metabolised and stored as long term energy, using up a few of the calories but converting the rest to fat. This means you get your digestive juices going in the morning yet are essentially "done" with the sugar in an hour or two. Unless you do some real exercise, enough to get a sustained raised heart rate, that sugar you just ate is more or less lost to you.

Anecdotally, I avoid breakfast carbs like the plague; egg/potato or yogurt/fruit (that pre-cupped stuff is totally full of sugar, beware) for me, thanks.
posted by shownomercy at 12:31 PM on November 28, 2006

The breakfasts I do have are usually fairly small: a bowl of instant oatmeal or cereal.

Layman speculation: I think the above is the key point - once your digestive system is up and running again after a period of inactivity, it expects to keep running for a reasonable period that would facilitate a meal. Much like chewing gum but not eating anything, you kickstart it with a breakfast that is small and digested quickly, leaving the system running but empty. Running but empty = hungry for more.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:48 PM on November 28, 2006

What everyone else said, with the exception that a combination of protein and a complex carb (e.g. donut=bad, instant oatmeal=slightly better, steel-cut oatmeal/whole grains=best) holds me better than protein alone. Make sure you're getting enough protein, too - a good rule of thumb for me is about a sixth of my body weight in grams at every meal. It sounds like a lot but it really makes a difference and holds me for about six hours.
posted by granted at 12:49 PM on November 28, 2006

Eating high glycemic index foods will make you hungry later.
posted by caddis at 12:53 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

That crash is caused by insulin being pumped into your blood because if the sugar boost. You then get low blood sugar because the mechanism of control isn't that great, and that prompts your body to tell you that you're hungry.
posted by OmieWise at 1:05 PM on November 28, 2006

So then followup: is this a bad thing? Assuming I don't have the discipline to have a happy, pro-protein breakfast every morning, is my relatively high-sugar breakfast better or worse than no breakfast at all?
posted by raf at 1:22 PM on November 28, 2006

Work with your lack of discipline. Hardboil a half dozen eggs on Sunday evening and keep them in the fridge. For breakfast, have a hardboiled egg, a piece of whole grain toast with some butter, and a piece of fruit (apple, banana, orange, etc). That will give you around 250-300 quality calories with protein and fiber and not a great deal of sugar.
posted by plinth at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately I hate hate hate eggs.
posted by raf at 1:48 PM on November 28, 2006

Okay, so skip the eggs. Have a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and some fruit or yogurt.
posted by sulaine at 1:54 PM on November 28, 2006

light yogurt (the kind without a lot of added sugar) works well

For cereal, Eat Well, Be Well makes some that won't spike your insulin. They are good for diabetics, but also for anyone watching their glycemic intake to control hunger. Other choices are cereals with high protein and no added sugar. Whole grains (like oatmeal) as opposed to something that has been ground into flour takes a little longer to digest so it doesn't produce as big of an insulin spike. Splenda is an awesome sweetener if you want that sugary taste.
posted by caddis at 2:02 PM on November 28, 2006

raf - boomchicka, bunnycup, OmieWise, and caddis are absolutely right -- if you eat sugary breakfasts, you're setting yourself up for a glycemic crash that will leave you craving more food sooner. Long story short, focus more on protein, fat (any kind, but unsaturated fats are actually good for you), and fiber. Always, but particularly in the morning, as that meal seems to really set the tone for you.

The clearest lay explanation I've ever seen of this phenomenon is in the first few chapters of The South Beach Diet. It's written by a cardiologist, so there's some really good info in there even if you don't feel like following his particular weight loss plan & menu & stuff.
posted by rkent at 2:39 PM on November 28, 2006

Those are great ideas, if I was awake enough and non-lazy enough to spread peanut butter on toast in the morning. But I'm usually not. (Plus, the reason I have small or nonexistant breakfasts is that food in the morning makes me vaguely nauseous. The idea of eating toast and fruit and something else is too much.) So back to my follow-up:

Assuming I don't have the discipline to have a happy, pro-protein breakfast every morning, is my relatively high-sugar breakfast better or worse than no breakfast at all?
posted by raf at 2:41 PM on November 28, 2006

(Sorry if that sounded snide; this has all been very helpful. Thanks.)
posted by raf at 2:45 PM on November 28, 2006

I'm with you on the inability to eat much first thing in the morning. I've solved it by eating a good breakfast within about the first hour of work in the morning. My stomach is awake enough to deal with protein, my brain is awake enough to assemble something nutritious, and I seem to get all of the benefits of eating breakfast. I like peanut butter and jelly or banana sandwiches on wheat bread, which works even if you don't have a fridge at work. If you do, your options widen considerably.
posted by decathecting at 3:34 PM on November 28, 2006

How about a Kashi bar? Those are awesome, high in protein, and very filling.
posted by forensicphd at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2006

decathecting: I like that idea a lot. I'll have to try it.
posted by raf at 4:16 PM on November 28, 2006

Oh, and I do have a fridge at work, so other ideas are quite welcome.
posted by raf at 4:17 PM on November 28, 2006

I'm not sure it's about the lack of protein. I've noticed the same hungry-earlier phenomenon on days when I've had egg whites for breakfast.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:31 PM on November 28, 2006

I am the same way - if I eat a packet of oatmeal I am starving by 11:00. Agree with above that it's what you eat (and I am lazy about fixing this too). One thing that worked for me - yogurt (the really thick greek kind has more protien) + some fruit (blueberries best) + some atrociously bran-filled cereal or granola + honey (you will need it if you chose plain yogurt). It's very satisfying and I don't get hungry till mid afternoon.
posted by mkim at 6:34 PM on November 28, 2006

Totally agreeing with everyone about the importance of protein to level you out, but to answer your question about whether eating a high sugar breakfast is better than eating no breakfast at all, I think the answer is yes.


I keep some fried fruit around for a snack- yogurt also helps. I'd check out the different brands available at your grocery store- some brands have a lot of protein in it.
posted by eggplantia5 at 7:39 PM on November 28, 2006

I don't usually eat in the morning, but I used to find that when I did I'd be starving by 11am. But, since I've started trying to eat healthy and cutting down on sugars and processed food I find when I do eat breakie I don't get as hungry until lunchtime (12.30pm or 1pm).

Try some homemade Steel Cut Oatmeal or Porridge with a little milk, & honey or maple syrup. U can make it the night before and heat it up in the microwave. It seems chewy compared to the instant package stuff, but it's better for you and I've gotten used to the texture of it (didn't think I would). And it's a great source of long burning energy.

The packet oatmeal is often loaded with sugar and will make you hungry earlier, see posts about sugars & glycemic indexes.

If you don't like porridge, try some yogurt, cereal, & milk, try a little honey or maple syrup as a sweetner. Avoid the kiddy cereal which is often loaded with sugar or fake syrup, the real stuff tastes better and you need less.

If your dieting, I'd suggest looking up the South Beach diet, the most important thing I took from that is avoiding, you guessed it, sugars and adding more fiber to ones diet. Someone I know has lost about 30 pounds on it, and I find that following it rather loosely I've more energy throughout the day.

I guess my main point, is avoid sugars & processed foods, add a bit of fiber and you'll feel fuller longer.
posted by zaphod at 9:58 PM on November 28, 2006

Generally speaking if you avoid breakfast when you first get up then set yourself up for a meal 3 hours into your day. The early eating is not particularly natural for most people. 3 hours seems to be the most common time lag from waking to first eating.
posted by ptm at 11:59 PM on November 28, 2006

raf writes "Assuming I don't have the discipline to have a happy, pro-protein breakfast every morning, is my relatively high-sugar breakfast better or worse than no breakfast at all?"

The research is pretty clear that people who have been overweight and successfully lose and keep off the weight almost all eat breakfast. The thought is that this prevents overeating later in the day, but it could also just be an indicator of regularity and order in their eating lives. I'm not sure if this is relevant to you or not, but it's well-established.
posted by OmieWise at 6:06 AM on November 29, 2006

Also, you don't have to stick with traditional "breakfast foods." Sometimes all I have in the morning is a slice or two of turkey lunchmeat or a string cheese, then I'll have a Kashi bar or a yogurt a little later. You could also just keep some protein-havin' food at work, so that if you don't want to eat before work, at least the right foods are there when you want something. To sort of answer your question about what's worse, I think you would be better off by eating a better breakfast later, than eating a sugary one earlier.
posted by boomchicka at 7:06 AM on November 29, 2006

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