I was hoping to post this much sooner, but got caught up in all our collective bs around food. How do you tell people to eat without invoking any of the other sh*t?
Then I read this article.
Well, ok, at first, I just read the headline, “Breakfast Is Not The Most Important Meal Of The Day”. That was enough to make me angry, because my whole thesis is that it is. So I skipped actually reading the article.
This morning, I realized “not important” doesn’t really negate my argument, and I decided to read the whole article.
I was somehow, after years of studying and criticizing our culture’s baggage around food and body size, SURPRISED that the only thing the article focused on was whether or not people lost or gained weight based on their breakfast habits.
It had nothing to do with, say, concentration or focus, motivation, or- of course- actually being healthy. And I could not find a link to any of the studies mentioned (in fact, it’s an article about an article about 2 studies, and the lack of links in both is suspicious), but my guess is the actual science either only focused on weight, or did not actually prove breakfast isn’t important.
So with renewed vigor, I present to you, the (maybe?) long-awaited follow-up to 2014’s “How To Adult Starter Kit, Item #1”….
Before we start, what I mean by “eating well” is feeding yourself regularly in order to keep you, your brain, & your body operating at top capacity so you can get sh*t done, and get rid of the crushing, stressful weight of your neverending to do list.
What I don’t mean is:
- not eating certain types of food
- eating organic/vegan/etc.
- losing weight
- gaining weight
- any of the other bs baggage that we put on food and eating
(though I totally recognize all that stuff may come into play as people think about this, because our culture is messed up enough to tie basic physical necessities with self-worth, all while millions of Americans do not have regular access to food)
I am assuming you know that you’ll die if you don’t eat. But you won’t die like Vizzini in The Princess Bride, totally lucid and normal, doing what you always do, and then just falling over out of nowhere. It’s a painful process in which your body shuts down your organs and slows your metabolism to preserve your brain, heart, and lungs.
And it starts roughly 6 hours after you last ate.
At ~6 hours without food, your body will not have enough of what it needs to keep your brain functioning in tip-top shape, and it’ll start in on your fatty acids, while rerouting resources from the rest of your body. This means that your brain might get enough of what it needs to keep going, but definitely not enough to work properly, AND the rest of your body will feel like sh*t because it’s being denied resources.
So what?, I can hear you say through your computer screens, I don’t wait 6 hours to eat… lunch is only 3-4 hours away from breakfast!
Except that if you sleep for at least 6 hours (and you don’t sleepeat like Liz Lemon), you wake up already in that state.
In simplest terms, if your car runs out of gas, you don’t keep trying to drive it. In fact, most of the time, you don’t let it get to empty.
In this analogy, your body is the car, and food is the gas (heh heh). Food is fuel, and you can’t run without it.
THAT is why eating breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s the first big meal you’ve had in awhile, and you need it to get you going. Your brain is not operating at capacity until you get SOMETHING in your body for it to pull glucose from. An orange, a muffin, even a cup of coffee. You need to get something into that stomach of yours before you ask your brain to start focusing and calculating.
Now, I said you just need to eat something, whatever it is. If that’s the only compromise we can strike here because you are anti-breakfast, fine. Skip to the end, and sign up for my newsletter. In reality, you do yourself more favors by eating well at breakfast.
Your brain needs a lot of glucose to do its thing, and giving it a little at a time may mean a boost for however long it lasts, but you will do yourself a serious solid if you eat enough food to keep your brain going for awhile.
For example, a muffin and a cup of coffee may get you into the office and at your desk, but what happens when your brain runs out of energy-giving resources a few minutes after you sit down? Your mind starts to wander, and you get sidetracked from a task, or you start futzing around on the internet, and then all of a sudden it’s 11 AM, and your day is off. AND you’re hungry again.
If you give yourself the appropriate amount of food as soon as you wake up, and then follow that with the right amount of lunch & dinner, and snacks between meal times, you’ll be like a well-oiled machine, kicking ass & taking names.
What’s the right amount of food? Just like everything else, it’s different for everyone, and you might need to do a bit of legwork to find out what works for you.
I actually experimented with a variety of foods before I found what I needed: PROTEIN. I ate sausage and eggs every single morning for a few years, until I switched from freelancing to in-house work, and no longer had a kitchen & open schedule at my disposal. At that time, I tried a bunch of different yogurts, until I found a really great greek yogurt that is pretty much like breakfast pudding (and is nice to m tummy).
I started experimenting with breakfast & the amount/type of food I ate not because I was having trouble concentrating (I was, but I didn’t know it at the time). I started tracking all kind of things about my life- sleep, food, social activity, etc.- because I wanted to see if anything triggered my mental health issues.
I am not in any way, shape, or form a doctor or therapist of any kind, so this is not medical or psychiatric advice. Also, again, everything is different for everyone, so what works for me may not work for you.
What I discovered by tracking a variety of data was that, when I did not eat enough food throughout the day, I was more likely to first, become anxious (an almost immediate response), and second, become depressed (a response drawn out over a few days).
Before I knew there was a connection between my anxiety and my eating habits, I assumed that was just who I was all the time. I would just become anxious with or without an obvious trigger, and I would just have to wait it out.
Now, I had a possible solution to both keeping the anxiety at bay, and dealing with it when it came.
On the depression, it was less clear how things flowed together in such a perfect storm because, as many of you may know, depression is sometimes the cause, sometimes the effect. The anxiety might keep me from doing any work, and then the depression would set in because I didn’t get anything done. Or the lack of enough food would make my body not strong enough to keep myself together, and depression would just leak into me like poison.
Obviously, learning to eat well did not “cure” me. I still get anxious, and while I’ve been on an even keel for the last few years, depression is still something I deal with, even just in little ways. For me- again, this is just my deal, and others are most likely different- it’s easier. It’s easier to avoid or work through these things when my body has everything it needs. It’s easier to get sh*t done in my life that previously were supertriggers, like paying bills or cleaning the house.
Again, whether or not this will work for you, I don’t know, but if you find yourself struggling to concentrate, feeling tired or sluggish, or just not being as productive as you like, try eating 3 full meals a day, with some room for snacking for at least a month, and see how you feel. I recommend eating breakfast before 8 AM (or as soon as you get up, if you don’t 9-5), and other meals/snacks as soon as you feel hungry. Don’t try and make food a reward, don’t put it off until you do x,y,z thing. As with all items in this starter kit, routine is really important, so train your body to expect food at certain times by giving it food when it asks for it.
Lastly, let me say, without trying to make this a political thing, you should eat whatever you want. When I was a kid, my mom fed me only the healthiest, leanest stuff, totally homemade macrobotic whatever. I started to eat stick of butter- I would just go to the freezer and suck on them like a popsicle- and she asked my pediatrician how to make me stop. My pediatrician asked what she was feeding me, and then told her that I was doing it because I was not getting enough cholesterol. She upped my cholesterol, and I stopped eating butter.
Since then, she made sure to teach me that my body would tell me what it needed. To this day, I follow that, and I go for what I crave, and also try to make sure I balance my food out, including with sugars (dessert is awesommmeeee). AS ALWAYS, everyone is different, and, technically, I’ve been trained to do this since childhood, but…. be kind to yourself and your body. Don’t deny yourself food that you’re craving because it’s “bad”, because you could be denying your body nutrients it needs.
At this point, I hope that the pictures have made you hungry, and you go from here to somewhere to eat preferably cake, but I guess fried chicken would be ok, too.
Next Up in the Starter Kit: Get A Routine