The dangers of opting out of breakfast

Nicole Bronstein

Between malfunctioning alarm clocks and last-minute study sessions, some teenagers can’t seem to make enough time in their hectic morning schedules for breakfast.

But a well-balanced morning meal is more important than many teens may think.

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A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that breakfast eaters consume about 100 fewer calories per day than those who omit breakfast, and have a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular illness.

Mill Valley nutritionist Kim Kulp attributes the results of the study to the effect breakfast has on the metabolic system.

“When you wake up, your metabolism is at its low point because you’ve been sleeping all night, so everything is slowed down,” Kulp said. “When you eat, it starts to boost things up. But if you skip a meal, you’re still chugging along at a low rate. By the time lunch comes around and you’ve gone all night and all day without food, there’s a tendency to overeat. Your body tries to make up for what it didn’t get in the morning, and you don’t have as much appetite control.”

Junior Natalie Vaughan said she has less appetite control during weekdays because she skips breakfast, and regrets not eating breakfast every day.

“I eat more on days when I skip breakfast,” Vaughan said. “I’m starving. I always think about it, like,  ‘Why didn’t I eat breakfast?’ But I just don’t do it. So I usually pig out at lunch, and when I go home from school I eat a lot, too.”

Kulp said that those who eat breakfast also tend to make healthier meal choices throughout the rest of day.

Kulp’s theory is validated by a 2012 study by the Imperial College London in which researchers scanned the brains of breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers. They found that skipping breakfast tends to trigger activity in regions of the brain that prompt cravings for fatty, high-calorie foods. Those who ate breakfast were much less likely to have such cravings, and instead stuck to a fairly healthy diet.

Vaughan said that she finds herself eating healthier foods on weekends when she eats breakfast than on weekdays when she skips it.

“I eat healthier on the weekends. When I don’t eat breakfast, I kind of just eat whatever — chips, snacks like that to just fill me up,” Vaughan said.

Freshman Alivia Levie said that breakfast stopped being a priority when she entered high school, as she adjusted to her new schedule that included a zero period.

“I wake up, I shower, get ready, get all my stuff together and then run out the door,” Levie said. “I have so much to do in the morning. I’m not really thinking about my stomach.”

Kulp said that the variety of nutrients that breakfast food offers is essential to adolescent development.

“Kids who eat breakfast eat more whole grains and fruit than kids that don’t,” Kulp said. “In order to get a variety of nutrients, you really do need those three meals.”

According to Kulp, the nutrients that are included in a healthy breakfast are essential to adolescent growth and development. They offer a high number of health benefits and keep the body feeling full for hours. A 2003 University of Massachusetts study found that those who regularly skip breakfast are 4.5 times more likely to become obese than those who regularly consume breakfast.

Kulp also said that the nutrients of breakfast improve concentration and energy throughout the school day.

“For teens, you’re going to school, you need to concentrate, and when you don’t eat, your blood sugar is really low,” Kulp said. “And that’s what powers your brain and allows for better concentration. So when you don’t eat, it is a lot harder to function at your best.”

Levie said that she has trouble focusing in class on days when she skips breakfast.

“I can’t really concentrate during my first two periods unless I eat,” Levie said. “I get anxious. Sometimes, even if I am listening, it’s harder to understand what the teacher is saying because I’m so focused on how hungry I am.”

According to Kulp, the brain runs on blood sugar as fuel. Those who skip breakfast are not sufficiently fueling their bodies, so they rely on backup storage, which is not as efficient as having eaten breakfast. This is why it is harder for breakfast-skippers to focus.

Kulp said that the ideal breakfast contains low-fat proteins, complex carbohydrates like whole grains, and a small amount of good fats. The combination of these nutrients keeps blood sugar up and steady.

Kulp said she advises her teenage clients to eat something in the morning to start their day, even if it has to be eaten on the go.

“Come up with something you can grab and run out the door with, and then eat it within the first hour of school,” Kulp said. “That will start you off with more nutrition and break that cycle of skipping breakfast and eating more of your calories later in the day.”

Kulp recommends a grab-and-go breakfast of a cereal bar, a small carton of milk, and a piece of fruit.

“I’m a fan of small, single-serving type foods that you can grab out of the refrigerator and run out the door with,” Kulp said. “Something is better than nothing.”