You’ve heard whole “breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day” spiel. And you’re working, like really working, to become a breakfast person. You’ve got cereal boxes on top of the refrigerator, a glass of juice in hand, and, hey, if you run short on time, you can always chow down on a breakfast bar on the way to work.
But, as much as we applaud your efforts… you’re not breakfasting optimally with these choices and the results can range from sugar crashes and mid-morning brain fog to legit weight gain.
See if you’re making one of the four most common breakfast mistakes and learn what you can do instead!
1. You Start the Morning with Packaged Breakfast Foods
Your fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt is good for you. And your cereal is healthy. I mean it says so right on the front of the package. The box boasts zero trans fats and whole grains! Bad news: anything on the front of a box is marketing.
And, according to research from Harvard University, packaged foods that sport the yellow Whole Grain Stamp tend to contain more sugar and calories than whole-grain ones without the label.
Do this instead: If you reach for packaged breakfast foods, read the nutrition facts and ingredient panel on the back (or side) before you buy, advises Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That’s where you can really find out what’s inside. When it comes to cereal, the fewer ingredients, the better. Also look for brands with a combination of protein, fiber, and unsaturated fat, and zero — or at least minimal — added sugar, he recommends.
2. You Grab Something on the Way out of the Door
Eating on the go can easily result in overeating, according to 2015 research published in the Journal of Health Psychology. While mindfulness certainly has something to do with it — you’re not focusing on what and how much you’re eating when you’re eating on the run — so does the fact that when we wolf down foods in record time on the way to work, we tend to overwhelm our systems, forcing high levels of insulin secretion, fat storage, and rebound hunger, Delbridge explains. A study published in Preventative Medicine conducted on Japanese men and women revealed that eating fast is independently associated with insulin resistance.
But, let’s be honest, you aren’t going to have time to sit down at the kitchen table every morning. And, even if you do, you are probably still going to multitask.
Do this instead: At least make your decision on what to eat a mindful one. “It can’t be an afterthought, like grabbing your keys,” Delbridge says. Before you go to bed, prepare your breakfast. If you need to eat on the road, you can turn to your own homemade healthy breakfast bars (make a big batch once per week), batch prep oatmeal in a slow-cooker, or hard-boiled eggs, suggests NYC dietitian and trainer Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S.
3. You Overload on Sugar
Donuts, scones, muffins, and bagels. Pancakes, waffles, and crepes. Granola and parfaits. “I don’t know how breakfast became such a dessert-y, high-sugar thing,” says Delbridge. “But it’s not doing anyone any favors, and it’s not the right way to start the day.” OD-ing on sugar, especially first thing in the morning, sets you up for rollercoastering blood glucose and insulin levels throughout the day, along with poor energy levels, fat retention, and overeating, he says. And those juices, even 100-percent fruit ones, aren’t much better in the sugar department.
Do this instead: “To me, a healthy breakfast contains whole carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber,” Delbridge says. “Together, those nutrients provide energy, promote satiety, and help you feel better and healthier all day long.” Try incorporating some lean proteins, beans, and/or vegetables into your breakfasts with breakfast burritos, egg cups, or Buddha bowls. And if you want something sweet at breakfast, grab a whole piece of fruit, says Delbridge.
4. You Have Inconsistent Eating Habits
While any morning that you start off with a healthy breakfast is a win, “Your body is very good at remembering patterns. Every time you wake up, and you don’t eat, your body remembers it,” Delbridge says.
“The next morning, your body slows down its biological processes and metabolism to preserve energy.” Plus, every day you miss breakfast, you are more likely to snack on unhealthy foods or overeat at that day’s lunch, Matheny adds.
Do this instead: Eat breakfast. Every. Single. Day. If you’re still struggling to find time in the morning, consider doing some weekend meal prep, Matheny recommends. It can help you save time and excuses not to eat breakfast. It will take time, but breakfast will soon become second nature.