What’s YOUR Most Important Meal of the Day?

Read time: 2 minutes

Mine is not breakfast, and I’ll tell you why.

Nutritionists and health experts tell us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skip breakfast, they warn, and you’ll end up eating more later.

So this promotes a rush of early morning activity in kitchens across America, people trying to get ready for work while mindlessly shoving down low-quality food before they slip half-awake out the door. This is our most important meal of the day?

Looking into the research, we find there’s no supporting evidence that breakfast is the most important meal.

As I’ve written before, the act of bingeing after a fast (or skipping breakfast) is probably independent of fasting and based on a behavior of those who have bingeing tendency to begin with, no matter the meal pattern. On the other hand, a study shows that a 36-hour fast did not induce a powerful, unconditioned tendency to binge at the next meal or later meals.

But even if bingeing does occur after a fast, it does not mean we’ll put on weight. Whether we eat the same amount of calories through 3 meals or 2 meals (or even 1 meal) per day, meal frequency does not effect DAILY metabolic rate or energy level.

But consuming calories in fewer meals to equal the same as those from more frequent meals is a practice in physical discomfort, even in the face of gluttony. Here’s a quote from a 2007 study that demonstrates free-feeding (ad libitum) after a fast still nets an overall lower caloric intake:

…when on 1 meal/day, the subjects would have eaten less than those on 3 meals/day if we had not asked them to consume the same amount of food that they normally eat on a 3 meal/d schedule. When rodents are subjected to an alternate day fasting regimen, their overall calorie intake is decreased by 10–30% and they maintain a lower body weight than animals on an ad libitum control diet, and exhibit increased insulin sensitivity and decreased blood pressure.

As you can see, if you fast (24 to 36 hours) or skip breakfast, you’re not likely to binge; and if you do binge, you’re not likely to eat the same calories as you would have if you hadn’t fasted.

So, what is YOUR most important meal of the day? Is it shoving down breakfast in a rush, or is it some other meal in your day?

My most important meal of the day is almost always dinner. It is the time when I get to sit down with my wife, with family, or with good friends, and enjoy every bite of food, slowly, deliberately, with a glass of burgundy.

Perhaps this is why my feeding starts around 5PM. It works for me in so many ways: schedule, relationship, health, body composition, and real enjoyment of food.

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6 Responses to What’s YOUR Most Important Meal of the Day?

  1. meredith says:

    My most important meal is probably lunch as this is when I am most likely to be hungry. I work out first thing in the am and do so on an empty stomach.Can’t work out intensely otherwise.

    But, I’ve read that cortisol is highest in the am and right after working out. I also read that eating carbs can help offset that high cortisol. So, am I doing myself a diservice by not eating?

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Meredith,

      You’re correct in that there is a normal spike of cortisol in the morning, and after intense exercise.

      But cortisol is a subject of massive misinformation. We need to differentiate ACUTE cortisol and CHRONIC cortisol, both having very different actions.

      Acute morning spikes of cortisol helps to regulate blood pressure, protein, glucose, and fat, and prepares the body for the day. Cortisol mobilizes stored body fat and protein kinetics for the creation of glucose (gluconeogenesis), which your brain and nervous system use for energy.

      Eating carbohydrates (or feeding) in an attempt to stop acute cortisol would diminish this natural regulation of the body’s protein and fat — limiting the normal function of fat utilization, thus possibly contributing to excessive fat storage.

      Cortisol has also been shown to decrease protein synthesis, an action feared by fitness experts, particularly in the bodybuilding community.

      But we must remember that protein synthesis does not have a final outcome of actual muscle mass. Protein synthesis (or turnover rate) is rhythmic through the day, week, etc., and the final balance is not determined by acute cortisol serum level (nor is it necessarily even determined by the amount of protein intake).

      Thus, it’s not acute cortisol that we should be concerned about. Instead, we should be more concerned with chronic cortisol.

      Chronic cortisol results with continuous supraphysiological levels of physical and mental stress, which induces negative effects — such as reduced muscle mass, increased abdominal fat, osteoporosis, insulin resistance, and suppressed immunity.

      Acute cortisol, however, supports and restores homeostatis, increases recovery rate, and even elevates mood.

      http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/pubs/2005/Acute_cortisol_elevations.pdf

      And muted acute cortisol (in the AM) is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome in women.

      http://www.medpagetoday.com/Psychiatry/AnxietyStress/8018

      I believe that morning spikes in cortisol is a good thing, even when accompanied by that from intense exercise. These acute-promoting factors aren’t similar to chronic-promoting factors.

      Even without feeding in the morning and after the AM workout, serum blood cortisol should return to natural level after finishing “its jobs.”

      Acute cortisol, therefore, is a small part of a big picture that represents a hormonal profile that increases fat utilization, homeostasis, healing, and health.

      I hope this helps!

      Best,
      Johnny

  2. Dan says:

    Totally agree with you on this one. Even though I used to partake, it amazes me how much junk people can shove in half conscious! Once I got away from the sweets/breads, skipping breakfast was no big deal.

    Now that I’m following a 16/8 leangains style approach, my favorite meal is dinner. The work of the day is behind, and all is good to relax and enjoy the finer things in life 🙂

    • Johnny says:

      Dan, that’s the idea.

      For me, dinner has always been special, but these days dinner has become a significant practice that’s deeply enjoyed.

      This is not to say that I don’t occasionally eat other meals earlier in the day. For example, when I’m out with friends or colleagues or associates, I may enjoy a light lunch, or a piece of fruit with my Americano.

      Essentially, I typically have my first and major meal around 5PM, followed by one or two smaller meals as late as 11PM or midnight, depending on when I go to bed. Sometimes if dinner is not until later, then I’ll have a smaller meal around 5PM, until dinner comes.

      Whatever. The point is that I often don’t eat my first meal until around 5PM, and it has enhanced my lifestyle significantly. It’s an entirely different perspective not adopted by the Western culture, but certainly standard by other societies, tribes, and possibly ancestral practice.

      I’m not saying that this is the only way to eat — there are many other feeding schedules that work, too. But eating my first meal around 5PM has been a positive lifestyle for me, my wife, and many people we know. We never feel deprived; we still enjoy a lot of foods that we love, but at a deeper level.

      Johnny

  3. Dan says:

    Thanks for the reply Johnny. I’ve tried different styles ala Eat Stop Eat, Warrior Diet, etc., but find that the leangains style seems to be the most flexible and sustainable approach for me right now.

    One thing I haven’t quite figured out is my caffeine intake. I’ve bounced around between none, 1 cup/day, and 2 cups/day. It seems anything more than a cup in the morning compromises my sleep quality, or at least makes it harder to wake up the next day. Do you have any advice on caffeine consumption? And do you always have heavy cream or do you ever take it black?

    Thanks!

    • Johnny says:

      My coffee advice is to try to drink less, or cut off caffeine earlier in the day. The increased in catecholamines, stimulants of the sympathetic nervous system, increases your wakefulness. You probably need less caffeine as a result.

      Also, for this reason, I fast earlier in the day, and feed at night, when food increases parasympathetic flow, and readies the body for quality sleep. This feeding schedule (eating later in the day) works well for sleep.

      I always use heavy whipping cream in my coffee! Having one right now. 🙂

      Best,
      Johnny

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