I was part of a panel at a women’s group this week, and the topic was Mindful Eating. I spoke about the Ayurvedic view on the subject.
One of the points I discussed was checking in with your body to determine if you have true hunger before eating, as emotions can often trigger a sense of false hunger. With this, I mentioned that if you’re not hungry for breakfast, you don’t need to eat it. This statement stirred a huge debate! As we were already running over time and it was approaching 9:30 at night, I thought it was better not to get into a heated discussion around the topic.
But now I’d like to add some clarity around that statement because I do feel it’s a good point for discussion, and apparently, much needed!
To Eat or Not to Eat
Some argue that if you don’t eat at breakfast, you will overeat later in the day; others emphasize that breakfast is necessary in order to fuel your brain – while I don’t disagree with these statements, I do think they need to be qualified.
The reason some people overeat when they skip breakfast is likely due to the fact that they were hungry at breakfast but denied themselves. This is not at all what I’m recommending. If you are hungry – eat!
In regard to breakfast being fuel for the brain, it certainly is….if you’re hungry. Otherwise it becomes toxins in your digestive system and can have adverse effects on brain function. (Refer to my article The Gut-Brain Connection for more details on this).
Without getting into the science of it, if your body is not hungry, it’s just not ready to received food. Period. It could be due to many reasons – you haven’t fully digested the food from the night before, your body is still waking up and your digestive fire is not strong enough yet, you might be experiencing emotions that are suppressing your appetite, or you might just be someone who doesn’t require food at that time of day.
Ayurveda is beautiful in that it recognizes the uniqueness of each individual. What works for some may not work for others. The key is learning to understand your body and its signals. This may sound like a daunting task, but with a few key practices, it can become second nature.
Learning to Identify Your Body’s Needs
When it comes to eating breakfast, how often do you stop and ask yourself “Am I hungry?” Or do you simply scarf down a bowl of cereal on auto-pilot each morning as part of your routine?
If we stop to ask ourselves this question, we may find a variety of answers:
- Perhaps you are hungry, and sufficiently enough that you are ready to eat. Good, that means it’s time for breakfast.
- Perhaps you’re just a little bit hungry, but not ready to eat yet. Ok, let’s wait a while before eating.
- Or perhaps there is no sensation of hunger present at all. No problem, that just means it’s not time for us to eat yet.
If you’ve identified that you are hungry, it’s important to then ask, how hungry are you? If we use a scale from 1 – 10, with 1 being not hungry, and 10 being absolutely ravenous, it’s best to eat when your appetite is at about a 7 – 8. You are sufficiently hungry, but not yet at the point of starvation.
If your appetite is lower on the scale and you’re concerned that you won’t have a chance to eat later if you don’t eat now, my recommendation is to make something you can take with you as you leave the house.
Personally, I like to cook up a warm meal and then keep it in a nice storage container that keeps it warm for when I’m ready to eat. There’s an abundance of thermos variations these days, so don’t feel like if you don’t eat at home that you’ll be left stuck chomping on a granola bar. I’ll get into some suggestions on what to eat in the next section.
Finally, if you’re just not hungry at all, it’s ok to not eat. Wait until lunch if that feels right for you. Everyone is not required to eat three meals a day for optimum health. Depending on your constitution and unique circumstances, your body may only require one or two meals a day. And that’s ok.
The point is not to try to compare ourselves to someone else, and to understand what our own body needs, because no two bodies are the same.
What to Eat for Breakfast
Alright, so for those of us who have identified that we are in fact hungry for breakfast, what’s the best thing to eat?
In talking with individuals and groups, I’ve seen that there is SO much confusion around this topic. So to make it simple, I’ll start with what not to eat:
- Avoid processed foods – of any kind. This includes fast food, frozen meals, protein or breakfast bars, etc. We want to be eating food in its natural form, not its chemical counterparts.
- Avoid eating primarily sugar. That means ditch the cereals, pastries, pancakes with syrup, etc. A note on sugar substitutes: this is not real food. If you have to “substitute”, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. Starting your day with sugar sets you up for unstable blood sugar levels, leading to low energy, brain fog, and a crappy mood.
Alright, I’m going to stop there for now, because the rest becomes very individualized. In general, these are my two highest recommendations when it comes to what to avoid at breakfast. Now I’ll give you some guidelines as to what’s great to eat:
- Healthy fats and proteins. Proteins and fats will not only keep you satiated longer than simple sugars, but they will fuel your brain as well. Eggs are an excellent choice – the whites are abundant in protein, and the yolks full of healthy fat. Stick to one or two yolks, and add more whites based on your body’s protein needs.
- I always recommend that leafy green vegetables be the staple for most diets. They are cleansing, nourishing, and contain fiber that our bodies need. Besides being high in vitamins and minerals, leafy greens often contain the “bitter” taste that is lacking in the typical Western diet. According to Ayurveda, there are six tastes, and we should consume all of them on a daily basis for optimum health. Since our sources of bitter taste are limited, it’s best to get them from leafy greens, which can help prevent cravings for less healthy bitter items, such as coffee.
Again, this is where I usually stop. Once I have my healthy fats, my clean protein, and my veggies, I feel that my breakfast is complete. If you do want to add an additional source of carbohydrate, I recommend sprouted grains as the best option. You can find an abundance of sprouted grain breads, tortillas, and other varieties at your local health food store (but be sure to read the label because some are better than others – look for the one’s with the least amount of ingredients and no added sugar).
I could go on and on regarding my thoughts on specific foods, such as oatmeal, fruit, etc., but for brevity’s sake, I will save those for another day. (Or feel free to get the conversation going by commenting below this article and I will respond).
For now, I’d like to leave you with my all-time favorite breakfast recipe, which I personally eat most days of the week. Feel free to adjust it to your needs and tastes, but it is a good base from which you can start:
Curried Eggs and Kale
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
A few stalks of lacinato kale
2 tsps ghee
3/4 tsp curry powder
Sea salt & pepper to taste
- Wash and chop the fresh kale (you can do this prep the night before if you need to save time in the morning).
- Heat 1 tsp of the ghee in a pan (no Teflon please!) over medium-low heat. Once the ghee has melted, as ½ tsp curry powder and gently sauté for about 30 seconds.
- Add the kale and toss to coat.
- Sauté for another 30 seconds, then add a bit of water to coat the bottom of the pan. Cover with a lid and set the heat to low to allow the veggies to steam themselves.
- While the kale is cooking, prep your egg and egg whites in a bowl (again, you can do this part the night before and store in the fridge if you’d like).
- Heat the other teaspoon of ghee in a separate pan, and follow the same procedure for adding the remaining curry powder.
- Add the eggs to the pan after sautéing the curry powder, and allow them to gently cook. (If you prefer scrambled eggs, feel free to whip the eggs with a fork before transferring to the pan, then stir continuously once in the pan).
- Carefully watch the eggs so that they don’t overcook. After a couple of minutes, you can flip them and cook the other side to your liking.
- Check the kale, giving it a stir every so often and adding any additional water if needed (the pan should be lightly coated with water through the process. If there’s still water in the pan at the end, simply take the lid off and cook for another minute or so to allow the water to evaporate). Cook to your preferred level of tenderness, adding more water for a softer texture, and less for a crunchier one.
- Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a side of sprouted grain toast if desired and enjoy!
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