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  1. Wealth
February 25, 2009

Top o’ the Mornin’

By Spear's

As if everyday life wasn’t hard enough already, some people choose to make matters worse by skipping breakfast. Is that crazy or what, asks Penelope Bennett

As if everyday life wasn’t hard enough already, some people choose to make matters worse by skipping breakfast. Is that crazy or what, asks Penelope Bennett

Not everyone can face breakfast. According to one hypothesis, some bodies have not evolved to deal with modern life. Deviation from the hunting and gathering that theoretically precede a meal engenders stress in these bodies, interrupting a ‘natural’ cycle and prompting an aversion to food.

If this theory is to be believed, I must be very evolved. I get out of bed for breakfast and breakfast alone. I don’t need to kill a warthog or milk a cow before feeling as if I may faint if I don’t eat. And I’m proud of my de facto evolved state.

I’m one of 63 per cent of the British workforce who eat breakfast regularly, thanks to which I’m more physically energetic, have better coordination and score 15 per cent higher on memory tests than people who skip it. Breakfast — delicious, boosting, hearty breakfast — wakes up my metabolism after ‘fasting’ (sleeping) and tells it to start burning fat, thereby decreasing my risk of obesity. Kudos.

It goes without saying that skipping breakfast leads to poor concentration, flailing energy, mood swings and weight gain, the last of these as a result of over-compensating for the loss of key nutrients at breakfast, eating more fat-rich and high-energy foods (the proverbial quick fix) later in the day, and allowing less time for your body to burn calories before bedtime and relative immobility.

Many people get the majority of their energy intake after work and sleep on it, which bodes ill for good work performance. The big picture: breakfast-skipping employees are costing the British economy £17 billion a year — equivalent to 97 million working days — in lost productivity.

One such nil-by-mouth type, a hard-working, hard-playing friend of mine, collapsed one day at his office and was taken to hospital for blood tests. They found nothing strange in the results and sent him back to work. In the days that followed, he suffered blackouts, sight loss, heart palpitations and nausea. More tests ensued, to no avail.

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Convinced he was dying, he went to his father’s doctor, a brilliant cancer specialist and the trusty family doc sure to find the root of this evil and obliterate it. After examining him and chatting about lifestyle choices, he sent him away with instructions to eat a proper breakfast every day and… that was it.

You are designed to withstand all manner of nasties, said his doctor. You just have to give your body a full tank on waking to give it a fighting chance to do its job right.

I have no problem with this directive. I relish food, and find breakfast unique. It allows you to enjoy all the perks of a top-notch restaurant without the expense of a three-course meal and wine (and a babysitter if you have kids), and it’s the only time of day you can blatantly ignore everyone else while poring over the papers, sipping tea or just staring out of the window.

If you really are of the ‘can’t face it’ persuasion, consider trying it every morning for 30 days — the time scientists say it takes for a habit to stick — and consider the good it will do you. Think of the surge of nutrients the body needs after a long night’s sleep: breakfast provides it.

Keep in mind the fuel (glucose) that keeps your motors running, that which your brain and nervous system need for you to walk, speak, stretch, type: breakfast provides it. If you’re dieting, trust that breakfast staves off hunger (fun fact: the Mozambique Portuguese word for breakfast, matabicho, translates as ‘kill the hunger’) and cancels subsequent excess calorie intake. Breakfast, I’m here to say, is king.

If lack of time is stopping you from eating it, lay out everything you need the night before (fun fact two: the Russian for breakfast, zavtrak, has its roots in zavtra, the word for ‘tomorrow’, from people spending today getting tomorrow’s first meal ready) and wake up a little earlier to eat in relative peace.

Stockpile the following in your kitchen: fruit; plain yoghurt; whole grains (eat muesli or Shredded Wheat once a day and enjoy a 28 per cent lower risk of developing heart failure); eggs (the ‘Go to work on an egg’ slogan wasn’t allowed a revival this century. It’s misleading, apparently, but think for yourself, don’t make a single egg your breakfast day in, day out, and you’ll be fine); and nuts and seeds (for protein).

Mix a complex carbohydrate (such as porridge, which can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and, legend has it, helped the Scots win the battle of Bannockburn) with protein (low-fat meats or dairy) for a steady release of energy, and keep away from pastries and processed food as these produce a short energy boost followed by an energy slump, sugar cravings and low blood-sugar levels by mid-morning.

In a nutshell, if it’s all getting a bit much out there — you’ve lost your job or you’ve still got it but you’re working twice as hard, or perhaps you’ve taken a break but don’t know what to do with yourself — take a step back and think basics. Don’t let emotion cloud your logic.

Be good to yourself, help your body, and become the best you can be. In the words of Thomas Hardy in Far from the Madding Crowd, ‘I shall be breakfasted before you are afield. In short, I shall astonish you all.’ 

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