Starting your day with a large meal packed with both carbohydrates and lean protein, and even a small piece of chocolate, can help lessen cravings and hunger the rest of the day, which can lead to significant weight loss, research suggests. This same research examined how sedentary, obese women lost almost five times as much weight on the “big breakfast” diet as did women following a traditional, restrictive low-carbohydrate diet.
Here’s why: When you wake in the morning, your body is primed to look for food. Your metabolism is revved up, and levels of cortisol and adrenaline are at their highest. Your brain needs energy right away, and if you don’t eat or you eat too little, the brain needs to find another fuel source. To do this, it activates an emergency system that pulls energy from muscle, destroying muscle tissue in the process. Then when you eat later, the body and brain are still in high-alert mode, so the body saves energy from the food as fat. Compounding the problem, your levels of the brain chemical serotonin are highest in the morning, which means your craving levels are at the lowest when you first wake up, and you may not feel much like eating. But, as the day wears on, serotonin levels dip, and you get cravings for chocolate or cookies, and the like. If you eat these foods, your serotonin levels rise, and your body begins to associate good feelings with them, creating an addictive cycle.
The Big Breakfast Plan: If you eat a traditional breakfast, something like cereal or a doughnut, your blood sugar and insulin levels spike. Once that blood sugar is used up, you’ll still have excess insulin circulating, which makes you hungry and makes you crave carbohydrates. To combat both the addiction cycle and the hunger that inevitably seems to come with calorie reduction, choose the “big breakfast” option where your breakfast accounts for roughly one third to one half of your daily calories. A balanced meal comprising a high protein, good fat and carbohydrate mix gives the body the initial energy boost it needs in the morning. Throughout the rest of the day, your meals should also comprise protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates, like vegetables. Because protein is digested slowly, you won’t feel hungry. As part of this research, it was noted that consuming a small piece of chocolate or candy when serotonin levels are high won’t taste as good, and the brain won’t feel the same serotonin boost, which will eventually help cut down on cravings.
The Research: In the study of 94 obese, sedentary women with metabolic syndrome, half were told to eat the big breakfast diet containing about 1,240 calories, while the other half ate a 1,085 calorie high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet for eight months. At the end of the eight months, those on the more restrictive low-carb diet lost an average of almost 9 pounds. But those on the big breakfast diet lost nearly 40 pounds. That translated to an average body mass loss of 4.5 percent for those on the low-carb diet and a 21.3 percent average loss for those on the big breakfast plan. Additionally, those on the big breakfast plan reported feeling less hungry and had fewer carbohydrate cravings.