Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Many people I work say they just don’t feel hungry in the morning, and so avoid eating.
Maybe you don’t want to start off your bloating that hits as soon as you eat.
Or you feel a bit nauseous first thing and want to wait a while before eating.
Maybe you have a voice inside your head that tells you if you don’t eat breakfast it will be easier to lose weight because you’re starting the day on no calories?
Well, I understand all this, I’ve heard it all from my clients. It can feel protective to save yourself from digestive discomfort for at least some of the day.
Breakfast is important
As one of our main meals breakfast should provide around 20-30% of our total nutrient intake.
We know that people who eat breakfast are more likely to make healthier choices throughout the day. This includes more fruit and vegetables, higher fibre intake, and less ultra-processed foods. (Of course there could just be a correlation between people who choose to eat breakfast and people who choose a healthier diet.)
A study in Chinese students found that skipping breakfast was significantly linked to a higher risk of having IBS.
This could potentially be down to the higher fibre nature of the diet when you eat breakfast, as well as increasing bulk in the gut, to encourage more regular bowel movements.
You probably know all this, but if you’re avoiding eating breakfast, read on a bit to understand my reasons why I recommend eating breakfast if you have IBS.
Larger meals increase FODMAPs
If you only eat two meals a day, you are at risk of eating higher FODMAP meals when you do eat.
FODMAPs in food are often tolerated by people with IBS at lower portions, but when eaten in higher amounts can cause bloating, diarrhoea and excessive gas.
(To read more about FODMAPs and what they are you can see my beginners guide here)
For example, when you eat two pieces of fruit in one sitting, you’re more likely to experience the effects of higher fructose.
If you were to space out your fructose intake, and have one piece of fruit at breakfast, and another at lunch, you’re less likely to get the reaction.
High fructose meals can draw water into your small intestine, or cause excessive gas as the bacteria ferment undigested molecules in the large intestine.
Nutrient intake can be low on two meals a day
By skipping breakfast you’ll need to hit all the nutrient recommendations for macro nutrients such as protein and fibre with just two meals.
It’s difficult to hit over 50g protein (minimum) and 30g fibre in just two meals a day.
Can you really eat enough iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E in two meals?
It’s a real challenge to get all the nutrients you need on reduced meals. People with IBS are often under nourished due to restrictive diets, so cutting out another meal isn’t helpful.
Skipping meals can impair blood sugar balancing
There are numerous studies showing that are response to glucose is better in the morning. This means if most of your energy intake is later in the day, you’re more likely to experience high blood sugars.
In the earlier parts of the day we have better blood sugar management. Insulin is released more quickly in response to a meal in the earlier part of the day, which lowers blood glucose levels after a meal.
Other research has shown that when breakfast is eaten, there is a reduced spike in blood sugars after the next meal is eaten. This means when you eat in the morning, there is a better insulin response to your lunch.
This is thought to be due to suppression of circulating fatty acids in the blood, and better uptake of glucose into your skeletal muscles of the second meal.
Whilst there isn’t a strong evidence base for weight loss per se on whether it’s best to eat earlier or later in the day, we know it can affect your blood sugar levels.
Skipping breakfast may increase anxiety
We know anxiety and IBS can go hand in hand, and there is a chemical, physiological reason why breakfast can help with IBS.
When you haven’t eaten for a long time your body needs to get the message to your brain to seek out food.
This might register as hunger pangs as your body starts to extract the last of any remaining food in your stomach.
When you haven’t eaten for a long time your blood sugar levels can dip, and this can lead to a physiological stress which raises cortisol.
You might think you’re just skipping a meal, but your survival mechanism needs to get a new supply of glucose to the brain, so your system kicks in and your body is now put onto high alert.
This can trigger feelings of anxiety or increase worry, even if you don’t feel anxious.
This is why managing your blood sugar levels can really help when you’re prone to anxiety.
Your gastro-colic reflex is strongest in the morning
If you’re someone who struggles with constipation or irregular bowel movements you can hack into the gastro-colic reflex to stimulate a bowel movement each day.
When we eat our digestive process starts making room for more food in the system, and typically around 20 minutes after a meal you may feel the urge to go.
By eating breakfast when this natural urge is strongest, you’ll have the best chance of going to the toilet after eating.
How to start eating breakfast
If you can’t stomach breakfast in the morning then you may be able to break that cycle with these little tips.
As they say, just do it!
Firstly, train yourself to eat breakfast by…….. actually starting to eat something!
Animal models have shown that if you feed sheep on a schedule there will be an increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin in the hour prior to expected feeding time.
So by starting to eat at a regular time, you can train yourself to become hungry around that time.
Prioritise sleep better
Secondly, you might be feeling too sleepy to feel hungry.
If you don’t sleep well the night before, you can wake up groggy and sluggish. This could be due to ongoing levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone, in your body which naturally supresses appetite.
Try working on getting a better night’s sleep to improve your hunger in the morning.
This could be through
- doing more exercise
- exposure to daylight during the day
- relaxation techniques at bedtime
- not exercising too close to bedtime
- don’t eat too soon before bed
- ensure your room is dark, comfortable and invest in eye masks and ear plugs if needed.
Wake up to feel hungry
What do you need to do to wake yourself up? Find what works to get yourself feeling morning ready.
Lots of us feel better after a shower, but maybe some exercise would help. Movement is a good way to tell your body it’s daytime so a few minutes of movement in the kitchen in your pyjamas can help.
If you can get some exposure to daylight that would also help reset your wake sleep cycle. Daylight helps to reduce melatonin production, and put us into day mode.
Breakfast ideas for people with IBS
Here are some simple ideas for what to eat to start your day with reduced bloating:
- Corn tortilla wrapped around 2 scrambled eggs and fried steak slices
- Chia pudding – soak chia seeds in an alternative milk with berries and peanut butter
- Overnight oats with raspberries and ground seeds
- Porridge with a firm banana and some walnuts
See my 7 day Low FODMAP recipe pack for more ideas or to download some recipes to start tomorrow morning!
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritional Therapist.
I can help you to:
- understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
- eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
- develop better digestion and more energy
Find more about my 3 month 1:1 Gut Reset programme
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