I hear some version of the following very often in initial consultations:
“I don’t eat until lunch time, I’m not hungry and just too busy”. With the popularity of time restricted eating (different from intermittent fasting but often called as such) in recent years, many people have experimented with skipping breakfast and felt they were doing well for themselves because they stopped being hungry for it.
I did the same for a while. As a busy practitioner and mom I often felt like breakfast was something I couldn’t make time for and I figured as long as I ate a good lunch and dinner, I’d be just fine.
But breakfast actually has numerous health benefits, especially if you have PCOS, and they really can’t be ignored.
Here’s how breakfast helps your hormones
Food is one good way to reduce stress hormones after exercise and upon waking up in the morning. Typically the morning is the most stressful time of the day and our cortisol will naturally rise to it’s highest levels. This is a good thing, until it becomes excessive. Eating a balanced breakfast helps your body feel safe and tells it that it isn’t starving so there’s no need to release extra sugars from the muscles to account for that.
I’ve heard some say differently, but truly eating a balanced breakfast in the morning makes you crave less throughout the day. It keeps you full and it means your lunch, snack, and dinner will be more balanced too. If you’ve not had breakfast for a long time, there will likely be an opposite affect for a while, and this is just your body reacting to the fact that it has felt starved for a while. Give it some time, stay consistent and eventually everything will even out.
You have more freedom in what you eat during the early hours. Because of circadian rhythms, our bodies process starches and sugars from food much better in the morning and early afternoon than they do in the evening. This means you’re able to eat some carbs for breakfast and lunch without worrying about excessive spikes in sugars.
(Everyone’s tolerance is unique, I recommend a continuous glucose monitor to see this for yourself, here’s my link and a podcast I did on the topic Improving Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Overall Health with Continuous Glucose Monitors- Amber’s experiences with Molly from Nutrisense)
That’s important because it means you won’t feel as deprived when you try to limit your starches in the later part of the day. When your blood sugar stays more balanced, your hormone balance improves and you have fewer cravings.
There are several reasons this could be, but one major reason is if you have elevated cortisol levels in the morning. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is highest as we start the day and it gives us energy to get going. It tends to get raised excessively when we are stressed, in a hurry, or lacking rest. It can also raise when we don’t eat for extended periods, especially if we regularly skip breakfast.
When cortisol rises, our blood sugar rises in response the idea is to give us energy to take on the stress we are currently facing, but the effect can be hunger suppression and excess insulin production.
In PCOS, excess insulin leads to a cascade of hormonal problems which increase symptoms. Simply eating a balanced breakfast can help avoid this.
Intermittent fasting and time restricted eating do have some health benefits, especially the beneficial effects for our mitochondria. But when we take into account circadian rythm, cortisol, stressful lifestyles, hormone balance, and research, the ideal fasting regimen likely looks like a full 24 hour fast here and there or eating mostly in the morning and afternoon and skipping dinner, rather than skipping breakfast.
Some do well with this, some don’t, and I think you can get many of the same benefits, particularly for blood sugar regulation, by just sticking to a low carb meal for dinner. But that’s a topic for another time.
The most important part of breakfast is the protein, plain and simple. I always aim for at least 20g at breakfast, it keeps me full and prevents blood sugar spikes and dips.
20g of protein looks like:
1 scoop vegan protein powder
2 scoops collagen
2 breakfast sausages
2 oz ham
From there, a truly balanced breakfast would include some plant foods and fiber. This is a great time to add some starch for the day like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal. You could include seeds like chia seeds for more fiber and I especially love including some berries in my breakfast for the antioxidants.
There are several ways to get this, here are some favorite recipes I’ve shared that meet this goal.
If you’re in a major hurry, a premixed protein shake like those I recommend on my amazon store here, and some berries or a couple breakfast sausages and some berries are my go-tos. I also often have a collagen matcha latte (my favorite matcha and more about its benefits: Matcha For PCOS- The Surprising Benefits (and recipe!) for breakfast.
Try incorporating at least one PCOS superfood into your breakfast if you can as well! 9 Superfoods for PCOS