What Eating 15 Different Breakfasts Taught Me

(And might teach you, if you also suck at breakfast)

02.17.17
Photo by Ralph Kerpa/McPhoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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As is often the case when enjoyable activities are made mandatory, eating a new breakfast food every day for two weeks sounds more fun in theory. In reality, I spent a lot of time scrambling to come up with something (or somewhere) novel to eat between the hours of 8 and 9 a.m; a stark departure from my typical routine of toast plus egg, toast plus peanut butter, toast plus whatever’s within my reach. Early, it turns out, is not my most creative hour.

My incompetence notwithstanding, the conclusions I drew from this breakfast experiment caught me off guard (in a good way). If you’ve ever kept a record of your meals, you’ll know the tracking tends to unveil patterns you didn’t set out to address. While I thought I was testing which breakfast foods made me feel best in terms of energy, mood and satiation, what I was really testing was how my food-related choices in the morning affected my food-related choices in the afternoon and evening. The answer, to my surprise, was a lot. In that sense, breakfast did ultimately prove to be the most important meal — as the adage goes — just not in the way I expected.

I’ve recorded my 15-day journey ad nauseum below. Read on at your precious time’s risk.


Day 1: Wheat toast with peanut butter

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What? I had to have a control day! I ate this at 8:30 a.m., was weirdly hungry again an hour later (just a blip, it faded) and then proceeded to not have time to eat for five more hours. My energy levels were okay, but by 2:30 I was ravenous. Lunch was soup, bread and an apple (time crunch); by 5:30, my energy plummeted again. It was early to eat dinner but I ran out and got a hearty salad from Sweetgreen. I felt better after eating it, but my mood and drive were just…down. I spent the next few hours hoping my plans would get cancelled so I could go home. (They did and I never regained my energy.)

This was a domino effect.


Day 2: A KIND bar (oops)

This was worse than the toast — it was chocolate-chip flavor, lol, so basically candy — and even more indicative of my laziness. Four bites scarfed on the train at 9 a.m. left me wholly unsatisfied but did curb my hunger, for what it’s worth. I got hungry around 1 p.m. and opted for a chicken, apple and hummus sandwich. I was really hungry again around 4, but didn’t feel sugar-crazed or anything, which was probably because my lunch actually satisfied me.

Later, I ate a big dinner, but eating a heartier lunch right when I got hungry (versus waiting like yesterday) set me up for a better day.


Day 3: Greek yogurt with fruit and granola

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I ate this at 10 a.m. It was delicious and A LOT. I’m realizing there are three distinct ways a meal can make me feel: 1) no longer hungry 2) satisfied 3) full and I’m still not sure which is best for the purpose of breakfast. This time it was #3. I thought that meant it would carry me through, but I was just as hungry as usual by 1 p.m. Hm. I continued to be hungry all afternoon, even after eating lunch.

Not a fan of how this big breakfast made me feel. I expected it to pull more weight.


Day 4: Two scrambled eggs with wheat toast

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I ate this at 8:30 a.m. and loved it, as eggs on toast is part of my personal brand. This left me satisfied, but not full per se. Which I liked. Until I was hungry two hours later (prob because I skipped coffee, was stressed and just wanted something) and had a second breakfast (Greek yogurt with Kashi). Then I was hungry again by 1 p.m.! I ate soup and bread and proceeded to feel snacky all afternoon. Blah.

This set me on a weird path. My course correcting with the small lunch failed.


Day 5: Acai bowl

I’m a freak for acai. I didn’t have time to eat this until 11:30 a.m., so I started my day with a coffee on an empty stomach, which made me jittery and took care of my appetite. Caffeine = a full-on drug. This acai bowl, which I forgot to photograph, was 11 fucking dollars. I ate it angrily/joyously. It had fruit and nuts and it made me extremely full. I started getting hungry around 2, but had a meeting, at which point my hunger curiously dissipated. I ate a hearty salad at 4:30 p.m. and a small, late dinner.

I liked starting with a filling/delicious breakfast like this; it helped me eat more intuitively because I was sated.


Day 6: Avocado toast

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I didn’t eat this until 12:30 p.m. because it was Saturday and I spent the first three hours of the day finishing Cat Marnell’s new book. I think the fat in the avo really helped, as I wasn’t hungry for a snack until 3 p.m. But then I had a huge pasta dinner at 8 p.m. because I’d barely eaten and my energy wasn’t high enough to make a better choice. COOL. In hindsight I should have eaten a real lunch (despite not being that hungry) and avoided the dinner blow out.

This was a good choice ruined by bad weekend timing.


Day 7: Croissant

What the French eat! Très chic! I felt pretty terrible eating this first thing. It seems so empty and worthless as a breakfast food. It took care of my hunger at 10 a.m., but left me very unsatisfied and definitely not full. (Omg croissants are so good btw.) Oops: I ate a massive curry at 2 p.m. because I was about to faint. I def overdid it at lunch because of the insubstantial breakfast, then had a smallish dinner at home, plus some healthy snacks.

Oddly enough, having a big lunch actually helped me make better decisions at night. Hmm…


Day 8: Overnight oatmeal

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I ate this gorgeous meal at 10 a.m. (It’s “the classic” — rolled oats, skim milk, Greek yogurt, chia and honey). BOY DID THIS MAKE ME FULL. Omg. In the afternoon, I ate some trail mix and two dumplings but honestly never worked up an appetite for lunch. In fact, I wasn’t hungry again the whole day. It was kind of annoying. Because I wanted to eat? But impressive! Wow!

Too bad I hated the taste and low-key never want to eat overnight oats again.


Day 9: Grapefruit

I really wanted a bigger breakfast, but I’m a journalist! Knowing a grapefruit would leave me wanting, I started my day with an empty-stomach coffee, which I know sounds irresponsible. Oh well. Anyway, I ate the grapefruit (with some sugar because I’m not a monster) at 10 a.m. I felt vaguely satisfied, keyword “vaguely.” An hour later I felt not great and had to eat some nuts. I got soup at 1:30 p.m. (which wasn’t enough) and proceeded to feel snacky and low-energy all afternoon.

A tiny breakfast didn’t really work. Also, it tasted nothing like grapes. JK.


Day 10: Bacon, egg and cheese

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Hooboy! I was not looking forward to this one. And rightly so: It was really good, yes, but hit me like a tranquilizer dart. I ate it at 9 a.m. and was super hungry by 11 a.m. Pardonnez-moi?! Worse breakfast ever! Luckily, I had an apple handy — fiber for my fiberless digestive system. This BEC opened up a monster in me. I just wanted to eat all day, actual hunger notwithstanding. I had soup for lunch and a hearty dinner and then a bowl of cereal at 11 p.m. WTF.

Don’t do this. It was bad.


Day 11: Cereal

Starting the day with cereal satisfied both my laziness and taste buds, but set me up to be hungry all day. An hour later, I wanted lunch. An hour after that, I wanted lunch #2. No matter what I ate, I just wanted more. Cereal is weird. It’s indulgent-tasting while also maintaining the illusion of being light-ish, so my brain is turned on (sugar!) and my mind is like, “I’ve barely eaten!”

Listen. I’m not a scientist. But cereal didn’t do me right.


Day 12: Chia pudding

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I know this chia pudding looks good, but it tasted like room-temperature cement. It was an abomination. The cool thing about eating something you don’t like that much is you actually stop the very moment you’re satisfied. What a concept! Similar to the overnight oats and the avo toast, the chia had me so full all day that I only had a snack in the afternoon (mistake) and then made a hunger-driven decision at dinner.

I’m noticing that when my breakfasts are too filling, they mess with my lunch and then I overdo it at dinner.


Day 13: Instant oatmeal

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I was told this looks like potpourri, so let me explain: It’s instant oatmeal with a dollop of peanut butter, a dollop of Daisy (kidding, it’s Greek yogurt), trail mix, dried cranberries and really bad Kashi cereal that tastes like cardboard.

I woke up really hungry and had no time, so I essentially emptied the contents of my pantry into this bowl. I eat oatmeal often though, so this was familiar territory. One fun tidbit: I had to scoop the Greek yogurt out after one bite because it tasted rotten. 🙂 This got me to lunch fine. I was medium hungry at a normal time, so I ate some soup (surprise). Later, I got home and ate a too-small dinner and then snacked on a bunch of garbage while working/trying to ignore the Gossip Girl marathon my roommate is currently running.

What’s wrong with me?


Day 14: Apple

I had no time to eat. I expected hunger pains but they never came, probably because I drank coffee. To my credit, I was also drinking a ton of water (I’ve realized through this how often my hunger is just thirst). For lunch, I had a hearty salad around 2 p.m., some snacks throughout the afternoon and a healthy dinner at a normal time.

WHOA. This was a revelation. The difference here from grapefruit day was that I followed the fruit with a filling and healthy lunch (i.e. not soup) which set a good tone for the afternoon and evening.


Day 15: Salad (nightmare)

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Trying to buy a salad at 9:30 A.M. and being turned down is curiously humiliating, but my editor Leslie swears by eating lunch foods for breakfast and I was determined. Ultimately I had to wait until Sweetgreen opened to order my breakfast salad, which is not a phrase I intend to utter again as I very much did not enjoy eating kale and chicken at the crack of dawn (okay, it was 11 A.M.). Around 1 I got hungry again (wtf), but I couldn’t really justify another lunch, so I spent the rest of the afternoon in a vaguely insatiable state, with access to unhelpful snacks (tiny British candy and very old nuts) that I ate anyway. By dinner, I was the definition of dragging, so I ordered a wrap on Seamless and practically waited by the door for 40 minutes, tail wagging.

I hated only eating two big meals — so boring and with a valley of hunger between them!


Conclusions

1. The biggies (overnight oats, avocado toast, chia pudding, acai bowl) were genuinely filling. Maybe too filling, because they made me skip lunch and consequently blow it on dinner.

2. The tinies (apple, grapefruit, KIND bar) actually weren’t so bad for me — as long as I ate them later in the morning with coffee, and then followed them with a solid lunch. Too small of a lunch after a non-breakfast put me in a bad way.

3. The nasties (croissant, BEC, cereal) weren’t ideal. They messed up my hunger signals and left me flailing.

4. The classics (peanut butter toast, eggs on toast, instant oatmeal, yogurt and granola) were more predictable. They satisfied me enough, but didn’t get me very far satiation-wise nor lead me to make the smartest lunch decisions.

Takeaways!

1. I eat better and feel better when I push my breakfast back to the late morning. My “course correcting,” i.e. a small lunch to make up for an unhealthy breakfast, almost always failed me. It’s not an effective approach.

2. Not all of my hunger signals are actual hunger and a lot of them went away when I drank water or got distracted by a meeting.

3. Eating two small meals for breakfast and lunch (or a big breakfast and a non-lunch) lead to irresponsible snacking and/or dinner decisions. Meanwhile, eating until I was satisfied (versus full) makes it easier for me to read my hunger signals later. And eating merely to abate hunger only works for 20 minutes, tops.

4. I should probably stop eating so much soup.

5. This experiment was expensive as fuq.

The good news is I learned a lot! The bad news is I have no fucking idea what to eat for breakfast tomorrow.

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