Yes, Breakfast is that important.
“The most important meal of the day.”
“Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk.”
“It is more important to eat some carbohydrates at breakfast, because the brain needs fuel right away, and carbohydrate is the best source.”
“Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life. ”
Over the last few years, I’ve worked with hundreds of dancers through group/online programs and one-on-one coaching. There are certainly some common threads when it comes to food habits, and the neglect of breakfast is one of them.
The habits I see among so many dancers don’t surprise me because I’ve been there. I had many of the same tendencies before coming to a peaceful place with food and my body.
Here are the common breakfast threads:
- The meal is too small.
- It’s too “good” or “clean.”
- It’s lacking healthy fat and/or enough protein.
- There are no fruit or vegetables.
- It’s too rushed or on-the-go.
You might look at some of those breakfast habits and think it sounds like you. Maybe you don’t see why these common practices might cause an issue. So, I’m going to break it down. If any questions come up as you’re taking this in, or you’re unsure of whether your breakfast falls into this category, reach out or comment below.
The meal is too small
Sample Meal #1: A hard boiled egg and a piece of toast (whole wheat, sourdough, whatever).
Sample Meal #2: Rice Krispies and skim milk.
When your first meal is too small, it often means you’re trying to be “good” by eating less. The trouble here is that even if you keep up the undereating later in the day because you think eating less is going to get you to your body goals, you’ll likely end up binging. Even if you don’t binge or overeat that same day, it will likely catch up with you at some point — later that week, month, or year.
If the issue is that you’re not hungry in the morning, you’re most likely eating dinner/dessert/snacks too late at night or eating too much at night. You need to consciously make the switch — add more to your breakfast, lunch, and snacks earlier in the day, and you’ll be satisfied with a lighter dinner and wake up hungry.
Here are some tweaks to the sample meals to make them heartier and more satisfying.
For Sample Meal #1 (egg + toast), add in one or all of the following: 1/4–1/2 avocado, sautéed kale, spinach or other greens, berries or other fruit, , breakfast potatoes, or top your toast with coconut oil or grass-fed butter or ghee.
For Sample Meal #2: switch to a higher fiber/protein cereal like Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes or Multibran Flakes. Try a fuller fat milk or milk alternative — pay attention to how each makes you feel. Add some berries or a banana, nuts, and/or nut butter.
It’s too “good” or “clean”
Sample Meal #1: Green smoothie made with spinach, unsweetened almond milk, 1/2 a banana, 1/4 cup berries.
Sample Meal #2: Egg whites with sautéed spinach and onions.
Clean eating is all the rage; check out some thoughts I shared with Dance Spirit Magazine on “clean eating” here. But, is it the way to go all the time? Probably not. Mostly because it’s usually too rigid.
The biggest issue with “clean eating” is that the meal often consists of what you think you should be eating, ignoring any hint of what you and your body actually want or need. If you wake up in the morning craving eggs or a tofu scramble, but you think the better choice is a green smoothie, you’ll likely feel unsatisfied.
When you constantly ignore what you truly want and give preference to what you think you should want instead, it’s another recipe for overeating the “bad” foods later on. This is where moderation and a flexible approach can actually be super helpful.
So, the key here is to eat what you truly want! Here are some tweaks to the sample meals that can make them more satisfying and maybe more desirable.
Sample Meal #1: Add nuts, seeds, or nut butter to this meal. Use a whole banana. Try different milks and milk alternatives to find the one that is most satiating for you.
Sample Meal #2: Use whole eggs instead of egg whites. Add some avocado to your omelet (maybe on top), and enjoy this meal with breakfast potatoes and/or whole grain toast.
It’s lacking healthy fat or enough protein
Sample Meal #1: Quaker Instant Maple Sugar Oatmeal cooked with water.
Sample Meal #2: Low-fat cottage cheese with jelly
As trendy as healthy fats are, many dancer’s still avoid them due to the false notion that eating fat will make you fat. Fat is one of the essential macronutrients supporting everything from helping your body produce certain hormones to giving your body energy.
Protein also plays an essential role (this one is usually more apparent to dancers), as it is needed for building and repairing tissues. Skimping on food overall or cutting back on any macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) makes you more susceptible to injury and amenorrhea.
Here are some improvements that could be made to the sample meals.
Sample Meal #1: Instead of the instant oats, use thick rolled oats or steel cut oats. Both take a bit more time, but you gain nutrition, fiber, and satisfaction. Add some fruit, nuts, and seeds to your oatmeal and cook it with a bit of whole milk or a milk alternative. All of these switches will raise the fat/protein content of the meal and make it more satisfying.
Sample Meal #2: Skip the cottage cheese, and if you do consume dairy, try full-fat greek yogurt (plain/unsweetened). The protein and fat in greek yogurt will be extremely filling; you may find you can’t finish a whole serving. Add some healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds, or nut butter and some fruit for added fiber and micronutrients. If you don’t do dairy, try full-fat non-dairy yogurt varieties.
There are no fruit or vegetables
Sample Meal #1: A bagel with butter.
Sample Meal #2: Pancakes.
The trouble with classic breakfast foods is that they’re often lacking actual nutrient density. If you just have a bagel or some pancakes for breakfast, you’ll probably feel hungry in just 2–3 hours. This is another time when protein and healthy fat would make a difference in how satisfied you are by your food.For this example though, we’ll focus on the benefit of making fruit and/or vegetables a part of your meal.
Nutrient deficiencies are often what lead to cravings — your body knows something is missing, so it screams out for different foods. Not always the healthiest options.
By adding in nutrient dense greens to breakfast, you’re providing your body with a whole host of micronutrients you need to be energetic and thriving. When you include fruit, especially colorful, antioxidant-rich berries, you’re again providing high levels of micronutrients that leave you feeling satisfied. The fiber doesn’t hurt either.
Here are some ways to add fruit or vegetables to the sample meals.
Sample Meal #1: Make your bagel a PB+J bagel using nut butter and crushed raspberries. If you prefer savory, add avocado, egg, and kale for a delicious and filling breakfast sandwich.
Sample Meal #2: Top your pancakes with some nuts or nut butter, berries and/or banana, and use a whole grain or spelt flour in the batter — added nutrients and satiety!
It’s too rushed or on-the-go
Sample Meal #1: Protein/energy bar
Sample Meal #2: Banana + peanut butter in the car
There’s often craziness in a dancer’s schedule. You might have rehearsals or performances late into the night, then have to get up early for cross-training or to go back to class or school. So, it’s easy to fall into the quick, easy, on-the-go breakfast.
If you do this just occasionally (let’s say 1–2 times/week), then it’s fine. There are days when sleep takes priority, and you’ve got to grab what you can. On those days, commit to making your lunch and dinner more hearty, complete, and nutrient-dense.
Things to look out for for those quick meals.
Sample Meal #1: Choose an energy bar that doesn’t have too much added sugar and has a decent amount of protein and fiber. Here are some of my favorite bars.
Sample Meal #2: Not a terrible choice by any means, but it’s a meal that might not sustain you for a super long time, depending on your activity level that morning. Bring extra snacks so you can eat as hunger arises.
Have you noticed a theme? The most consistent breakfast pattern is that something is lacking, so there are simple additions and fixes that can make a big difference. A good breakfast can set the tone for the day. Under-eating is never the best answer. Reaching body goals is not about deprivation, restriction, or meals that lack satisfaction.
Only through experimentation can you discover what will work best for your personal needs. If you find the experimentation process daunting (as it can be), seek support! That’s what it’s all about here at The Whole Dancer. If you need anything, reach out.
Now it’s time to share! Are you giving your breakfast the attention it deserves? Let me know in the comments.