Why Does Breakfast Make Me Hungry?

You start your day off right, re-fueling after sleep, then sometime around 30 minutes to 2 hours or so later you’re hungry again, as though you never even ate. It’s not all in your head, and you’re not alone.

Many experience a similar reaction to breakfast, and in the featured article nutritional consultant and personal trainer Martin Berkhan may have the answer to why post-breakfast hunger occurs, and what will get you on the right eating track.

This might sound surprising at first, but it actually begins with omitting breakfast altogether.

Why Eating Breakfast Might Make You Hungrier

The interesting aspect about eating first thing in the morning is that it coincides with your circadian cortisol peak, that is, the time of day when your cortisol (stress hormone) levels rise and reach their peak.

The circadian cortisol peak has an impact on your insulin secretion, such that when you eat during this time it leads to a rapid and large insulin release, and a corresponding rapid drop in blood sugar levels, more so than when you eat at other times of the day. If you’re healthy, your blood sugar levels won’t drop to a dangerously low level (such as can occur with hypoglycemia) but they can drop low enough to make you feel hungry.

Berkhan explains:

“In the “glucostatic theory”, Jean Mayer in the 1950’s proposed that low blood sugar served as the primary hunger-triggering signal that prompted us to feed. Later studies have taught us that appetite regulation is way more complicated than that, but there is clearly a role for blood glucose in this equation.

Building on Mayer’s theory, Campfield has proposed a more complex and refined theory, in which he – briefly summarized – suggests that falling blood glucose levels might serve as a hunger signal. This has been echoed elsewhere, in the sense that the speed of which blood glucose falls can serve as an alarm signal in a sense – while a prompt lowering of post-prandial blood glucose levels is desirable, too steep of a decline can be interpreted as danger, and trigger a hunger signal.”

This is more commonly experienced in people who are not insulin resistant (such as those who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes), but rather are lean and “insulin sensitive.” Because the circadian cortisol peak adds another insulin-boosting effect on top of an already insulin-sensitive individual, the low blood sugar, and subsequent hunger, can be more pronounced.

Although this idea goes against the conventional idea of making sure to never skip meals, especially breakfast; Berkhan says that once he ditched breakfast he found it was much easier to control food cravings and hunger throughout the day.

Why I Stopped Eating Breakfast

I have revised my personal eating schedule to eliminate breakfast and restrict the time I eat food to a period of about six to seven hours, which is typically from noon to 6 or 7 pm. Our ancestors rarely had access to food 24/7 like we do today, and it makes sense that our genes are optimized for intermittent fasting.

It takes about six to eight hours for your body to metabolize your glycogen stores and after that you actually start to shift to burning fat. However if you are replenishing your glycogen by eating every eight hours, you make it far more difficult for your body to actually use your fat stores as fuel.

On the days that I exercise in the morning, I will have two scoops of Pure Power Protein about 30 minutes after the workout to provide nutrients, especially leucine, for muscle growth and repair.

Interestingly, since adopting this approach for the past few months I have lost two inches from my waist size and gained three pounds, which means I have lost body fat and gained muscle mass. This has been a personal experiment of mine to see if I can get back to my high school waist size of 32 inches, even though I weighed 20 pounds less back then. A growing body of intriguing research is, in fact, showing that intermittent fasting may be a key weight loss tool.

The Link Between Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss, Health Benefits

When researchers from the Salk Institute fed mice the same high-fat, high-calorie diet but altered when they were able to eat, some striking results occurred. One group had access to food both day and night, while the other group had access to food for only eight hours at night (the most active period for mice). In human terms, this would mean eating only for 8 hours during the day.

Despite consuming the same number of calories, mice that had access to food for only eight hours stayed lean and did not develop health problems like high blood sugar or chronic inflammation.1 They even had improved endurance motor coordination on the exercise wheel. The all-day access group, on the other hand, became obese and were plagued with health problems including:2

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Metabolic problems

Another recent animal study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology showed a beneficial glycemic effect from fasting that resulted in a lower gain in body weight than in non-fasting animals.3 Other research suggests fasting triggers a variety of health-promoting hormonal and metabolic changes similar to those that occur when you exercise.

Fasting is historically commonplace as it has been a part of spiritual practice for millennia. Modern research has also confirmed there are many good reasons to fast intermittently, including:

  • Normalizing your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
  • Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as “the hunger hormone”
  • Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process
  • Lowering triglyceride levels
  • Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage

There’s also plenty of research showing that fasting has a beneficial impact on longevity in animals. There are a number of mechanisms contributing to this effect. Normalizing insulin sensitivity is a major one, but fasting also inhibits the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in driving the aging process. Fasting has even been linked to a dramatic rise in human growth hormone (HGH)—1,300 percent in women, and an astounding 2,000 percent in men!4

HGH, commonly referred to as “the fitness hormone,” plays an important role in maintaining health, fitness and longevity, including promotion of muscle growth, and boosting fat loss by revving up your metabolism. The fact that fasting improves a number of potent disease markers also contributes to fasting’s overall beneficial effects on general health.

Exercising while in a fasted state has also been shown to produce many beneficial changes, and it works particularly well to exercise first thing in the morning and delay your first meal until later in the day. To learn more about this strategy, please see this previous article by fitness expert Ori Hofmekler.

Is Skipping Breakfast Right for You?

There’s no cut and dry answer to this question, as everyone responds differently to intermittent fasting.

For example, there is good evidence supporting the recommendation to eat a protein-heavy breakfast if you want to lose weight, and even more so if you exercise first thing in the morning to optimize muscle growth and recovery. But there may be times when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau, and while your diet and exercise routine may be good, the simple act of skipping breakfast and exercising on an empty stomach could be just the thing that will kick start you onto that next level.

Certain health conditions should make you think twice about fasting, including if you’re hypoglycemic or diabetic. Hypoglycemia is a condition characterized by an abnormally low level of blood sugar. Ideally, you should avoid fasting if you’re hypoglycemic, and work on your overall diet to normalize your blood sugar levels first. Then try out one of the less rigid versions of fasting before even considering a full 24-hour fast.

As for pregnant and/or lactating women, I don’t believe fasting would be a wise choice. Your baby needs plenty of nutrients, during and after birth, and there’s no research supporting fasting during this important time. There are several studies on fasting during pregnancy, and all suggest it might be contraindicated, as it can alter fetal breathing patterns, heartbeat, and increase gestational diabetes. It may even induce premature labor.

If you’re healthy and you do decide to give intermittent fasting a try, do so gradually (don’t try to do a 24-hour fast on your first day). Ultimately, you can opt for a 16-, 20-, or 24-hour fast once or twice a week, or try fasting every other day, or simply delaying certain meals, such as skipping breakfast and exercising on an empty stomach.

There are many options, and you can discover what works best for you by listening to your body, and going slow; work your way up to longer fasts if your normal schedule has included multiple meals a day. You can also start out by ending your meals earlier in the evening or late afternoon and fasting overnight while you sleep.

Your body will let you know whether you’ve found the right combination of intermittent fasting for you, as you should experience a boost in energy and likely weight loss, if necessary, once you get started. If you feel weak, lightheaded, very hungry or fatigued while fasting, these are signs that you may be fasting for too long and it’s time to tweak your program.

Source: Dr. Mercola



41 thoughts on “Why Does Breakfast Make Me Hungry?

  1. thanks for your post! i always thought i was alone in this! i always try to eat after 11 or noon, because if i eat before, im constantly hungry… even if i eat breakfast during that time span, it’s fine… i just can’t eat before 11, or else i’d be a little eating machine.

  2. i skip my breakfast but i do have “brunch” at 10 am .,,it is breakfast and lunch,, so i don’t have to take my lunch when it is 12:00.. 🙂

  3. This happens to me, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! I lose weight if I don’t eat breakfast as I’m not doing the mid morning snacking to keep me going until lunchtime. My metabolism just isn’t cut out for it. Even if you put a massive fry-up in front of me, I’d still be hungry 30 mins later.

  4. Very interesting. In the UK an advert for Shreddies cereals used to state “keeps hunger locked up ’till lunchtime”. I’d have a bowl full for breakfast but soon be hungry again. Now I know why. Thank you 🙂

  5. Dr. Atkins had a clear remedy to the whole problem of post-breakfast hunger. Simply cut out the carbohydrates in your breakfast and you might even be tempted to skip lunch instead.

  6. I’m not able to eat too early, it bothers my stomach. But i found eating about 5 hours after i wake up does the trick. But i do feel breakfast is important.

  7. As a smoker, I never had breakfast.

    But that was in the bad old days. Smoke free for many years now, I enjoy the heck out of a light breakfast.

    It gets the day off to a good start, and gets my thinking brain ready for some cartoon work (see my blog).

  8. How fascinating. I have never experienced this myself but perhaps that is because I have breakfast at about 5.30am with my previous meal around 3-4.30pm. I have always been an eat early sort of person. I also eat at around midday as it is over 6 hours from breakfast.

    I do agree with exercising before eating, it always has a greater effect on me than exercising in the afternoon.

  9. I’ve never eaten breakfast. It not only makes me hungry soon afterwards as you rightly point out, but it also makes me eat far more during the day by starting so soon. I basically don’t get hungry until I eat. I’m also not a ‘day person’ so am far too ‘asleep’ and tired to eat first thing. When I’m on early shift and start at 0700, I don’t eat until at least 1000.

    Before exercise I just have a coffee – that works fine…

    Great article 🙂

  10. I’ve never craved breakfast but since it’s been touted as the “meal of the day” I have forced myself to eat it. Finally, I came to a compromise in the last three years. I eat two meals a day: a late breakfast and an early lunch/dinner. This works very well for me. Nice article!

  11. You are probably super hungry soon after eating if you are eating a high carb/low fat meal Protein will satisfy you for a long time (and will result in a lower calorie intake overall) This is why “low carb” diets work not because of the magic of decreasing carbs, but because the increase in protein/fat helps you stay fuller, resulting in less eating

    Also, consider eating carbs after a hard workout, in order to refill glycogen stores immediately, when your muscles are primed and ready for it

  12. I think you’re on to something! I have skipped breakfast most of my life. I’m just not ready to eat so early in the morning. I usually eat breakfast at about 10 – 10:30 after I get to work, late lunch, late dinner. I find that on weekends when I start eating earlier, I tend to eat a lot more.

  13. I’ve heard of intermittent fasting for athletes, including skipping breakfast. Your post has some great information in it, including why I *am* hungrier after eating breakfast. Thanks for this insight. I’m looking forward to your other posts.

  14. I’ve gone from having breakfast in the traditional sense, to a small high-protein, low-fat drink (not a shake) around 7 a.m. Then I eat several small meals throughout the day that include a low-fat protein and low-calorie carb, like cottage cheese and grapes. I feel better and never feel hungry.

    Thank you for your post!

  15. Interesting. It seems that some days, fasting gives me a ton of energy and makes me feel nearly high. And some days, it just makes me hungry and cranky and light-headed. Thanks for the physiology thoughts.

  16. This is really fascinating! Eating breakfast definitely makes me feel hungrier. I eat for the first time every day around 3:30 p.m. (I live in Spain so a late lunch is normal), and I usually don’t feel hungry throughout the day. But if I eat breakfast, I want to eat again around noon.

    Great post!

  17. It was a good read. But I disagree regarding certain aspects.
    I think it would be better to reduce the calorie intake at each meal than skipping a meal altogether. Skipping breakfast would mean longer hours of hypoglycemia for the body, and the body is more likely to enter storage mode and convert more of energy into fat.
    And moreover, breakfast IS the food for the brain. Hypoglycemia affects the brain cells most, and skipping breakfast means you are depriving the energy for their optimal function. I strongly advise against skipping breakfast.

  18. I grew up on assumption that you first have to earn your breakfast, meaning, you do something and eat later. I don’t think anybody should eat if they don’t want to, but have that meal just because it’s mealtime. Secondly, if you are often or instantly snacking, you don’t allow your system to digest whatever there already is. This causes overload and results in obesity after some time. 3 meals a day without any snacks, but drinking a lot of water or mineral water works great for most people. Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia will only occur in people with compromised system, like in diabetes. Human body has so many very accurate regulating tools that nothing bad would happen even if you don’t eat the entire day but drink lots of water.

  19. I’ve never eaten breakfast. Neither did my mother. And we’ve both always felt really guilty about it. No more. We’re thin, healthy and energetic–so who cares? I always felt tired and hungry when I ate before noon–now I know why. Often, I’ll eat a small lunch–maybe vegetables and dip or 1/2 an avacado. Yes, I eat a big dinner, but my total calorie intake is relatively low. I do wish I could cut out dessert, but I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon.

  20. Thanks, I like your blog.
    I’ve wondered for a long time why I become hungrier on the days I have breakfast. This has been really helpful. I’ll keep to my ‘brunch’ now and I’m sure it’ll be beneficial to me on the long run.
    My question though is why do nutritionists say breakfast is essential? We always force children to have breakfast. Thanks

  21. I have started fasting every second day and only have 450 calories on my fasting day therefore I have one meal about 6pm at night, the next day I just eat normally without watching what foods I am eating but I don’t overheat. I have never been a great breakfast person and it’s a good 3 hrs before I can have anything to eat so alternate fasting is quiet easy for me.
    Your article is very informative and has similar findings to that of the Horizon documentary on BBC titled Eat, Fast and Live Longer. It was this documentary that inspirede to take on this lifestyle change, not just for the benefits of weight lose but also for other health benefits as mention in your article.
    Oh and yes I have lost 6 lbs and just completed my first week. Don’t do any programmed exercise but I am a busy mum with a 22 mth old and hardly ever sit down unless my wee one is having her nap, hence this input.

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