Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ode to Breakfast

I've learned so much about myself since I started this journey to becoming and staying a healthy writer 17 months ago. One of these lessons was how important a healthy, filling breakfast was to my weight loss attempts.

I have kept most of my trackers or food diaries since the beginning of January 2009. Whenever I've hit a rough patch where I'm struggling a lot to lose weight, I will look at them to see what has worked in the past. Every so often, I'll have a breakfast sandwich with bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel as a treat.

I looked at the days when I did this expecting them to be one of my highest point days, but I often ate less than my daily point/calorie allotment. This really surprised me, and I thought about why that was. While a breakfast sandwich, especially when it's on a bagel, is higher in calories or points than my typical breakfasts, it is very satisfying and filling. When I have this for breakfast, I may only have a late, light lunch.

This discovery made me look at how what I had for breakfast affected my eating the rest of the day and my weight loss for that week. It turns out that my total point or calorie count on days when I have a substantive breakfast tend to be lower than when I have a light breakfast of a piece of fruit or a Fiber One or other breakfast bar I eat on the run. Since I realized this, I have noticed that on the days when I have a small breakfast, it feels like I never catch up with satisfying my hunger. It chases me most of the day. I will often eat lunch earlier and eat more that day to try to reach a feeling of satiation.

If I have a good breakfast, I start off the day feeling satiated and don't have to struggle with hunger or overeating as much. I also tend to lose more weight on the weeks that I have a filling breakfast every morning.

For me, a filling breakfast usually has some protein, a complex carbohydrate and is a good nutrient mix. It can be as simple as whole-wheat toast and peanut butter (about 4 points). It most often is high-fiber cereal or oatmeal with fruit, nuts, skim milk and a little brown sugar and cinnamon with the oatmeal and can range between 6 - 8 points. While I find eggs very filling, unfortunately, they can disagree with my system. This increases if I have more than one or at the most two in any given week, so I have to really limit how many eggs I eat.

I do know that many people's weight loss strategy rests on a very low point or calorie breakfast, and some people even find they do better that way. It's not the case for me. I do recommend experimenting to see what works best for you.

One of my favorite breakfasts is oatmeal. I've been told that I have a unique way of making it, so I'm going to share what I do.

Michelle's Oatmeal

1/2 cup of Old-Fashioned Oats (the bigger kind - never the quick or instant kind)
1 cup skim milk
Chopped fruit (banana, berries, apple, nectarines, whatever is in season)
Optional dried fruit (raisins or craisins - I need to be real careful with this because it can really increase the calories)
1 to 2 Tablespoons of chopped walnuts or almonds (luckily, these are my favorite and are the healthiest nut choice - esp. walnuts)
Brown Sugar or Honey (little bit - but it's worth it - it's just not nearly as satisfying without it.)
Cinnamon if I use an apple - sometimes other "sweet" spices such as nutmeg, all-spice, etc.

Dump oatmeal in a microwavable bowl. Top with fruit (I really vary it and can use just one fruit or up to 4), brown sugar, optional spice and chopped nuts. I mix it and then pour in a cup of skim milk. I cook it in the microwave on half power for 6 minutes. It's very important that you use half power. It will boil over if you use full power and become uneatable (and I've been cheap enough to try to eat the resulting mess.)

I've been told that my use of skim milk instead of water (I really make it a priority to get enough calcium a day - preferably through nonfat dairy products) and cooking my fruit with the oatmeal make my version different from the way most others cook it. I love it this way and suggest you try it.

Another favorite breakfast of mine is baked oatmeal, something I first discovered as a recipe on Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Web site. If I have cold cereal instead of oatmeal, I will sometimes combine three of them (such as cheerios, all-bran and shredded wheat based on Bob Greene's, Oprah's trainer, recommendation on a Web site) for variety or experiment with a new-to-me cereal.

I've also experimented with healthier pancakes. One Weight Watchers recipe (from the 1990s Simple Goodness magazine-style cookbook) for pancakes I really like is for a version that I can make ahead and pop in the toaster in the morning to heat it up to eat. Obviously, microwaving them can work as well, but the toaster method is fewer steps, and I like the crispy edge it gives them.

Oatmeal-Buttermilk Pancakes

1 1/4 cups low-fat or fat-free buttermilk
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I bet you could use some whole-wheat or buckwheat flour)
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
(Note: I often add blueberries or chopped bananas to the batter.)

Combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in oil and egg. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add oat mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until well blended. Spoon about 1/3 cup batter for each pancake onto a hot nonstick griddle or nonstick skillet. Turn pancakes when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Yield: 8 pancakes (serving size - 2 pancakes) 6 points per serving.

Are you a breakfast fan? Do you feel like it makes a difference to your day and to your chances of weight loss if you have a good, filling breakfast? Do you have any breakfast suggestions for me?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on May 1, 2010 at 10:47 AM said...

I am a breakfast fan, but my favorites are things I don't need and try to steer clear of as much as possible -- like biscuits and gravy. I typically eat fruit for breakfast. This week, it's been sliced bananas and strawberries. But sometimes I'll have a piece of wheat toast with either apple butter or strawberry preserves. Sometimes I'll scramble some eggs and put them on toast along with a touch of melted cheese for something different.

Michelle Butler on May 1, 2010 at 11:13 AM said...

Do you notice any difference in your weight loss efforts/hunger levels for the day when you have fruit for breakfast vs. eggs? I'm still kind of amazed how big of a positive difference having a good breakfast makes for me.

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