Why Make Such a Fuss About a Good Habit?

Although Mr. Harper and the editors of Shape Magazine have so far declined to comment on my challenge, the response from readers has been really fascinating.  If you’ve been following the discussion in the comment thread for yesterday’s post or on my Facebook page, then I apologize for repeating some of that here. But something that’s come up in the discussion strikes me as so significant that I really want to underline it.

If you’re just tuning in, the issue is whether eating breakfast within a certain time of waking “revs your calorie burn,” as Mr. Harper recently stated in the February 2011 issue of Shape Magazine.  As I explained in yesterday’s post, I believe that this is an urban  legend and asked if they could provide any data to support it.

What’s Wrong with Eating Breakfast? Absolutely Nothing!

Several people seem confused as to why I would pick a fight over a healthy habit like eating breakfast.  And a lot of people seem to have interpreted my campaign to set the record straight as a campaign against breakfast.

Connie Bennett (author of Sugar Shock), wrote:

“Would you please clarify your stand? You’re against this so-called “myth” — that eating first thing helps you burn calories and your metabolism can slow down? What are you in favor of then, please? When are you recommending that people have breakfast?

“Even if the metabolism burning part were not true, many of us NEED to eat within the first 2 hours of waking. Waiting longer can make people quite hungry so that they make poor chooses, because their blood sugar has dropped so low.”

One Size Fits Many

As I wrote in yesterday’s post: I’m not against breakfast; I’m against misinformation. As Connie points out, many people find that eating breakfast produces positive benefits–and I’m all for doing what works.   But just because something works (for some people), I don’t think that gives us a license to make up stories about why it works.

The truth is that some people do just fine–nutritionally and otherwise–when they delay or even skip breakfast. Should we force these folks to eat breakfast on the basis of a completely false notion about metabolism or statistical generalizations?

The authors of this recent study even went so far as to suggest that cutting back on breakfast may be an effective way for people to reduce calorie intake and lose weight. (The heresy!!)

Why Facts Matter

Even if there were a consensus that eating breakfast was better for everyone, I still don’t think that would justify abandoning the facts.  Seemingly benign myths can lead to larger errors and misunderstandings.  When a conceptual bias takes hold in a scientific community, it can even keep us from learning what’s actually going on–because we don’t bother looking.

For those reasons, I think it’s worth fighting for the facts–even if it doesn’t neccesarily change our course of action.

3 thoughts on “Why Make Such a Fuss About a Good Habit?

  1. I couldn’t agree more! There is A LOT of non-science and myths surrounding health and nutrition, and no one ever calls anybody out on it!

    I think people are just lazy.. they want to be told what to do, just so they don’t have to think and question things for themselves. There are many ‘truths’ people hold ( salt, cholesterol, fructose, fats, etc) that are based on little to no facts..

    Like the breakfast fat burning issue, only after*NUMEROUS* studies can be repeated that account for the different variables, if they (mostly) all conclude that your BMR increases with breakfast, then, **YES** feel free to start buying into it. Until then, you might as well do a voodoo dance.. at least that way you ‘ll burn a few extra calories.

  2. I’m 100% with you on this one. I applaud you for being a stickler for good science. It’s clear from the questions you receive, nutrition myths are REALLY confusing people and confusing them in a way that almost paralyzes them – they don’t know what to do.

  3. I don’t think what you are doing constitutes “making such a big deal” at all. Asking for empirical data behind a celebrity trainer and/or fitness magazine’s statement is not unreasonable. And, frankly, I am really surprised to see the comment from the author of “Sugar Shock”. I would not have guessed this was the comment of an MD. You weren’t saying you were against breakfast, you were just asking for data on things being stated as fact. If we are thinking like scientists, we know to look at evidence. If there is no evidence, we should start asking questions. I think you are doing just that.

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