"I feel dizzy," said my client Hal, an attorney in his 70s. He saw me a couple of times a week for personal training sessions when I worked at a health club.
Hal was sitting on the row machine, which was situated in the middle of the gym. A thousand dire thoughts passed through my mind, and I started asking questions. Finally, one more question occurred to me.
"Did you have breakfast this morning?" I asked.
"No," he replied.
"You didn’t have breakfast?," I exclaimed. I must have spoken more loudly than I realized because suddenly the whole gym floor seemed to come to a standstill as everyone waited to hear what would come next.
Since that time, I’ve kept energy bars at work so I can have my clients eat something before we continue. (I like Larabars because these energy bars do not have added sugar or preservatives.) This happens more than you would think, and sometimes my clients have forgotten lunch, not just breakfast.
Hal saw my point after I explained that the body needs fuel to work on. After all, you’ve been fasting all night, and the brain needs glucose to function well.
For some time afterward, Hal’s gym buddies would inquire if he’d eaten breakfast that morning, which helped reinforce his new habit.
According to Ruth Frechman, MA, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, breakfast is especially important for older people who may need to take medications with food and for people who have diabetes.
Here are some other good reasons for breakfast:
- You May Improve Memory. Studies have shown that students who eat breakfast perform better on test than those who don’t, but the same holds for the elderly. According to recent research by the American Society for Nutritional Sciences (ASNS) and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN), eating breakfast may improve memory in healthy elderly people.
- Better nutrition for seniors on fewer calories. Another study by Elizabeth A. Gollub, PhD, MPH, RD and Dian O. Weddle, PhD, RD in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that elderly people who ate breakfast had better nutrition. The breakfast eaters consumed about 300 calories, which contained 14 grams of protein, 36 grams of carbohydrate, 12 grams of fat and 4 grams of fiber more than the comparison group, all significant differences. They also received significantly greater amounts of potassium, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc and tended to consume more of the extremely important vitamins A, B6, B12 and D. The breakfast eaters experienced fewer symptoms of depression and were significantly less bothered than those in the comparison group by dietary restrictions, money problems or problems with cooking, and they tended to maintain their sense of taste. They also were happier, more hopeful and less bored than the comparison group, the authors noted.
Older people have to make the most of their calories, so choose high-nutrient, low calorie foods. Frechman recommends oatmeal, whole grains, low or nonfat milk and nuts. "Every meal should contain some kind of protein," she noted. Nuts are good because they contain mono-unsaturated fats, which help keep cholesterol in check. Milk contains calcium, which is good for the bones.
- Maintaining optimal weight. According to studies by numerous researchers, people who eat breakfast are slimmer than those who don’t. The reason? If you eat a healthful breakfast, you’re less likely to grab a desperation doughnut because you’re so famished before lunch. People who skip meals tend to overeat at the next meal.
"As you get older, you need fewer calories per day," Frechman warns. "Once you reach 65, you have to consume 25 percent fewer calories in order to maintain your current weight." If you eat the way you always did despite being less active, you’ll gain weight. "The more you move, the more you can eat."
Not hungry in the morning? Try eating a smaller dinner and get more physical activity!