She’s running late for school and skips breakfast. By 10 a.m., she later tells you, her stomach was rumbling and she had a headache. Drinking a diet soda helped the hunger, but by lunchtime she was starved. Pizza and fries didn’t fill her up, so she grabbed a candy bar even as she worried about the calories. Ditto for her afternoon junk food snack. You remind her that breakfast could help her avoid the hunger cycle. She’s skeptical.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
It isn’t unusual for girls to resist eating breakfast. As many as 20 percent of elementary-school-age girls regularly skip breakfast, as do a third of high school girls. Most adults have learned that a low-body-fuel morning has consequences all day long, but girls tend to disregard the importance of breakfast, especially if they don’t feel hungry immediately after waking or they skip breakfast to try to lose weight. Parents and daughters often bicker more about breakfast than any other meal. As a nutritional consultant, I often hear girls offer these arguments against breakfast:
- I just don’t feel hungry. A girl may lose touch with the internal feelings that tell her what her body needs to stay energized and healthy. To help her reconnect with those signals, start by telling her how your own morning hunger sensations feel. Ask her to try to identify how her body tells her to take on fuel in the morning. For example: “Is there a taste your tongue wants when you first wake up?” or “What could you eat that will keep you feeling alert during the day?”
- I don’t have time. Many girls in their pre-teens and teens feel a serious time crunch, especially during the school year. If setting your daughter’s alarm clock earlier isn’t working, supply a breakfast she can eat in transit. As she dashes out the door, hand her a breakfast bar, string cheese, cup of yogurt, fresh or dried fruit, or a bagel stuffed with sliced meat or nut butter. Crumbs on the car seat are messy, but less important than keeping her healthy.
- I shouldn’t force myself to eat. The girl who says this has a point. Noticing hunger and eating in response to it is a good way for her to balance her food intake with her energy needs. If your daughter doesn’t want food at the beginning of the day, ask her to eat a mid-morning snack as soon as she feels hungry. If her schedule doesn’t allow a break, ask her to eat breakfast even if she isn’t hungry. If she’s a girl who cannot force herself to eat at that hour, offer her liquids—a smoothie, protein shake, vegetable juice, or milk.
- If I eat breakfast, I feel hungrier by lunch than I do when I skip breakfast. Trust her on this one, even if it sounds odd to you. More hunger instead of less is a signal that morning carbohydrates don’t work for your daughter’s body. Switch to more protein (like eggs or meat) at breakfast.
- It’s an easy way to watch my weight. If a girl admits this, she’s acknowledging the most common reason girls have for not eating breakfast. It’s easier to skip breakfast because morning is when her willpower is the highest. Yet studies prove that not eating breakfast lowers metabolic rate and is likely to cause her to actually gain weight in the long run. Tell her that eating within an hour of waking causes her body to burn more calories all day long. Furthermore, eating breakfast changes her brain chemistry in ways that help her resist cravings and binges later in the day.
Tonight, when your daughter goes to bed, remind her that her body will run all night on the food she fed it today. Assure her that when she wakes, you’ll help her fuel up so she can take on tomorrow.
Carol Beck (http://carolbeck.net/) is the author of Nourishing Your Daughter: Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food and Her Body (Perigee, 2002). Find more breakfast suggestions and health facts at the Health area of the Daughters Community Forum (www.daughters.com).