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Skipping breakfast can break your diet -- fast

By Melinda Beck
The Wall Street Journal

September 9, 2005

Does this sound like anyone you know?

He -- or she -- typically has a muffin or doughnut in the morning, or skips breakfast entirely. Lunch might be a sandwich or yogurt on the run. By around 4 p.m., this person is ravenous and hits the vending machine or snacks on cookies sitting around the office. At home, the kids' leftovers are fair game, and the grazing continues until bedtime.

Stephen Gullo, a New York psychologist and diet counselor, calls this the "Wall Street Eating Syndrome," because it sums up the habits of so many of his patients in the financial industry. But it applies to millions of other Americans -- and it's a prime recipe for gaining weight.

There is an emerging consensus that skimping on meals early in the day sets people up for compulsive snacking later -- causing weight gain.

Skipping breakfast, says Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist and author of "The South Beach Diet," "allows blood sugar to drop and hunger to increase all morning, resulting in powerful cravings for a lunch that includes carbs of questionable value . . . "

Of course, eating a good breakfast is hardly revolutionary advice. But many Americans haven't taken it to heart. The NPD Group, which has been tracking food trends for 25 years, says 12 percent of Americans regularly skip breakfast.

But eating the wrong breakfast can be just as bad as skipping it.

Starting the day with a doughnut or sweetened cereal and orange juice -- or other refined carbohydrates -- can activate your appetite instead of controlling it, says Dr. Walter Futterweit, a specialist in diabetes and other endocrine disorders at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

"You're getting a sudden burst of pure sugar, which causes an immediate release of insulin," prompting your blood sugar to drop, Futterweit says. "An hour or two later, you may start feeling edgy, irritable, have difficulty concentrating and you're driven to eat again."

Gullo says his patients weren't overeating because of a lack of willpower. "These people have extraordinary willpower," he says, but "were fighting their own body chemistry."

Besides being too busy to eat enough early in the day, victims of "Wall Street Eating Syndrome" inadvertently set themselves up for binge snacking in late afternoon, Gullo writes in his book, "The Thin Commandments."

If you go without food for more than three or four hours, and then eat simple carbohydrates such as cookies or pretzels, you spark a sudden rise in a natural body protein called neuropeptide Y. It's like putting "a match to gasoline," he explains

The best way to keep your blood sugar stable and your appetite under control, many nutritionists agree, is to fill up on protein for breakfast -- ideally, an egg-white omelet or nonfat yogurt. More lean protein and a salad or other vegetables for lunch will help keep you feeling full for hours.

A midafternoon snack with protein and fiber -- hard-boiled eggs, low-fat cheese or a low-fat, high-protein energy bar -- will protect you from needing a high-carb fix around 4 o'clock.

At dinner, go for lean meat and a salad or vegetable. For a late-night snack, try a low-calorie ice pop. "The later you are eating, the lighter you should go on carbohydrates," Gullo says.

Study: Breakfast, Cereal Keep Girls Slim

By ALEX DOMINGUEZ, Associated Press Writer

Thursday, September 8, 2005

(09-08) 17:25 PDT BALTIMORE (AP) --

Girls who regularly ate breakfast, particularly one that includes cereal, were slimmer than those who skipped the morning meal, according to a study that tracked nearly 2,400 girls for 10 years.

Girls who ate breakfast of any type had a lower average body mass index, a common obesity gauge, than those who said they didn't. The index was even lower for girls who said they ate cereal for breakfast, according to findings of the study conducted by the Maryland Medical Research Institute with funding from the National Institutes of Health and cereal-maker General Mills.

"Not eating breakfast is the worst thing you can do, that's really the take-home message for teenage girls," said study author Bruce Barton, president and CEO of the Maryland Medical Research Institute.

The fiber in cereal and healthier foods that normally accompany cereal, such as milk and orange juice, may account for the lower body mass index among cereal eaters, Barton said.

The results were gleaned from a larger National Institutes of Health survey of 2,379 girls in California, Ohio and Maryland who were tracked between the ages of 9 and 19. Results of the study appear in the September issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Nearly one in three adolescent girls in the United States is overweight or obese, according to the association. The problem is particularly troubling because research shows becoming overweight as a child can lead to a lifetime struggle with obesity.

As part of the survey, the girls were asked once a year what they had eaten during the previous three days. The data were adjusted to compensate for factors such as differences in physical activity among the girls and normal increases in body fat during adolescence.

A girl who reported eating breakfast on all three days had, on average, a body mass index .7 units lower than a girl who did not eat breakfast at all. If the breakfast included cereal, the average was 1.65 units lower, the researchers found.

Breakfast consumption dropped as the girls aged, the researchers found, and those who did not eat breakfast tended to eat higher fat foods later in the day.

"We think it kick-starts your metabolism because you've eaten something," Barton said. "When you get to lunch you're not starving and you can make reasonable choices for lunch and dinner."

John Kirwan, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University's Schwartz Center for Nutrition and Metabolism, said the findings may be "more reflective of overall eating habits and quality of food consumed."

"Those who eat breakfast on a regular basis are more likely to have a structured eating plan throughout the day and consequently are less likely to snack between meals and consume empty calories," said Kirwan, who has studied the effect of breakfast consumption on exercise performance, but was not involved in the study.

He also noted the study did not distinguish between low-sugar and high-sugar cereals, noting growing evidence that those who eat so-called low glycemic foods have a lower risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

While cereal can often be high in fiber and low in fat, "you can't walk away saying, I'm going to eat cereal and lose weight," said Melinda Johnson, a dietitian with the Arizona state health department and an ADA spokeswoman.

Johnson also noted, however, that the foods often consumed with cereal tend to be healthy, and the study was another in a series to find a link between breakfast consumption and lower body mass index.

"You can walk away saying breakfast has been shown in lots of different studies to be really important for my children," Johnson said. "So parents can feel confident that serving cereal is definitely not going to do harm and eating breakfast is the right thing to do."