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No Breakfast of Champions

Same day as always. Up at 4 a.m., coffee, coffee, my best friend — coffee, my friend who never lets me down, black as night, warm as hope, and me typing like a madwoman while occasionally fretting that my desk is killing me.

This isn’t an irrational fear: Studies show that sitting for more than two hours at a stretch may double my risk of a cardiac event, and four hours a day of screen time increases my risk of death from any cause by 50 percent. So, yes, my desk is killing me. But right now I’m more at risk as the result of a different health-killing behavior: Skipping breakfast.

It’s 6 a.m. and I haven’t eaten yet. Time to get my kindergartener out of bed, and slowly wrestle/cuddle/guide/fight him into a conscious state in preparation to board the bus.

“You have to eat breakfast!” I tell my son. “You must. Why? Energy for your day, sweetheart. How much do you have to eat? All of it! Eat your banana. You always like bananas. Look, I cut it into slices just the way you like it. And yummy nut butter, too. Eat it. Please, eat it!” Constant, gentle pressure is half of parenting.

And now: “Goodbye, goodbye!” Wave to the back of the bus as it rolls toward kindergarten, that magical land of learning about animal homes and freeze-tag. Back from the bus stop, home to my 3-year-old who is waiting in her footie pajamas, and now it’s time for me to cuddle/rush/cajole her into her clothes. And get her breakfast.

“Eat your breakfast, eat your breakfast!” I plead. “The raspberries are just the way you like them. Look, they fit over your finger like a hat. And there’s yummy yogurt, too!”

I ignore my growling stomach as I unload the dishwasher and dash to daycare drop-off. Now, my real day begins. More coffee! I’m already starting to fade. Darn. Forgot to stick a granola bar in my purse.

Oh, well, I’ll grab something before the meeting. Wait, the meeting’s early? And it’s going to lead directly into another emergency meeting? Oh, no, there’s some crisis brewing! A crisis! Meanwhile, my blood sugar is dropping and my stress levels are spiking. My mood is spiraling downward.

Well, clearly, this crisis mess has got to be somebody’s fault. Mary, I bet. Oh, how could she let this happen? Was it just carelessness? Was it intentional? My coworkers and I confer: Should we go over her head? What are our strategies? We have to fix this thing. Who is on our side? Visits to other parts of the building. A frantic hour passes. Action plan formulated! Crisis averted!

But now my stomach is a knot of hunger, and I’m starting to feel spaced out and shaky. I rush to the car and speed to my next meeting. Suddenly, I’m gripped by a sense of hopelessness. Sad. Depressed. I feel sort of wrecked.

My mind is wandering in circles now, but it seems stuck in one deep, negative groove: Why do I always get pulled into these power struggles? And what is wrong with this world that such awful people are always ascending to power, and nice people like me are always getting stepped on? It’s because they don’t take their eyes off the ball, those mean people. People like me, we have full lives we struggle hard to balance on behalf of others. We take our eyes off the ball constantly. We engage with our partners, aging parents, children, pets, neighbors. That’s what will kill us: Our children and pets and neighbors. Because that is just how bad this world has gotten — at least from my miserable, low-blood-sugar point of view.

About this time, I cruise past a restaurant where I’ve eaten before — a little Korean place. But I should not stop at that little Korean place. I don’t have the time. And I probably don’t deserve lunch. I’ve done every single thing in my entire life wrong, which is why I have no time for lunch.

See, this is why people get fast food. Because we are oppressed by time, and by our enemies, who don’t take their eyes off the ball. And by our pets and loved ones. Our desks. Our desks are giving us sitting disease, the rotation of the earth around the sun is taking all our time, and our loved ones are between us and the ball, ruining everything. Oh my god, I have to eat.

I am going to run into the Korean place. They’ve got pork bulgogi on the menu! I should not get the pork bulgogi. It is delicious, but it’s so greasy. It’s not a good idea; I should get something made of vegetables, vegetables, vegetables. But, oh, the pork! O, o, o, you mysterious pork, so elegant, so intelligent. . . .

Why did I do it? Why did I order the fatty pork? Why do I do everything wrong? But, wow, this tastes good. And you know, the good thing about eating at the Korean restaurant is that you always get your vegetables, even when you are foolish enough not to order them. They just come: six little plates of them, the panchan, those little plates of sides with which to season your pork, which you shouldn’t have ordered, but you did.

And maybe that’s OK. Because, my heavens, this food is good. Spicy pork, lacto-fermented cabbage, pickled sprouts, shredded daikon, wilted sprouts, quick-pickled romaine lettuce — this is all so wonderful. This is exactly, exactly what I needed — and you know, the people here are so nice. Why don’t I come here every day? Every day I should come here and eat. I feel so much better now.

Wait a minute. I’ve been up since 4 a.m. and now it’s noon, and this is the first thing I’ve eaten. Duh. Eight hours without food is a recipe for disaster. A recipe for depression, moodiness, everything negative and hopeless and awful.

I know that, of course. I’ve written about it. I’ve written about the way that not eating sets you up for irresistible cravings. I’ve written about the way skipping meals messes up your insulin regulation, setting you up for big health problems like diabetes. I’ve written about the way that skipping breakfast lowers your metabolism, decimates your energy, depresses your mood, shortens your emotional fuse and leads to overeating later in the day. I know this stuff! I guess I just have to start putting my knowledge into action.

Now that I have my wits about me, I wonder: Is it possible my whole crisis with Mary was just an overreaction because of my missing breakfast? I’ll circle back with her. She probably just doesn’t understand what we’re trying to do, or why. I’ll text her. See if she wants to have breakfast tomorrow. A good breakfast. Something healthy that will get us through lunch. Yes, I’ll text her right now: breakfast tomorrow. Perfect.

Decent Day-Starters

  • A hard-boiled egg and a slice of whole-grain toast or handful of greens.
  • A banana sliced into full-fat yogurt and some nuts sprinkled over the top.
  • Oatmeal with frozen berries — blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries — and a spoonful of nuts or nut butter.
  • Chopped apple with nuts, shaved coconut, a little dried fruit and a sprinkling of chia seeds, plus a splash of milk or milk alternative.
  • Breakfast smoothies — fruit, yogurt, nut or seed milk — with a handful of greens and some ground flaxseed. Add some protein powder or supergreens powder, if you like.
  • Eggs with salsa (and an optional dollop of sour cream or full-fat yogurt) and a handful of mixed greens on the side, or stuffed into a whole-grain pita.
  • Eggs with some quick-sautéed dark greens, like kale, spinach or chard.
  • A whole-grain English muffin or whole-kernel toast with almond butter and an apple on the side.
  • A simple fruit-and-cheese plate, with a handful of almonds.
  • On a day when you have a little time, try mini frittatas: Whisk together eggs and whatever ingredients you have handy, like ham, turkey, sautéed veggies, black beans and salsa, or fresh herbs. Pour the mixture into a muffin tin, and bake until set. These frittatas can also be made in advance, frozen for up to a month, and eaten warmed or cool.
Illustration by: Tom Kaczynski

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