Several months ago, my seven year old daughter declared that she was going to start skipping breakfast for the whole week and only eat it on the weekends (because she really loved pancakes!). To this I replied, “why are you doing that?” She said that it was because she wanted to be like me.

“I feel really strong mom and I think I can wait until lunch time to eat,” she said.

Well, at that point I had many thoughts swirling around in my head. “Is this the right thing to do?”, “Should I let her do this?” and “She’s just a child, what if something goes wrong that I hadn’t thought about?” But she was so adamant about it that I agreed and said fine, let’s go for it.  

For the first few hours after she woke up, she was feeling great. She was excited to start this journey and be like mom. At about 9:30am, she roamed into the kitchen and asked if she could have some sparkling water. I asked her if she wanted to eat something to which she quickly replied “no mom, I’m waiting until 11:00am to have my lunch.” I think I may have been more nervous and anxious than she was at that point.  I mean, she seemed to be doing well. There were no clenched teeth or fists begging for food. I was actually impressed with her and how she was hanging in there. 

Ten o’clock rolls around and she starts yelling at her baby sister, she sounds cranky and frankly hangry. “Zoe are you alright?” I ask. She tells me that she’s ok but I can tell she really wants to eat something, so I cut the experiment short and she gets her breakfast. 

To be clear, I am in no way advocating an intermittent fasted lifestyle for children. However, it was interesting to see how much of a mirror I have become for my daughter, who watches and wants to do everything I do. I never hide it from her. In fact, I have explained in many ways what fasting is and why I do it. In explaining this lifestyle to her, I am careful to take the emphasis away from the weight loss. I focus primarily on the health benefits (Mattson,et.al, 2017), the amazing energy I feel when I’m in a fasted state and the clarity I have to be more present for her and her sister. 

My daughter isn’t overweight but she is slightly heavier than her peers.  This is a sensitive issue for me and her. For me, it’s because I can see myself in her at that age. I was her at that age. And I remember feeling inadequate, shy and being a true introvert. But what I love most about Zoe is that she is more than I was at her age. Of course she has her insecurities, but she is also a powerhouse, she’s a go-getter, she is not shy and most importantly she doesn’t feel those insecurities I had about my body at her age.  Watching her mirror my behavior made me proud because I was doing something that was promoting my health and she was mirroring that because she wanted to be healthy. I thought, if I can do something healthy that my daughter wants to do, then I am winning as a parent. 

To bring it back to breakfast, as adults who practice a fasting lifestyle, whether it be for weight loss or to tap into the other health benefits, we may not have any issue with skipping breakfast and sipping on black coffee. However, our children are still growing. They need all of the calories available to them to keep them alert and attentive at school and throughout the day (Adolphus, et.al, 2016). But another interesting point to explore is what our children’s breakfasts look like. As a child, I used to eat a lot of sugary cereals, breakfast bars loaded with sugar.  I know today that this may not have been the healthiest or most beneficial way to start my day. These sugary starts to the day can easily lead to peaks and valleys of blood glucose levels, leading to poor overall cognitive performance later in the day. 

A sugary breakfast can cause sugar crashes later in the day. Photo by David Streit on Unsplash.
A sugary breakfast can cause sugar crashes later in the day. Photo by David Streit on Unsplash.

A systematic review of studies looking at children who have breakfast compared to those who do not, as well as the composition of the type of breakfast, was published by Adolphus in 2016. The author goes into significant detail on the composition of the different types of breakfasts that were studied and how they impacted a child’s cognitive senses throughout the day. This is a fascinating review on the effects of different types of breakfasts. However, the authors could not provide firm conclusions on whether, for example, high carbohydrate breakfasts versus high protein breakfasts had a poorer or better cognitive outcome for children throughout the day. The authors did surmise that although the data on the impacts of actual breakfast composition were limited, available data suggested that breakfasts that did not spike glucose levels facilitated better cognitive functioning.  

Perhaps feeding our children more nutrient dense foods like fruits and veggies that have more fiber and lower glycemic indices, while avoiding sweet juices or sugary cereals or breakfast pastries, may be a better option. Having more fruits and veggies to start the day will help in preventing the immediate spikes of glucose and insulin that sometimes prevent children from concentrating or maintaining their focus throughout the day. 

In our family, we reserve the weekends for pancakes and whipped cream, while during the week days my girls may get a variety of fruit, yogurt, eggs, turkey bacon and toast. Sometimes there will be some nut butter and oatmeal in there, or some granola with whole wheat cereal.  It’s never a perfect shot, but for the most part I try to make sure that there are some healthy fats, hearty grains and rich fiber foods in there that I know will keep my daughter satiated and clear-minded until she gets to lunch. 

Plate of breakfast with fried eggs, bacon, beans, orange juice and toasts.
A breakfast that will prevent a blood sugar spike, with berries, healthy fats in eggs, protein in beans.

The lesson I learned from this exchange with my daughter (and many others that have occurred since) was that she is my daughter but she is not me.  She doesn’t have to skip breakfast because she wants to do what I’m currently doing. While I consistently set her up at the start of the day with the hearty foods that will get her through her mornings, I also don’t force her to eat if she isn’t hungry. As parents or guardians of these little humans in our lives, we need to be mindful of how much, when and what they are eating.  We practice intuitive eating in our household, which means that we trust our body’s hunger and satiety cues to help guide food choices.

Teaching our children to be smart eaters is important and will help them carry that behavior into adulthood. 

Yes, she’s going to continue to want to do the things I do and maybe there will even come a time when she is embarrassed by the things I do (hopefully that will be a short phase).  My hope is that if she ever decides to intermittently fast, skip breakfast or otherwise, it will be a decision that she is empowered to do because she had a good role model on how to do it safely and appropriately while reaping all of the benefits.  

Be sure to assess your own calorie and energy needs before deciding how and when to fast.

References:

  1. Mattson MP, Longo VD, Harvie M. Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Res Rev. 2017;39:46–58. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2016.10.005
  2. Adolphus K, Lawton CL, Champ CL, Dye L. The Effects of Breakfast and Breakfast Composition on Cognition in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(3):590S–612S. Published 2016 May 16. doi:10.3945/an.115.010256

Martine Etienne-Mesubi, DrPH

Martine Etienne-Mesubi, DrPH

I am a public health epidemiologist interested in the cross section of health and the determinants of health outcomes.
In my blog posts I discuss all things public health such as the social determinants of health, infectious and chronic diseases as well as nutrition and weight loss.

LifeOmic is the software company that leverages the cloud, machine learning and mobile devices to offer disruptive solutions to healthcare providers, researchers, health IT companies and patients.

Locations

Contact Us

Privacy Preference Center