I love breakfast food. Sweet muffins, crispy waffles, fluffy pancakes, piping-hot scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and buttery English muffins are some of my most craved meals. Growing up, my family would sit around the table — or, if we were really lucky, the Friendly's in town — for the aptly titled Special Breakfast on Sunday mornings. It felt like stolen time. The most delicious foods, a leisurely pace, no worries about the bedtimes and homework that cluttered our nightly dinner routine. It just felt … well, special.
But on the other six, busier mornings? I'd scarf down a bowl of cereal or grab a banana and a yogurt without thinking, and rush off to school. It wasn't magical, but at least it was something.
Breaking the Breakfast Habit
Fast forward to grown-up me, living in New York City on my own. Breakfast became a casualty of my never-ending "busy" schedule. I knew all about the often-touted nutritional benefits — studies have shown breakfast helps kids focus in school, can help obese people increase their activity levels, and that eating protein in the morning can curb your appetite all day long.
But I had every excuse in the book: there wasn't enough time, it was the easiest thing to lop off my budget, and I was 23 and my body (kind of) ran just fine on little sleep and even less fuel (sigh … ). Sure, I battled daily headaches and sluggishness, but I chalked it up to the ever-present fatigue of burning the candle at both ends.
At 4 p.m. every single day, my work wife and I would head to the café in our office and grab peanut butter cookies, or some gummy candy, or a sugary latte, and I assumed it was my sweet tooth talking more than the fact that I was so under-fueled I needed a jolt to get me through the rest of the day.
By the time I'd leave work, I could only be described as hangry. The best cure? Getting myself a giant bowl of carbs to fill the hole in my stomach. Pasta was the fastest thing I could whip up and the least expensive thing I could order at a restaurant — and what I craved night after night.
The cycle continued, and I would work long days and travel all weekend, never prioritizing a trip to the grocery store to get the most basic of supplies. I'd buy (expensive) lunches that often included fries or pizza at work, and ate out with friends a few nights a week. As a single woman without her own family, and living away from family, my breakfast ship had become unmoored.
Back to Breakfast
I generally felt, um, not great. But it never occurred to me that my lack of breakfast had anything to do with it. Then, a few years ago, I got a job that started a full hour later than my previous job. Suddenly, it felt like my day was inflated with time, and I was the only one who could decide what to do with it.
My first stop was carving out a sliver for breakfast. I'm not sure what inspired me — I just wanted to have some sort of morning routine for myself. I made time to whip up a latte, prepare a bowl of cereal, a smoothie, or a yogurt, and enjoy them at the table while I watched the news, flipped through a magazine, or even read a few pages of a book (okay, I've been known to watch old Gilmore Girls episodes while I eat, too).
It sort of became office hours for my sanity: Always a morning person, I started allowing myself a little me-time before the day took hold. Day by day, I started to notice that I was just a little bit less overwhelmed by everything (including the crowds on the subway and frustrations at work).
On top of my emotional benefits, I noticed that I was becoming more focused throughout the morning. By the time lunch would roll around, I could actually make a healthy decision that even included a vegetable or two. Sometimes, I still nosedive into a bowl of mac and cheese at dinner, but that's now the exception and not the rule.
I know my new morning routine is a luxury: I don't have a family to dominate my attention and I don't have to set my alarm earlier to accommodate it. And I can't imagine not having it. Taking the time to have a special moment with myself in the morning captures just a glimmer of the magic I felt growing up on Sundays. Breakfast not only keeps me mentally balanced, but I'm probably also a little bit healthier for it, too.