The motivation to debunk the “breakfast myth” is the same fuel that motivates the other myth-busting endeavor, the ultimate purpose is to figure out the truth from the lie (Barthes 59). The impetus to figure out myth from reality may require more persuasive exhortations other than the need to separate lies from myth when it comes to the idea that breakfast is the most critical meal of the day. Eating breakfast is already part of the cultural landscape, it makes little sense to debunk it especially if the alternative does not come forth as a more enticing option. Nonetheless, when the need to eat breakfast creates limitations or barriers in people’s pursuit of happiness and self-actualization, it is practical and necessary to shoot down the dogma powering the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, it is not an easy task. The “breakfast myth” persists and difficult to eradicate based on the implications of the sunk-cost fallacy and its associations with weight loss and metabolic rate enhancement.
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The Evolution of the “Breakfast Myth”: What and Why
One can make the argument that the “breakfast myth” is the combined outcome of a common-sense approach to understanding human behavior, flawed evidentiary support from biased research, and effective marketing ploys (Weiner 129). With regards to the first, a common-sense approach makes sense in explaining the endorsement of the “breakfast myth” since the pre-industrial era. Before the advent of the Industrial Age, Americans are into farming or hard labor. Clearing land, planting crops, and raising livestock are physically demanding jobs, the kind of livelihood that requires a strong physique and the nutritional requirement that supports growing muscles and bones. This assertion sounds the same as Lenna Cooper’s proclamation in the year 1917, underscoring the meal’s importance, simply because it is the meal that gets the day started (Klein). Thus, it is not difficult to grasp the idea that manual laborers who are unable to afford three square meals a day are going to perform better if they are given the opportunity to eat high-calorie and nutritious food served an hour or two before the workday begins (Carroll). The same logic applies to test the assertion that eating breakfast improves the learning capability of children. The improvements in scholastic performance are not attributed to the consumption of food during the early morning period, but the fact that a significant number of children do not have access to nutritious meals all throughout the year (Carroll). Therefore, an intervention that introduces a healthy diet immediately creates a positive impact on malnourished children.
Why We Believe
Acceptance of a particular myth and other superstitious beliefs is due to the perceived benefits of faithful allegiance to the said system. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, a lifestyle changed occurred so that fewer calories were required to perform daily tasks. Nevertheless, people continue to eat basically the same diet that they were consuming before they had access to farm machinery. As a result, people started to notice the prevalence of indigestion. It is during this critical shift in lifestyle that John Harvey Kellogg introduced the idea of eating vegetarian meals and whole grains because these food groups are healthier and easier to digest. Kellogg’s made the assertion that eating whole grains and the consumption of a plant-based diet is beneficial not only to the physical well-being, but also the spirit and the soul (Klein).
Kellogg deliberately or inadvertently tapped into an aspect of human psychology that gets easily excited when it comes to the business of mythology making. Lenovitz warned about the “moralistic binaries” that oversimplifies the selection process. On one end of the spectrum are harmful or evil food sources, while on the other end are food sources associated with godly living and good life (Lenovitz 15). There is no logical or scientific basis for these assertions, but people accept the association between natural and healthy, especially when it comes to eating breakfast. No matter how persuasive Kellogg’s explanation sounded, even after considering the fact that he had a degree in medicine, it is not easy to ignore the fact that he was the founder of a cereal empire that pulled in at least $10 billion in revenues (Klein). Thus, it is hard not to notice that he made a lot of money promoting a lifestyle that requires the consumption of the so-called most important meal of the day.
The “breakfast myth” surged to greater heights when a nation plagued with obesity heard the news that eating breakfast jumpstarts the metabolic process and kicks it into a higher gear (Talens). For those desperate to lose weight, it was hard not to accept this message as some sort of gospel truth, even if there was no scientific data available to back up the said assertion. Randomized and controlled trials revealed that less rigorous scientific parameters were utilized to declare the wondrous benefits of eating the first meal of the day (Reynolds).
Myth Busting Difficulties
It does not require a rocket scientist to poke holes into the argument that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Consider for example a glaring inconsistency or weakness in the said argument based on the realization that there is no standard definition of breakfast. According to Megan McCrory, a nutrition expert from GSU’s Byrdine Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions, a specific timeline within a 24-hour cycle does not correspond to a period called breakfast (Rubin). Researchers may have an easier time pinpointing lunch breaks as there is a universal agreement as to the time when workers are supposed to take a break from work. However, there is no such thing as an official breakfast time that researchers can use to narrow the time frame.
It becomes a major problem for the advocates of the “breakfast myth” if they acknowledge the difficulty of establishing a specific period for defining the “breakfast” concept. They cannot even cite with confidence an established fact that breakfast time is a specific 1-2 hour window between sunrise and noon. Thus, it is impossible to gather accurate data from test subjects under the said research parameters. As a consequence, it is not feasible to establish a certain scientific framework or a research design that makes it possible to declare the idea as a byproduct of a scientific process. The time element alone makes it impossible to create a basic research framework that is acceptable in the world of scientific inquiry.
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Supporters and adherents of the so-called myth are not going to give up without a fight. Expect a counter-argument stating that it is possible to establish a timeline, so that “breakfast” is a meal that people consume between sunrise and noon. Even if the most accommodating opponent accepts this research design, it is still impossible to develop a scientific inquiry that satisfies the basic principles of the scientific method. In a typical experiment, the researcher must have the capability to control certain variables to pinpoint that a certain factor or causative force serves as the primary mover of a particular phenomenon. However, this is not possible in studying the impact of breakfast in people’s lives, because it is impossible to dictate a specific type of diet. Even if it is theoretically possible to compel test subjects or respondents to consume a predetermined diet, it is impractical to implement this type of research framework, because it is not possible to experiment on human beings in the same way that scientists can control the food consumption of animals in an animal-based study. In the year 1974, the National Research Act was ratified into law (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This piece of legislation paved the way for the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The said commission requires “voluntary informed consent” from human test subjects (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
In other words, no one in his right mind will ever give consent to be tested like a laboratory rat. However, even if there are a few who are willing to be subjected to this type of treatment, the scientific community frowns on the outcome of the said unethical practice. Thus, the research findings coming from an unethical research design is deemed worthless. For example, to find out if eating breakfast improves the students’ IQ, it is imperative to control every aspect of the test subject’s lifestyle and human existence. It is not enough to give them the same type of food in the morning, they must also consume the exact meal all throughout the day for several weeks. In other words, every aspect of their lives is going to be calibrated to prove once and for all that eating breakfast in the morning is the undisputed factor for the significant increase in IQ levels. This type of tracking and monitoring scheme is only possible in the context of a laboratory experiment. Since it is not legal to subject human beings through this type of experiment, this type of knowledge acquisition scheme is out of the picture. Nevertheless, even if the government allows this type of research design, the process takes too long and it is close to impossible to track every known variable. Even in a controlled environment, there are still different factors that are affecting brain development and the improvement of intellectual skills.
Although it has been made clear that a scientific approach in determining the value of eating breakfast for the improvement of intellectual acumen is close to impossible, there are other types of tests that researchers were able to conduct to discredit the “breakfast myth.” Testing the power of breakfast in aid of weight loss is easier compared to IQ enhancement validations. Thus, in a study tracking the eating habits of 300 people, there was no significant difference in weight loss for those who did not eat breakfast and those who ascribed to the “breakfast myth” (Bornstein).
In the end, it is not scientifically accurate to declare that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The most conservative declaration requires a tempered message that says breakfast is as important as lunch and dinner depending on the circumstances of the client or patient. For example, in the case of a malnourished child, it is best to consume three square meals a day. In another scenario, an obese child may experience weight reduction by skipping a meal. However, there is no scientific data to support that skipping breakfast speeds up the metabolic rate. It has to be made clear that the data gathering process when it comes to food consumption, is a tricky proposition and notoriously difficult to track and verify as discussed earlier. Thus, there is no practical value to the claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
The lack of scientific support and the preponderance of evidence highlighting the absurdity of the claim is enough to declare that this assertion had been tested and declared nothing more than a myth. Nevertheless, it does not surprise the proponent of this study to meet people that have made the commitment to perpetuate the “breakfast myth” even in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting the counter-claim against the benefit of eating the same. They are going to stand firm on the assertion that they made in the past. This phenomenon is the direct result of the “sunk cost fallacy.” According to behavioral economics experts, the “sunk cost fallacy” compels people to perform irrational acts based on the influence of unrecoverable costs (Doody). For example, a ticket holder to a concert drives through a blizzard because he already paid for the cost of admission. As a result, he does not calculate the cost of fuel when he is slugging through the snow or the possible high cost of hospitalization due to the high probability of personal injury. Personal belief in the “breakfast myth” persists because many are used to performing this morning ritual, and for them, there is no reason to stop.
It was the combination of the common-sense approach and biased scientific assertions, coupled with sales talk about heavenly food for the most important meal of the day that established and perpetuated the “breakfast myth.” It is easy to obliterate the foundational framework of the said myth. The simple inquiry into the definition of “breakfast” and the lack of agreement as to the exact meaning of the term highlighted the weakness of the assertions related to the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It highlighted for instance the difficulty of ascribing the exact causative factor for the aforementioned wonderful benefits, such as weight loss, improved learning capabilities, and higher metabolic rates. An examination of research findings also magnified the difficulty of studying nutritional claims, and eating breakfast is not the exception. It is impossible to develop a relevant and appropriate research framework to determine the validity of the claims because it is illegal and unethical to conduct human experiments. Regardless of the legality of human experimentations, the essence of the research framework in itself is problematic, because there are so many variables and factors that researchers are going to track down and monitor in order to establish the fact that the consumption of food at a specific time between sunrise and noon can explain the emergence of a particular set of positive outcomes.
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Noonday Press, 1972.
Bornstein, Adam. “Breakfast Is Not the Most Important Meal.” Born Fitness, Web.
Carroll, Aaron. “Sorry, There’s Nothing Magical About Breakfast.” The New York Times, Web.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee.” CDC, Web.
Doody, Ryan. “The Sunk Cost Fallacy is Not a Fallacy.” MIT, Web.
Klein, Sarah. “A Brief History of How Breakfast Got Its Healthy Rep.” The Hufftington Post, Web.
Lenovitz, Alan. The Gluten Lie. Regan Arts, 2015.
Reynolds, Gretchen. “Is Breakfast Overrated?” The New York Times, Web.
Rubin, Rita. “Is Breakfast Really Your Most Important Meal?” WebMd, Web.
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Talens, Dick. “Why Breakfast Is Not the Most Important Meal of the Day.” Lifehacker, Web.
Weiner, Mark. “Consumer Culture and Participatory Democracy: The Story of Coca-Cola
During World War II.” Food in the USA: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan, Routledge, 2002, pp. 123-140.