9 Best Breakfast Habits for a Flatter Stomach, Experts Say
Eating breakfast has its benefits. Your body and brain will be fueled up for the morning's work, and your belly won't grumble during that 9:30 a.m. meeting with the boss. But perhaps best of all, if you're hoping to achieve or maintain a flatter stomach, eating breakfast can help kickstart your metabolism, burning calories ahead of your peers who may opt to skip their morning meals.
Studies strongly suggest that regularly eating breakfast is associated with less weight gain and belly fat. For example, a 2018 study from the Mayo Clinic funded by the American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health found that the waist circumference of adults who skipped breakfast was larger than that of people who ate breakfast four to seven days a week. People who had breakfast five to seven times weekly reported the least weight gain, while the prevalence of obesity was higher among breakfast skippers.
If that study makes you want to set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier to get into the breakfast habit, check out these expert-recommended breakfast habits that may help you achieve a flatter stomach. Then for more breakfast-related tips that can benefit your overall health, check out 9 Best Breakfast Recipes for a Longer Life.
Eat within 30 minutes of waking.
After six to eight hours of sleep, you wake up in a fasted state, and your body is primed for fuel.
According to certified strength and conditioning specialist and sports chiropractor Dr. Matt Tanneberg, CSCS, when you don't feed it in the morning, "your metabolism will dramatically slow down. Your body stops burning calories because it's trying to hang on to anything it can."
"Ideally, you should eat within 30 minutes of waking to replenish your body, so it can function properly throughout the day," Tanneberg told Eat This, Not That!
Drink water when you wake up.
Not only is your body in a fasted state when you wake up, but it's also dehydrated. This is why it's recommended that you also drink a glass of water shortly after waking.
Drinking water upon waking up signals your body that it's time to start the day, reinforcing what Ilana Muhlstein, MS, RDN, refers to as "one of the most powerful nutrition habits we have."
In fact, drinking two glasses of water before breakfast and every subsequent meal is one of the practices that helped Muhlstein reportedly lose 100 pounds, a milestone she shares in her book You Can Drop It!: How I Dropped 100 Pounds Enjoying Carbs, Cocktails & Chocolate—And You Can Too!
"Thinking 'water first' helps you make better eating decisions all day," Muhlstein suggests.
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Munch a mix of macros.
When preparing breakfast, you want to be sure that the meal enables your ability to consume enough calories as it covers all the macronutrient bases, Tanneberg advises. This means getting a well-balanced plate that includes protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
"Carbohydrates are not the enemy; they are our source of energy," Tanneberg says. "Fruit is an excellent source of 'good carbs' to complement a healthy morning meal."
When trying to diversify the macros on your plate, go for eggs. Eggs are not only high in protein, but they also provide good fats, as well.
"[Combining all the macros] will help you eliminate belly fat and stay satisfied and full throughout the day," Tanneberg explains.
Make that sugar spike less significant.
When searching for a quick and convenient breakfast, it is tempting to go straight for the sweet stuff and fill up on sugar and refined carbohydrates like muffins and cinnamon rolls.
"These types of foods will lead to a quick rise in glucose, the 'sugar spike,' followed by a significant low," explains Trista Best, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements. "This creates feelings of exhaustion and hunger. Because simple carbohydrates like these provide little fiber or other nutrients and are digested quickly, you find yourself hungry soon after eating a high sugar breakfast."
Best suggests you can have your morning muffin and reduce this glucose spike by eating it along with a high-protein breakfast food. Some protein-rich ideas include eggs, smoked salmon, bean breakfast burritos, and Greek yogurt.
Use fiber to feel fuller.
Studies have indicated that high fiber intake helps people on calorie-restricted diets lose weight and stick to their diet plan by satisfying hunger for an extended period of time. In addition to keeping you fuller for longer, prioritizing your fiber intake as part of your regular breakfast habits can increase your chances of having a flatter stomach.
"Eating more fiber is thought to prevent belly fat by slowing the body's absorption of sugar," says Sara Chatfield, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Health Canal. "Excess sugar intake has been linked with belly fat storage."
While having whole grain toast or a high-fiber cereal are obvious ways to build fiber into breakfast, you can also think out of the box. Sprinkle that Fiber One or other high-fiber cereal on yogurt to reduce the blood sugar spike you might otherwise get from a yogurt containing added sugars. Another great low-calorie source of fiber are vegetables. So if you're looking to bulk up the fiber in your breakfast, consider adding diced bell peppers to your omelette or blending some spinach leaves into a whey protein shake.
Get in the oatmeal habit.
Eating sufficient carbohydrates to fuel the body and allows protein to be used for other important functions instead of being broken down for energy.
"If you don't consume the needed amount of carbohydrates, your body can rely on protein for energy, making the protein less available for things like keeping muscles healthy and strong," says Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., LN, CNS, who is an emeritus professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, and a member of the Grain Foods Council.
Oats are also a good source of soluble fiber, which slows digestion. According to one study, oatmeal for breakfast may increase satiety and lead to a lower-calorie lunch.
"Oatmeal has been scientifically proven to help you feel full between meals," Jones explains. "This can also benefit weight loss [or] maintenance, as whole grain and cereal fiber intake have been found to be associated with lower total percent body fat and lower abdomen fat mass."
Build your oats overnight.
If you're tempted to grab a doughnut or worse—skip breakfast altogether—all because you don't have time to make a meal, prep it the night before.
"Overnight oats, which are packed with fiber, are a good way to stay full while also getting a good amount of healthy carbs," says Juliana Tamayo, MS, RD, LDN, who is a clinical dietitian at FitnessClone.
Tamayo recommends adding a protein source to your overnight oats, like peanut butter, Greek yogurt, flaxseeds, or nuts.
"Choose ingredients that boost the vitamin and mineral content, but also add flavor and satisfy your sweet tooth," Tamayo advises.
Chatfield adds that washing your oats down with a cup of hot green tea at breakfast can also benefit your weight loss goals. "Some research has shown it can offer a small boost in metabolism and help with weight loss," she says.
Brew a fat-burn booster.
A cup of coffee or tea with your breakfast can help you sculpt a flatter belly, according to research on caffeine and fat metabolism. For example, a 2021 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that men who consumed caffeine equal to the amount in a cup of strong coffee 30 minutes prior to a morning and evening workout experienced a significant "increase in whole-body fat oxidation rate" compared to taking a placebo.
Caffeinated tea works too, especially when it's green tea containing powerful flavonoids called catechins. Research in the Journal of Nutrition showed that obese adults who drank green tea burned more abdominal fat during exercise than obese adults who drank a placebo containing caffeine but no green tea extract.
Don't fear toast or cold cereal.
In the morning, don't get super nit-picky about what you eat; what's important is that you just eat something. Though whole grains are preferable given their many health benefits, even toast made with white bread or cold cereal made with refined grains is better to have at the top of the day compared to nothing at all.
The research on refined grain intake and risk of type 2 diabetes that has led the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to recommend replacing most refined grains with whole grains, is based on a misleading assessment of dietary patterns, according to commentary published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2022. Reviewing 11 cohort studies, Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., a member of the scientific advisory boards of the Grain Foods Foundation and the Wheat Foods Council, found that "with few exceptions, intake of refined grains is not associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes." Furthermore, the study emphasized that most refined grains are enriched with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron and fortified with folic acid, key nutrients that the diets of many Americans lack.