Skip to Content

Tapping Into Reserves: Why the Most Important Meal of the Day is the One You Skip

Share This Article

Episode 23 of Brain Over Belly marks a new chapter of the show. Dr. Brown is happy to welcome his new co-host Hannah, as together they will dive even deeper into the puzzle of obesity and longevity, from the very clinics they work in – Idaho BMI and Everest Surgical Institute.


It’s common for our metabolic rate to decrease as we age, and just as common for Dr. Brown to be asked by a patient how to increase it.

First off, it’s important to know that many studies around metabolism define it as the rate at which a person burns energy. But a different angle might be more accurate and in turn, helpful.

The traditional idea is that food is fuel. That food fuel is needed to exercise, think, work – everything we humans love and need to do. There’s one problem with that idea.

It doesn’t reflect how the body is designed. All of us have stored energy in the form of fat, and the body works better when it burns what’s stored, not what it is fed. And it’s after that burning of stored energy, that we’re really meant to eat. 
We’ve all heard at some point in our lives that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s endorsed by nutritionists, schools, and trainers, and it’s just false. It’s not a stretch to say the most important meal is the one you skip, to allow your body to tap into your energy reserves. And odds are you have a lot of them (the average body mass index has 200,000 – 400,000 stored calories). A great analogy for this is a savings account that, say after 50 years, you can’t actually access.

Eating Schedule

So, how long should you go without eating? There’s no magic number, but a key point is that like anything else, it gets easier as you practice and take small steps.

Dr. Brown has the reserves to go 3,4, even 5 days without food. It sounds crazy, but after the first day, the body’s ability to adjust is in full force. Thanks to internal timekeepers like our circadian rhythm, pancreas and liver, our body is incredibly skilled at adapting to eating schedules. Dr. Brown has eaten no earlier than noon for years, and the rare time that he does, he feels sick.

A little window into this widespread belief that we need food nearly all the time, is the hit show Alone, in which contestants must survive in a remote part of the world. What do you suspect is almost always the first concern, once dropped off in their location? Not wood for fire. Not shelter from grizzly bears.

It’s food. Should one day pass without food, most contestants will be in full freakout mode. The reality is that, as long as they have a means to hydrate, they have the ability to go a week or even longer without this food they are so obsessed over.

To be clear, this isn’t to say it’s easy. Fasting – especially prolonged fasting of a day or longer – takes time, practice, and many small steps. But with 44% of America being obese, the idea of skipping meals couldn’t be much more important.

And just like breakfast was long touted as the most important meal of the day – it is becoming the most common meal to skip, as one type of fasting is gaining popularity – intermittent fasting, sometimes known as time-restricted eating. Eating dinner at 5 or 6 PM and not eating again until 11 AM or noon the next day, has proven successful and not too difficult for many people. And it’s a great stepping stone that Dr. Brown would recommend to most people.

Liquids, Hunger, & Fasting

Hannah explains a hunger-related scenario she experiences often, that many of us do too. She notices that if she eats a later dinner, or even snacks at 9 or 10, she will feel hungry the moment she wakes up.

There are various causes for this sensation, an important one being the disruption of sleep if its occurring shortly after eating. But another cause actually isn’t hunger-related at all. 

It’s thirst. And thirst is a huge problem, as 70% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.

Distinguishing hunger from thirst can be harder than many think. It’s why Dr. Brown tells his patients that, following their bariatric surgery, getting enough sugar-free liquids (water, broth, etc.) is far more important than any food. And these patients see the difference right away. They wake up, and sure, feel hungry. But they hydrate, then feel great.

Prolonged Fasting & Benefits

What better way to learn about fasts lasting longer than a day, than by hearing about the experience directly. Four times a year, Dr. Brown fasts for 2-3 days, starting after a dinner at around 6 PM.

A couple benefits of prolonged fasting that surprise some, are mental clarity and energy boosts, Dr. Brown sure enjoys them, and they are also widely reported among those who fast for similar durations. After all, why wouldn’t fasting provide energy? We all know of those 2PM crashes after a big lunch. Coincidence? Probably not.


You may have heard about the ketogenic, or “keto” diet”, and you’ve just as likely seen items on grocery store shelves with “keto” labels. That’s tricky, but first let’s start from scratch.

We have different types of fuel. Fat’s one, and it’s a much cleaner fuel than the alternative, which is sugar. When the body burns fat, some goes to the liver, and some produce ketones. Ketosis occurs when ketones are present in your blood, and is generally a healthy sign. It is not to be confused with the dangerous diabetic ketoacidosis, during which excess ketones are in the blood stemming from the body not being able to produce enough insulin.

Speaking of, you’re probably familiar with the term “insulin resistance”. That’s one of many harmful results of too much sugar, serving as fuel for too long. Additional harm comes in the form of inflammation and oxidative stress to the cells. Overall, when you think of what happens when sugar is our primary fuel, you can think of clogging a system. 

And as for those “Keto” labels on food items – your best bet is to steer clear, and stick to whole foods containing healthy fats. It’s that simple.

Modern Medicine & Treatment

Many of the diseases killing millions of us – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, even simple aging – are largely driven by the overarching inflammatory problem – the inability to tap into stored energy.

We’ve gotten better at treating symptoms of disease: joint pain, poor sleep, low blood sugar, and everything in between. But we’ve not made nearly enough progress in treating that core problem – lack of metabolic flexibility. We are built to be lean, mean fighting machines. But it’s all about putting ourselves in those situations where we don’t eat when we don’t need to, and over time, gaining that metabolic flexibility.

We all have more capacity than we may think, and we have a ton of potential if we just don’t beat ourselves up too much. Ask questions, be curious, experiment, and take small steps toward regular fasting so you can live longer, all while feeling better.

Brain Over Belly is available wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe now for this second episode of a special two-part series on heart disease, and others discussing weight loss, general health and longevity. Brain Over Belly, get it on Listen Boise today. What have you got to lose?

Share This Article

Get Started Today

Our mission is to provide outstanding medical treatment that’s affordably priced so you can achieve your weight loss, nutrition, and health goals. Our Quickstart program speeds up this mission for those who qualify. Candidates must meet specific criteria. Submit your information below and we will get back to you with details.