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The importance of a healthy and balanced lifestyle

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Pedro Burton-Taylor
  • 30th Medical Support Squadron

Ever since I was a kid, I have always heard about the importance of eating breakfast and that this was the best meal of the day. However, I never imagined that one day, I would physically experience the impact of not eating breakfast; and what this “skipping” could do to the human body.

When I first joined the military, I made sure I ate breakfast in the morning. However, as I started progressing in rank, and my scope of responsibilities increased, I found myself spending more time at work and less time at home. This resulted in me sleeping less at night. In order to make up for the loss hours of sleep, I occasionally started sacrificing breakfast for an extra hour or two of sleep. This became very evident, when I took command in the summer of 2015.

My first few months as a Squadron Commander were exciting and educational but also exhausting. I spent my first weeks working late hours trying to figure out what my job fully entailed. Before you knew it, I noticed that I was eating breakfast only once or twice a week. Despite my lack of consistent breakfast, I felt okay during the day. Soon, I began skipping breakfast all together. My first meal of the day was lunch, which could be anywhere from 11 a.m. to 2 in the afternoon depending on how busy my day was going. After a couple of weeks, I actually lost the urge and appetite to eat breakfast in the morning. I was even able to exercise in the morning on an empty stomach and did not need coffee to keep me going during the day.       

A few months later, I went to the hospital due to stomach cramping. My initial thought was I am just going through a “candy hangover” as I ate two bags of sour gummy worms earlier that day. During my medical evaluation, my Primary Care Manager asked me about my diet. She specifically asked what I ate for breakfast. I replied that I do not eat anything in the morning, but I always eat lunch and dinner. My PCM then looked at me and said “do you know breakfast is the best meal of the day.” I immediately had a blank face as I started remembering all the times I heard that same comment. My PCM then mentored me about the importance of eating breakfast and immediately ordered blood tests. The exams showed that my glucose and B12 level was low, almost indicative of someone who was suffering from malnutrition. My labs also displayed other abnormalities which confirmed that things were not going well inside my body. When I asked my PCM to explain to me the abnormalities in my lab, she stated that my body was like a car running without gas and I (the engine) was overheating.  

I was then referred to the nutritionist, who re-educated me on the importance of eating breakfast and provided recommendations of what to eat for breakfast. To my surprise, the first day that I ate breakfast, I felt an immediate physical and mental boost. Honestly, I felt like I took some type of “energy-focus” pill. In the weeks that followed, I noticed an immense increase in my focus and energy. I even noticed an improvement in my muscle tone. Two months later, I repeated my labs, and they were now within the normal range.

 As members of the best Air Force in the world, we consistently face work and mission challenges that sometimes take up huge amounts of our time. As a result we unknowably, and at times purposely, sacrifice our physical health for things we deem more important. However, it’s imperative that we have balance in our life. This balance must include, work, family, diet and exercise. Research clearly shows that eating breakfast provides a number of benefits: a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain, as well as increased physical activity and improved cognitive abilities. Thus, it’s very important that we take our health seriously, and that starts with not just eating breakfast, but also getting a good night of sleep. Thus, leaders and supervisors must not only take their health seriously, but they must also empower their airmen and foster an environment where maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an important factor in their daily lives. It’s a fact that you can be a bright and powerful Airman and leader; however, if you don’t have good health, you may be unable to serve and meet your mission in the near future.