The HP Diet, Week 3: Breakfast

Third installment of weekly “Harry Potter Diet” series.

For most of my life, I've been guilted into eating breakfast. This began with Timer. Even if you're as ancient as me, you might not remember Timer -- I didn't precisely remember him -- but there's a good chance that if you're in my age bracket, let's say, age 43 to 57, Timer played a major role in your life.

How do you describe Timer? He was a yellow egg/blob/Weeble/oval who wore a tall, yellow top hat and a yellow bow tie. It's unclear what he was supposed to be, maybe egg is right, considering he was named "Timer" -- egg timer? It's still very confusing.

He/it was voiced, I now know, by a man named Lennie Weinrib. In retrospect, Lennie was the generic voice of my childhood. He's best known (irony font) as the voice of H.R. Pufnstuf and Scrappy-Doo, but he was credited as "Additional Voices" on every 1970s and '80s cartoon from The Jetsons to The Flintstones to Hong Kong Phooey to The Super Globetrotters to, well, he is my childhood. If I think of a blanket, non-specific cartoon voice, it's the voice of Lennie Weinrib.

Timer was the star of a one-blob show called "Time for Timer." It was a one-minute public service commercial. Kids today miss out: Back when we were young, we had TONS of public service commercials, particularly on Saturday mornings. This isn't the time or place to get into the sacred importance of Saturday morning cartoons/live action shows when I was a kid, but it's obvious that government officials worried that watching six consecutive hours of this ...

8 a.m.: The Addams Family

8:30 a.m.: The Bugs Bunny Show

9 a.m.: Hong Kong Phooey

9:30 a.m.: The New Adventures of Gilligan

10 a.m.: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

10:30 a.m.: Shazam! (With occasional check-ins on Sigmund and the Sea Monster)

11 a.m.: Super Friends (unless Aquaman was a focus, at which point you switch to The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show)

12 p.m.: The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine

12:30 p.m.: Fat Albert and/or American Bandstand.

... might rot our brains. This was just one season -- this was the winter of 1975, when I was 8 years old. Later, such jams as Far Out Space Nuts, The New Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show, The Oddball Couple, The Adventures of Muhammad Ali and various attempts to break out Popeye and Tarzan as stars did not inspire much faith from the U.S. government. And out came the public service commercials.

The most famous of these is, of course, "Schoolhouse Rock!" -- even now, when thinking about the preamble of the Constitution, people of our generation will look up to the ceiling and begin singing: "We the people ... in order to form a more perfect union ..."

But there were others. There was the Bod Squad, which was never my favorite. Superman told us not to smoke. Rappers told us not to use drugs. Smokey the Bear said we were the only ones who could prevent forest fires. A Native American with a single tear rolling down his face warned us against littering -- the horror of this commercial was lost on us then.

McGruff the Crime Dog wanted us to take a bite out of crime.

McGriff the Crime Dog warned us against missing the cutoff man.

And then there was Timer. I forgot about him, but I can never forget his words, particularly a secondary classic called "Quickie Breakfast."*

*Timer's timeless classic is "I hanker for a hunk of cheese."

Quickie Breakfast begins like so: "Hi, time for Timer ... what? No time for breakfast? Now look!"

It's unclear how Timer knew that we had no time for breakfast but he was right. He was a smart egg/blob. And he was concerned about us. "Since six o'clock last night you haven't eaten a bite," he sang. "Come on, I'll show you why that's really not the way for a growing kid to start a busy day."

I should say here that these words are so ingrained in my memory that I do not need to watch the video to remind myself of them. As the song proceeds, Timer switches locations. He's now sitting inside your stomach.

"Here we are inside your body, and that noisy, empty space (stomach growls) is your stomach getting angry 'cause there's no food in the place. ... Uh oh. Let's find some food, fast."

Here, Timer gives us a disclaimer that what he's about to recommend is not the IDEAL breakfast, but "this quickie breakfast is better than nothing at all." And we're back to the song, which picks up the pace. From here on in, "Quickie Breakfast" can best be described as Dylanesque.

"Hey, here's orange juice and milk and fruit

Just waitin' to be taken.

And bless my soul, right here's a bowl

With one cold piece of steak'n."

Even as a child, I wondered how you could have the perfect rhyme for "bacon" and instead force in the ridiculous "steak'n."

"A hard-boiled egg, a chicken leg,

Or cheese or luncheon meat

Or a peanut butter sandwich

Any time of day's a treat."

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rKXw_oqxfQ&w=560&h=315]

It's the last part -- that "peanut butter sandwich any time of day's a treat" line -- that more than anything else has stayed with me all my life. I suspect that every single time I've made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the last 40 years, I've heard in my head, "A peanut butter sandwich any time of day's a treat."

Timer preyed on my mind. He preyed on my soul. You have to eat breakfast. You have to eat breakfast. YOU HAVE TO EAT BREAKFAST. It doesn't even matter what you eat, but you have to eat something, even if it's a cold piece of steak'n. This has felt unshakeable to me, like a belief in gravity. You have to eat breakfast. You can't start your day without breakfast. You have to eat breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day. You have to eat breakfast.

So I ate breakfast, just about every day, no matter what. And, I ignored these three personal facts:

  1. I'm not really hungry most mornings.

  2. When I eat breakfast, it's usually very unhealthy, because, let's face it, most awesome breakfast food is unhealthy.

  3. Eating breakfast does not make me less hungry for lunch. It's actually the opposite. I find those mornings when I eat breakfast, I am hungrier at lunch time.

None of these three things registered with me. I mean what was I going to do? Skip breakfast? Haha, of course not. Occasionally, I'd eat a healthy breakfast, an egg white omelet, oatmeal. Mostly I would not --- recall the bagel, hash brown, Diet Coke combo from the first installment of the Harry Potter Diet. But the point is I had in my mind that a Cinnabon (or two) was better than not eating at all.

Then I read something about the intermittent fasting thing that's supposedly sweeping Hollywood. The general idea behind intermittent fasting -- and I'm going to tell you right up front that I don't really understand it -- is that to be healthier and to lose weight we should eat all our meals in an eight-hour window, say, between 10 and 6. I guess there are also supposed to be fast days and other things; I didn't really read too closely. But somewhere in it, I did across these words.

Eating breakfast is overrated.

What? I read the words again. Eating breakfast is overrated. What? I read the words again. This can't be right. But the words were followed with some sort of science or pseudo-science or, well, it looked like science, that showed that breakfast is basically no more important than any other meal and not optimal for losing weight and ...

(Mind blown sound)

I cannot tell you how big an impact this had on me. Could it be true? Could Timer have been wrong? Could you actually live a healthy life without eating breakfast? I went to the Internet. Within minutes, literal minutes, I found YouTube videos of animals doing funny things and people hating each other on Twitter. That done, I asked a doctor friend, "Is this possible? Could breakfast really be overrated?" He told me, unequivocally, that he was not that kind of doctor, his PhD is in physics.

And I had my answer.

I stopped eating breakfast. Please understand: I'm not saying that this is the right thing to do; I can feel some of you recoil in horror. I've told various friends that I stopped eating breakfast and they are at this moment organizing an intervention. I don't know if it's right. But it feels right to me. The weight comes off. I don't feel hungry or tired or weak. I don't find myself feeling famished at lunch or tired during the day. I might be doing terrible things to myself, but honestly, I don't think so. The ability to let go of the overwhelming guilt associated with "You have to eat breakfast," was a life-altering.

Now, let me say something that I know is obvious but, let me say it anyway: The Harry Potter Diet is not a real diet. It's an idea. We all have to find the rhythm that works for us. I read about someone who lost 80 pounds or something like that while eating at McDonald's every single day. I read about someone else who lost 50 pounds by basically eating chocolate before every meal (next week is all about chocolate!) I read about someone else who ... well, the bottom line is that there are countless ways to lose weight. The key is finding your way, finding the balance in your life.

And, it seems to me, the challenge is not the diet. The challenge is the motivation. The challenge is accepting the limits. The challenge is being patient. I write this at 7:45 a.m. Am I hungry? Not really. And yet, would I eat a bagel (or two) with cream cheese and a Diet Coke right now? Would I love a giant cherry danish? Would I eat a waffle or a stack of pancakes with syrup? Would I eat a big bowl of Cocoa Krispies (refilling the bowl every few minutes until the box feels remarkably empty -- "Hey, wasn't this a new box?)

You bet I would, I'd do every one of those things, maybe all of them at once ... but I won't. I have to wear that Harry Potter shirt. It's the thing that centers me.

And what about Timer? Well, I'll tell you this -- finding that video was one of the worst decisions I've made in my entire life, because now I can't get his stupid voice out of my head -- "COME ON, I'LL SHOW YOU WHY THAT'S REALLY NOT THE WAY ..."

Also, I'm not sure why we were supposed to take food tips from a yellow egg/blob.

Next week: Chocolate.