I hated oatmeal as a kid. I thought it was mushy and weird, and I reserved instant oatmeal packets as dry mix-ins for my yogurt. (Here’s how to prep your own instant oat packets to avoid all that added sugar.) But when I began working for a health publication—reading articles day in and day out about how fiber is the secret to staying full—I wondered if I should give old-fashioned oats another shot. (Repeat after us: No more dieting. Ever. Instead, learn how to eat clean—with zero deprivation!—and watch the pounds drop off, with Your Metabolism Makeover.)
A cup of oats packs 5g protein and an impressive 4g fiber, which helps regulate your body’s sugar usage to hold your hunger in check and keeps you, ahem, regular. Studies also link increased dietary fiber intake with lower body weight, cholesterol levels, and risk of type 2 diabetes. Oh, and oatmeal’s rich in plenty of good-for-you minerals, such as phosphorus and magnesium (68% of us don’t get enough magnesium—here’s how to tell if you’re deficient).
For the low cost of a giant carton of oats, I was sold on switching up my morning routine. Here’s what happened when I swapped my eggs for oatmeal every day for a month:
I found out exactly how I like my oatmeal.
That is, with sliced banana, cinnamon, a few raisins, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, a bit of vanilla, and a light drizzle of maple syrup. For a while I was mashing my banana and cooking it in with the oats, but I quickly learned that process spelled disaster for the bottoms of my saucepans. (Avoid these 6 other common oatmeal mistakes.) Sometimes I’d switch it up with chopped nuts, unsweetened shredded coconut, and cocoa powder or chocolate chips on top—or Nutella swirled in on Friday after a particularly exhausting week.
It took me about two weeks to discover precisely how I liked my oatmeal, and the right combo made all the difference. For me, honey or brown sugar instead of maple syrup tasted far too sweet, and milk choice was absolutely crucial (more on that next). On the weekend, I tested some savory variations with shredded sharp cheddar and leftover veggies, but I always fell back on my usual during the week.
I switched to whole milk.
My mom raised me on skim, and now I usually stock my fridge with almond milk and save the dairy for baking. But in pursuit of the perfect bowl of oatmeal I started experimenting with different milks: whole, 2%, coconut, almond, even hemp. Despite all the mixed messages about how good or bad regular milk is for you, I’ve embraced whole milk as the Holy Grail of creamy oats. Nothing else compares. Lucky for me, mounting evidence suggests full-fat dairy products are actually less likely to make you gain weight over time than low-fat dairy.
I started skipping my morning snack.
My protein-packed breakfast kept me fuller far longer than my usual smoothie or runny egg over veggies. Normally I start hankering for a snack around 10 AM, but my oatmeal bowls kept me satisfied until closer to noon, and sometimes even longer than that when I hit the gym and pushed lunchtime till 1 PM. Sure, some days I still needed carrots and hummus earlier on, but I noticed a major difference in the frequency of my morning hunger pangs—especially once I switched to whole milk.
I felt off when I ditched my oats.
Full disclosure: I skipped my daily bowl some weekend mornings when I was traveling, out for brunch, or using my new waffle maker instead. While I was happy for a change in taste, I missed the consistency of my new routine (like knowing when I’d get hangry for lunch or need to take my morning bathroom break). Still, Saturday morning is too full of possibilities for the same-old-same.
I became a total creature of habit.
Eating the same meal every morning established a breakfast routine that I didn’t have before. I looked forward to sitting down and reading a chapter of a book between peanut buttery bites of oats. Not only that, I wanted my oatmeal the same way and got a little grumpy if they didn’t turn out as consistent as usual.
When I started this oatmeal ritual, a friend asked, “How are you going to survive eating that glop day after day?” Now I can honestly say I kind of loved it—and I’ll likely eat it most weekday mornings from here on out because it’s so cheap and easy to prepare. I’ve often scoffed at people who pack the same lunch all the time, baffled they’re not completely bored, but now I think there’s something to forming a food habit that works for your body.