Some pretty remarkable things happen inside your body when you fast (abstain from eating solid foods for an extended period of time), including cellular renewal, detoxification, changes to your microbiome and hormone output, and more. The longer you fast, the more time your body has to put towards healing. Digestion is put on hold during fast, while resources go towards functions such as tissue repair and hormone optimization.
For intermittent fasters, what’s the best way to break a fast and ease your body back into eating? As covered below, you’ll want to refuel with easy-to-digest foods and beverages that are nutrient-dense. Additionally, planning ahead and practicing “mindful eating” will help prevent you from overeating, which can get in the way of your goals and also cause indigestion.
Why Intermittent Fast?
There are numerous reasons to give intermittent fasting a try, such as the fact that fasting can help with weight loss, improve blood sugar regulation, aid in digestion, help with exercise performance, and much more.
While research suggests that fasting has a role to play in disease prevention — including lowering the risk for obesity, diabetes, one of the most common reasons people give fasting a try is because it can kick-start your metabolism and help with fat loss, all without the need to count calories or give up whole food groups.
Intermittent fasting has been found to have positive effects on:
- Lengthening telomeres, which helps protect DNA
- Cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Body mass and other health markers, including in professional athletes
- Human growth hormone production, which can help prevent obesity and build muscle mass
- Insulin sensitivity; fasting in adults with type-2 diabetes has been shown to help improve key markers, including body weight and glucose levels
- Appetite regulation; fasting helps manage levels of ghrelin, a “hunger hormone” that is responsible for controlling your appetite and cravings
Typical intermittent fast times range from 14 to 18 hours, and sometimes up to 36-48 hours or even longer for experienced fasters. One of the best things about fasting is that when you aren’t fasting, which would be called your “eating window”, you can eat as much of your favorite healthy foods as you’d like and still experience the benefits of fasting mentioned above.
The Best Way to Break a Fast
What foods should you start with when breaking a fast, and what should the timing of your meals next look like?
Let’s cover some of the most common questions about breaking an intermittent fast:
Best Foods to Break a Fast
First and foremost, keep in mind that fasting shouldn’t be viewed as an excuse to eat lots of junk. Concentrate on eating whole, good-for-you foods, which will only amplify fasting’s many health benefits.
Not surprisingly, you can expect to feel pretty hungry once you break your fast. This is why it’s best to focus on eating filling, satiating whole foods during your eating window — especially those that provide protein, healthy fats and fiber.
Some of the best foods to have immediately after breaking a fast include:
- Freshly-made fruit and vegetable juices
- Raw fruits
- Bone broths
- Fermented foods, such as yogurt (opt for unsweetened), kefir, sauerkraut, etc.
- Leafy green lettuces, sun as spinach, kale, etc.
- Cooked vegetables, including cooked starchy veggie like potatoes
- Vegetable soups
- Heathy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, eggs, grass-fed butter and ghee
The foods listed above are typically some of the easiest to digest, plus they are a great source of nutrients that your body will be craving after a fast, such as electrolytes and other minerals. Other foods to fill up on are those listed below, although these may be better suited for your second or third meal after breaking a fast, due to how they can be a bit tougher to digest:
- Raw vegetables
- Whole grains and beans (soaked/sprouted is best for improving digestion)
- Nuts and seeds, such as chia, flax, hemp, almonds, etc.
- Pastured eggs
- Grass-fed or pasture-raised meat and poultry
- Wild-caught fish
If you’re doing intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet simultaneously, you’ll want to emphasize healthy fats and keep your carb intake very low (since, after all, this is the whole point of the Keto diet). This means eating plenty of fats/oils , along with protein and non-starchy vegetables. Why couple these two strategies together? Because fasting helps you get into ketosis more easily, allowing you to burn fat for energy.
Timing of Eating
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how often you should eat during your eating window. In order to keep your hunger in check, to obtain enough calories, have enough energy and to prevent fatigue, a good rule of thumb is to eat frequently, about every 2-4 hours, although this varies from person to person.
Some people may choose to only eat 1-2 meals during their eating window (which means eating only 1-2 meals over the entire day). Others might find it more satisfying to snack/graze in order to prevent feeling too hungry or lethargic.
Should you start with liquids after a fast, wait a while, then eat? This is one approach that might help your digestive system ease back into eating, however its not necessary if you feel ready for solid foods. If you do want to start with liquids, avoid having sugary drinks that provide empty calories, and instead have something like bone broth or vegetable juice. And go easy on caffeine, since drinking caffeine on an empty stomach may make you feel nauseous and jittery.
What Not to Do When Breaking A Fast
If you find that you’re tempted to over-eat during your fasting window, especially if you’re filling up on high-calorie processed foods, then take a step back and make a plan.
Try planning your meals ahead of time, meal-prepping by cooking in bulk 1-2 times per week, and also stocking your fridge with your favorite healthy meals. This way you don’t go overboard once you break your fast, which can undo all of the work you’ve put in by fasting.
- Rather than practically “binging” once it’s time to eat again, try sticking with whole, nutrient-dense foods that are waiting in the fridge for you.
- Fasting can take some time to get used to,and finding your “sweet spot” in terms of the length of your fasts may require some trial and error. If you find that your hunger and cravings are out of control after fasting, consider shortening the amount of time you fast, which would mean increasing your eating window.
- Above all else, listen to your body and make adjustments based on how you’re feeling. Practice mindful eating by paying close attention to sensations of hunger and fullness. Eat slowly, don’t eat while distracted, and chew your food thoroughly so you don’t wind up burdening your digestive system and not feeling well.