How To Break A Fast Without Shocking Your Body, From A Functional Medicine Practitioner
Intermittent fasting isn't a new concept, but more and more people are hearing about its promising health benefits and are wanting to try it for themselves. In fact, I regularly recommend fasting in some capacity to the patients in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, with the results inspiring my latest book Intuitive Fasting. However, there are some important elements to consider, especially when practicing longer fasting windows.
Why I recommend breaking your fast with a mini meal.
While longer fasts—anywhere between 18 and 22 hours—can have more health benefits, I've found it's best not to shock your digestive system with a full meal when breaking your fast. Instead, we want to slowly transition back into eating with what I like to call a Break-a-Fast meal.
A play on breakfast since you aren't necessarily eating during a typical breakfast hour, this mini-meal will introduce food back to your system in a gentle and sustainable way while laying the foundation for a bigger meal one to two hours later.
Including a Break-a-Fast meal into your longer fasts can be beneficial for three main reasons:
It wakes your gut gently out of a fast.
We all know chronic stressors are bad for your health. But there are some stressors, including intermittent fasting, that can be beneficial for your health. Known as hormesis, this low-dose stressor is almost like a yoga class for your metabolism—stretching and strengthening your body to achieve metabolic flexibility.
During your fast, your gut is not working so hard digesting foods; instead, it's rapidly resting and repairing. Break-a-Fast meals are a gentle wake-up for your digestive system, which has been recovering during your intermittent fasting.
It supports healthy inflammation.
Remember, intermittent fasting is not about chronically lowering your calories. We are just eating and fasting during specific windows. When someone is doing longer intermittent fasts like 18 to 22 hours, it's even more important to make sure you are eating enough during your eating windows. Getting all the nutrition you need in a short period of time is hard on your digestion, which may even increase something called the PKR pathway, which can spike inflammation. This is not good, especially if your main reason for fasting is to decrease inflammation or soothe digestive distress.
Break-a-Fast meals can help avoid this problem by preparing your body to digest and absorb your bigger meal about an hour later.
It keeps blood sugar stable.
After a longer fast, you will be extra insulin sensitive and cortisol levels will be higher. This is normal and all part of the hormetic benefit I mentioned above. A lower-carb Break-a-Fast meal will help ease your body into carbohydrates, avoid a dramatic insulin spike, and keep your blood sugar stable.
What does a Break-a-Fast meal look like?
Your Break-a-Fast meal should be smaller, lower in fat and carbs, and have a moderate amount of protein. Since your body has been taking an extended break from food, these complex macronutrients will be more difficult to digest. Your goal with this meal should be to make it as simple and digestible as possible. Some options include:
- Smoothies: Breaks down a variety of nutrient-dense foods in one easier-to-digest drink.
- Scrambled eggs: Gentle on your gut and filled with beneficial nutrients like choline and omega-3 healthy fats.
- Cooked vegetables: Offer the same nutritional value while minimizing the work your gut has to do in the digestion process.
- Bone-broth-based soups: Bone broth contains gut-soothing properties and can include easier-to-digest cooked vegetables.
Here's one of my favorite broth-based Break-a-Fast soups from my book:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
- ⅓ cup thinly sliced carrots
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken bone broth (to make this vegan, use vegetable broth)
- 1 cup arugula leaves
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the bell peppers and carrots and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender-crisp. Add the tomatoes and broth.
- Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the arugula and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide between 2 bowls and sprinkle evenly with the chives.
To learn more about fasting and how it can elevate your health and help you find food peace, check out my book Intuitive Fasting for a mindful, flexible approach to intermittent fasting.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.