You’ve fasted, you’ve slept, and maybe you’ve even exercised and practiced a restorative habit like yoga nidra. It’s been a great fasting window, but now it’s time to break that fast.
Before you do that, though, it’s important to consider how your Fast Breaker will influence the metabolic benefits of your fast. Will it help or hinder your health goals? And how will it make you feel? If you’re new to fasting or ending a longer fast, the wrong meal might minimize the effects of all the great work you did during your fast, possibly leaving you with bloating, indigestion, or worse.
The good news is that all of these negative effects can be avoided — and the effects of your fast amplified — with a little planning and creativity, no matter what diet you follow.
Why Your Fast Breaker Is So Important
Fasting has a lot of metabolic benefits, including spontaneous calorie reduction, that can ultimately lead to weight loss and healthy weight maintenance. Additionally, when you alternate between fasting and feasting, you change from using fats and ketones for fuel (in the fasted state) to carbohydrates for fuel (in the fed state). When you do this regularly, you are encouraging metabolic flexibility, or the ability to use stored fat for fuel! However, this switch between using fats and carbohydrates efficiently isn’t instantaneous. Therefore, what you eat during your eating window — and, in particular, your first meal — can influence your progress.
While there’s a lot of flexibility in the kind of meals that make a good Fast Breaker, you’ll want to ensure your body is being replenished with plenty of nutrient-rich foods, including a good source of protein, as well as foods that support a healthy microbiome. Studies suggest that intermittent fasting can help improve the composition of your gut microbes in a way that offers protection against obesogenic (fat-promoting) foods and enhances nutrient absorption. Post-fast is, therefore, the perfect time to include microbiome-enhancing foods that are easy to digest. These include fermented foods, dark leafy greens (preferably cooked to ease digestion), healthy fats, and electrolyte-rich broths and soups.
If you are regularly intermittent fasting, it’s especially important to hone in on your protein intake, including in that Fast Breaker meal. The research is clear that protein intake is a crucial element to ensure the maintenance of lean body mass, which will not only support your weight-loss goals but is positively correlated with all sorts of things that “future you” will care about, such as reduced risk of falling and higher quality of life. Emphasizing protein in your Fast Breaker meal can help you minimize the initial blood-sugar spike that accompanies breaking a fast. Additionally, if you are finishing up a longer fast, such as an autophagy fast, which typically lasts 17–24 hours or longer, protein is especially important because it is used for cellular repair and reactivating the mTOR pathway, which regulates cell growth and protein synthesis and shuts down during fasts of 16 hours or more.
Need ideas for what to eat? Never fear! From Paleo to plant-based, there are plenty of delicious and healthy ways to break a fast that will support the benefits of your fasting practice. (And if you really want to knock it out of the park, try including some physical activity just before your Fast Breaker so you can capitalize on your body’s fat-burning mode!)
How to Break a Fast If You’re…
Because they both promote metabolic flexibility — that is, the body’s ability to switch between using carbohydrates and fats for fuel — the keto diet and fasting often go hand in hand. “Eating keto” means eating very few carbohydrates and proportionally more fat in order to prompt your body to burn fat, and consequently ketones, for fuel. To keep your body in a ketogenic state while breaking your fast, you’ll want to choose foods that are high in fat, very low in carbohydrate, and adequate in protein. Too much carbohydrate, or even too much protein, can be converted into glucose, making it difficult to maintain ketosis. Eggs or fattier cuts of pasture-raised meats, non-starchy vegetables cooked in healthy fats, and avocado make excellent go-tos.
Try this Fast Breaker: Spinach-and-egg scramble cooked in ghee, topped with avocado.
High-protein diets have been shown to improve body composition, promote weight loss, and improve bone health. Focus on high-quality proteins like chicken, fish, or eggs with a small amount of healthy fat in the first 1–2 hours following a fast. Bone broth in particular is an easily digested, rich source of collagen that can also reduce markers of chronic inflammation.
Try this Fast Breaker: Bone broth with poultry or lean cuts of beef, plus your favorite cooked non-starchy vegetables, like carrots, broccoli, and dark leafy greens.
A plant-based diet relies on fruits, vegetables, lentils, nuts, seeds and grains, while the vegetarian extension explicitly excludes red meat, poultry, and seafood, and the vegan version takes it further, also excluding dairy, eggs, and any animal-derived ingredients such as whey or gelatin. Plant-based eating of all forms has been linked to improvements in cardiovascular health, such as lower triglyceride levels and cholesterol.
While too many raw vegetables can cause physical discomfort, like gas and bloating, fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, or kimchi are easily digested powerhouses of microbiome health that can prevent or reduce GI distress. Fermented foods can further encourage the “good” bacteria to repopulate, as well. Pair fermented foods with easily digestible protein sources, such as tofu or tempeh, for a nourishing introduction to your eating window.
Try this Fast Breaker: Miso soup with tofu.
The Mediterranean diet is a flexible eating approach that includes lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains, fish, and extra virgin olive oil. This diet is most closely tied to areas of olive cultivation in the Mediterranean region, and studies have linked it with low rates of chronic diseases and high life expectancy. In the Mediterranean diet, fish, which is rich in omega-3, is prioritized over other types of protein, so try sautéing fish with antioxidant-rich veggies and fruits in olive oil for an inflammation-fighting Fast Breaker meal.
Try this Fast Breaker: Salmon or trout with tomatoes and olives, sautéed in olive oil.
The Paleo diet is based on foods humans might have eaten during the Paleolithic Era. It avoids grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, and dairy products, which didn’t become common until farming began about 10,000 years ago. Conveniently, it also recommends avoiding refined carbs, added sugars, and highly processed foods like packaged chips and donuts (seeing as there were no 7-Elevens during the caveman days), which are foods you’ll also want to avoid when breaking your fast.
Try this Fast Breaker: Smoothie made with avocado, coconut water, berries, and banana.
Intuitive eating is a style of eating that encompasses all foods and has been linked to better psychological well-being and lower BMI. There are no food-type restrictions, unless you’re avoiding something for medical reasons. The other fundamental principles of intuitive eating are behavioral and fairly straightforward: Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full. Therefore, you should let your body and prior experience be your guide.
Try this Fast Breaker: Whatever you want! Just listen for your body’s cues.
What to Avoid
Yes, intermittent fasting is about when to eat, not what to eat, and most foods can fit into your fasting lifestyle. That said, there are things that are better avoided in your Fast Breaker and held off until later in the eating window.
You may be surprised to find that you don’t need a massive meal to compensate for your fast. In fact, you may want to err on the side of a smaller meal when it comes to planning your Fast Breaker. Contrary to popular belief, the stomach does not actually shrink in size in response to dieting. However, the neuronal activity controlling the stomach’s capacity to relax does decline, meaning that its capacity to expand and accommodate a lot of food is reduced. As a result, you may experience feelings of fullness sooner than expected — so don’t overdo it on that first meal!
These include crackers, sugary cereals, and sugar-sweetened beverages. After a fast, your body is more sensitive to glucose, so hitting your system with lots of simple carbohydrates can cause glucose and insulin levels to spike even higher than if you hadn’t been fasting. Not only can that put you on an energy roller coaster (which is a lot less fun than a real coaster), it can also lessen some of the metabolic benefits you’d otherwise experience from your fast, including metabolic flexibility, increased insulin sensitivity, and weight loss. And, because this type of meal can trigger cravings and tends to be less satiating, you’re likely to be “hangry” just a short time later.
Raw Cruciferous Vegetables
Think cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. While these foods are normally the cornerstone of a healthy diet, they’re worth saving for a later meal or at least eating them cooked. This is mainly to avoid GI distress, since your body slows down the production of enzymes required to break down raffinose, a difficult-to-digest saccharide found in these vegetables, especially during longer fasts.
Completing a long fast can feel like an accomplishment worthy of a toast, but it’s better to celebrate your health in a different way immediately following a fast. Besides leaving you dehydrated, alcohol can interfere with nutrient absorption, including some amino acids that are the building blocks of protein. Additionally, it inhibits stomach-acid production, which is necessary to destroy harmful bacteria and prevent infections but may already be reduced after a long fast.
Conclusion: Optimize Your Fast Breaker
While the most important part of intermittent fasting is deciding when to eat, choosing what to eat at the end of your fast can help you double down on the metabolic benefits. Regardless of what diet you follow, there are fresh, nutritious Fast Breaker options available to you that will help you feel your best and fuel you for whatever comes next.