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The Four Pillars of Breaking a Fast

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The average feeding window for a Westerner is…

Well, it’s more like a door than a window. 

One famous study tracked our eating habits by having participants log everything they ate all day. It concluded that most Westerners in the study ate in 10 separate eating instances per day. That could be meals, a handful of chips, snacking on dinner while you’re making it, grabbing an apple on your way out the door, etc.

We used to be told it was healthier to eat six small meals a day than three larger ones – and to a certain extent, that can be helpful. It’s always a good thing to decrease the workload of your digestive tract by munching on smaller meals.

But now, we’re starting to understand how detrimental constant eating can be. Intermittent fasters and multi-day fasters alike reap the benefits of shortening their feeding window, spacing out their time between meals, and really giving their bodies a chance to regenerate and spend energy elsewhere. 

Maybe you don’t consider yourself a person who fasts. But unless you eat in your sleep, everyone is a person who fasts.

It’s just that the more deliberate your fasting, the more careful you should be about reintroducing foods when you do begin to eat again. 

For example, the autophagy process initiates after about 18 hours of fasting. If you’re fasting for one day or more, only consuming water or tea, your body is using that time to work hard at cleaning out damaged cells, stimulating new stem cells, increasing mitochondrial production, and repairing tissues. 

By the end of a fast, you might feel like your stomach has shrunk and you’ll have to nibble your way back to normalcy. But you may also feel famished and dying to overdo it since you’ve been in a calorie-deficit for a day or so. 

As long as you stick to these four pillars of breaking a fast, you should shift back into a fed state pretty seamlessly. As always, if you’re concerned about your body and your health in terms of fasting and feeding, talk to your doctor to make sure they’re on board with your plans. 

Nutrient-Dense Foods

Nutrient density refers to how powerful a nutritious punch any food offers when compared to its weight or calories. 

For example, a raisin and a grape may have the same molecular make-up, but grapes are more nutrient-dense. 

That means that although you’re consuming essentially the same calories, you won’t feel full from the same number of raisins and grapes.

Forty grapes will fill you up much more than forty raisins. You can totally still eat raisins – in fact, raisins are used to break fasts in Saudi Arabia. But if you want to feel full off of less, grapes are your best bet. 

When you’re coming off of a fast, try to focus on hydrating foods and nutrient-dense foods to get your stomach used to being full again, but with less heavy food. Fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains – all pretty nutrient dense, but start with fruits and veggies.

Broth or Soup

Broth has plenty of nutritional benefits, but doesn’t require huge energy output from your digestive system.

Bone broth is preferred, because it’s full of collagen and other nutrients that help to reinforce the mucosal lining of your intestines, but any broth is fine!

It’s gentle while still providing you with calories and nutrients.

Or, you can drink soup, with protein and carbs that are easy for the body to break down because they’ve been soft-cooked already.

Fermented Foods

Eating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, or sauerkraut help introduce helpful bacteria, and food for your gut’s helpful bacteria, back into the body after a few days with no bacterial contact.

Plus, you tend to eat them in smaller quantities, which is ideal when you’re returning to a fed state from having been in a fasting state.

Fermented foods will also help rejuvenate the population of enzymes that the gut lost while you were fasting. 

Smoothies

Smoothies are an easy opportunity to not only break down the food you want to eat into easily digestible micronutrients, but also to pack different foods into one gentle drink.

Because you don’t want to get too complex right after a fast, so as not to overwhelm your digestive system, you can keep your smoothie simple – even combining elements of the other four pillars! 

Yogurt, strawberries, and grapes, for example – nutrient dense and fermented.

It’s important to give as much thought to how you’re breaking your fast as you did to maintain it.

Keep meals small – preferably your first few should be under 500 calories.

Eat and chew slowly and with intention. 

Try to keep in mind all of the cleansing and rebuilding work you’ve done over the last few days, and make sure that what you’re eating aligns with the body you want to build.

And most importantly, stay hydrated!

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