Breaking the Fast Before the Feast
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re gearing up for your big feast with a big fast. Whether your fast lasts a few hours or a few days, you’re already being deliberate about your eating choices, and that’s commendable. You’ve taken the first step to extricate yourself from the typical standard American food environment—making a declaration that food serves you, not the other way around.
Now it’s time for some tough choices: how are you going to break your fast? You’re probably fantasizing about your Thanksgiving feast… pie, potatoes, stuffing. Yum. However, you also know you want to be kind to your body, and break your fast with a little tenderness and care. Our recommendation? Choose a day-before-feasting fast-breaker meal that’s gentle on your stomach and kind to your metabolism.
Here are the key things to look out for in fast breaker foods:
Foods to Avoid
Processed, High-Glycemic Carbs
Look for foods that don’t have a lot of junk carbs. As you’re exiting a fast, be kind to your blood sugar, and avoid big blood sugar spikes. Your body can be extra sensitive to carbohydrates immediately following a fast, so a lot of added sugars or processed carbohydrates could send your insulin spiking through the roof.
Highly processed, high glycemic, nutrient-deficient carbohydrates, such as those found in pastries, crackers, pastas, chips, and candies, provide little benefit to us and more importantly, can trigger events in our bodies that may eventually lead to chronic disease. These types of foods can lead to post-prandial spikes in blood sugar and lipids, which have been shown to elevate markers of disease such as oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as increase your risk for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
You’ll probably want to avoid high-lactose dairy immediately following a fast. This includes milk, yogurt, and ice cream. Lactose is already difficult for a lot of people to digest, especially with aging, and may be more troublesome following a longer fast. So, start with dairy free products, or at least low lactose dairy such as butter, hard cheeses, and lactose-free milk.
Health-food staples like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts may actually make you unnecessarily uncomfortable immediately following a fast. These veggies contain plenty of fiber, plus a trisaccharide called raffinose that humans have difficulty digesting. Our small intestines lack the a-Gal enzyme needed to break it down, so all that vegetable matter ends up in the large intestine where it ferments. This can cause gas and bloating, which might be especially uncomfortable following a fast. Raw cruciferous vegetables will be especially difficult to digest, so consider steaming or sautéing the veggies first, which may be a little easier on your gut.
Now, fermentation of these veggies in the large intestine can ultimately promote a healthy microflora, so once you’ve returned to your normal diet they should be back on the menu. Just make sure to re-introduce slowly to avoid gas and bloating.
Foods to Eat
We like to poultry or fish following a fast. Having a small portion of protein at your first meal such as salmon or chicken can be a good option because they provide essential amino acids to help rebuild and repair the body. When you fast, growth pathways such as IGF-1 and mTOR are suppressed. Amino acids stimulate both of these, so once you reintroduce amino acids from protein sources post-fast, you then activate this beneficial growth period.
Just be careful not to overdo it! Your stomach will have decreased in size over the course of your fast, so you’ll want to avoid binging. Just make sure you don’t eat so much food that you stretch out your stomach. This can be very uncomfortable.
Aim for less-starchy, non-cruciferous vegetables, and cook them in healthy fats (avocado oil, grass-fed butter, etc). You’re bound to to be in ketosis after a longer fast, so these fats will serve as fuel, and the sautéing will break down the structural elements of the vegetables, making them easier to digest.
Although it’s got plenty of fiber, it also has plenty of fat for your fat-adapted body to dig into following your fast. Go easy on the avocado so you don’t overload yourself on fiber, but this is a great way to get healthy fats and keep yourself feeling full and energized.
Bone broth can be a tasty addition to incorporate on your first day breaking the fast. Bone broth contains numerous vitamins and minerals, as well as amino acids and other components that can help the body and gut function optimally post-fast. Bone broth contains the essential nutrients calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and sodium, as well as gelatin, which has been shown to improve intestinal permeability and provide anti-inflammatory effects.
The Bottom Line
A meal of sautéed vegetables with some chicken or fish, or a non-starchy salad with chicken and avocados are both great ways to ease your body back into eating, especially with a nice warm mug of bone broth.
And there’s one more thing you can do to help your digestive system get back into the food groove: Chew, chew, chew. The act of chewing food activates enzymes in your mouth that begin breaking down your food. So do your GI tract a favor, and get some of the digesting done before that food even enters your stomach.
The longer you fast, the longer you’ll want to take it easy. Experts in the field generally recommend starting at about 500 kcal or 50% of your normal intake and working your way up from there.
The further out you get from your fast, the more you can relax these rules and return to your diet of choice—whether its keto, paleo, low carb, Mediterranean, vegan, low-fat, you name it. Your diet choices are up to you, but however you eat, it’s smart to ease back into post-fast feeding with easier-to-digest foods.