Guidelines for Breaking a Fast
Introducing foods carefully and gradually is key.
Care needs to be taken when breaking a fast so as not to overburden your digestive system. The best benefit of fasting is realized when a fast is broken properly. Taking it slow and easy is not only kind to your body, but allows YOU the opportunity to integrate your new-found clarity on your relationship to food.
During a fast, the body undergoes several biological changes. Enzymes normally produced by the digestive system have ceased to be produced or have been diminished greatly, depending on the type of fast performed, so introducing food slowly allows the body time to re-establish this enzyme production.
The protective mucus lining of the stomach may be temporarily diminished as well, making the stomach walls more vulnerable to irritation until it also returns to normal. Gentle reintroduction of foods, beginning with the simplest and easiest-to-digest foods, supports this process. Substances known to be irritating to the system, such as coffee and spicy foods, must be avoided during the breaking process.
Because of these biological changes, overeating immediately following a fast is much worse than overeating at any other time. Your system needs time to readjust back to normal digestion and assimilation. Not taking the proper measures can result in stomach cramping, nausea, and even vomiting.
The adjustment period necessary is based on the length of the fast. Four days is considered adequate for any of the longer fasts, 1-3 days for shorter fasts, and just a day or so for one-day fasts.
Foods to use for breaking a fast
The most nutritious and easy-to-digest foods are used to break a fast initially, gradually adding more diversity and complexity over time.
The type of fast employed will determine the type of foods you use to break it. While juice or fruit are good for breaking a water fast, obviously, they aren’t very helpful in breaking juice or fruit fasts.
To help you determine when to introduce the different food groups, use the following list. It begins with those that are easiest on the system and can be introduced early on, and progresses to those that should be added later.
Depending on the length of your fast, you may go through the list in one day or in 4 days. And you certainly don’t need to eat everything on the list, it’s just a general guideline.
- fruit and vegetable juices
- raw fruits
- vegetable or bone broths
- yogurt (or other living, cultured milk products), unsweetened
- lettuces and spinach (can use plain yogurt as a dressing and top with fresh fruit)
- cooked vegetables and vegetable soups
- raw vegetables
- well cooked grains and beans
- nuts and eggs
- milk products (non-cultured)
- meats and anything else
Any of the first three items are good for that initial “breaking” of a fast, that first thing you eat; raw fruit being the easiest and most popular.
Even if you did a brown rice fast, eating at #8 on the list, you’ll want to start adding new foods from toward the top of the list. This will support re-establishment of more diverse enzyme production beginning with the simplest.
More pointers for breaking a fast
- Pay close attention to your body’s reactions to these “new” foods. Watch for any adverse reactions, perhaps signalling a mild allergy or that you have gone too far, too quickly. Feel for the sensation of fullness and stop eating at that point. Begin to train yourself to watch for that signal, so you’ll always know when your body is fully nourished.
- When breaking a fast, begin with frequent small meals, every 2 hours or so, progressing gradually toward larger meals with more time in between them until you reach a “normal” eating routine, such as 3 meals and 2 snacks in a day’s time.
- Chew foods well. This will help immensely with proper digestion and is a good habit to foster.
- Strive to add live enzymes and good bacteria to your system. Fresh, raw foods are full of living enzymes good for your body and digestion. Probiotics, or “good” bacteria, can be found not only in pill form, but also in naturally cultured and fermented food products, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso.
- Overall, the following four factors represent what we are trying to accomplish when breaking a fast:
- Frequent meals toward less frequent meals
- Small meals toward larger meals
- Easy to digest toward harder, requiring more enzymes, to digest
- Less variety toward more variety
While it may take a little thought and attention, breaking a fast properly is so important to our overall health and to reaping the full benefits fasting can create.
Check out the recipe section of this site for ideas on easy, healthy cooking for after the fast.