By now, you probably know the vast benefits that fasting has on the body. Going without food, we’ve got that part down…
...but what about breaking the fast?
Many of us put a lot of thought into preparing for and engaging in a fast, but when the time comes to break the fast, it's a different scene all together. As soon as that timer (or Zero Fasting App) pings, we unconsciously follow our carnal instincts to the closest loaf of bread and proceed to scarf it down as quickly as possible.
The definition of a human zombie.
Not only does this 'binge-y' experience often feel strange, it can be tough on your physical health after a fast. Additionally, it can lead to a sub-par relationship with food that looks a lot more like a binge and restrict mindset instead of a healthy, mindful connection to the food that nourishes you.
In this article we'll discuss practical tips to eat more mindfully next time you break your fast—whether it's daily intermittent fasting or occasional prolonged fasting—so you can fully nourish your mind and body and cultivate a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for your meal times.
Caution: Fasting is not for everyone, especially those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, under the age of 18, or have diabetes, low blood pressure, or a history of eating disorders. Please consult your doctor before starting a fasting practice.
The Problems With Breaking A Fast Like a Zombie
Studies show that periods of fasting or time-restricted eating can provide health benefits despite what is eaten during the feeding window. However, problems can arise if fasting habits promote uncontrolled and unconscious binge-eating upon refeeding.
Although fasting gets most of the spotlight, the feasting period also plays a crucial role in your long-term health and success of your fasting practice. Upon refeeding, the body stimulates the regeneration of stem cells, immune system cells, hormones, and metabolic activity.
However, inhaling a cheeseburger and large fries post-fast (no judgement, we've all been there) is going to do a number on your especially sensitive digestive system and blood sugar levels. It's also not the best fuel for your stem cells to work with.
So instead of eating like a zombie after your fast, try incorporating some simple mindful eating practices that will allow you to slow down, make better food choices, and truly appreciate the meal in front of you.
Mindful Eating: What It Is and Why You Should Practice It
The concept of mindfulness is essentially bringing awareness to a situation. In the case of eating, it means a more conscious interaction with your food.
Mindful eating can include an intentional selection of food that serves your purpose or goals, conscious presence during the act of eating itself, and cultivating a sense of gratitude for your meal.
Pretty simple, right? Simple, but not easy... especially after completing a fast.
How to Break A Fast Mindfully
Let's face it: Our society is constantly bombarded with convenient food options at every corner. As a result, many of us have deeply ingrained, unconscious eating habits that involve eating while distracted, eating too quickly, and eating too much.
Embarking on a period of fasting can provide space to disconnect with these habits, and then reconnect with food in a more mindful way.
However, most of us experience breaking our fasts in a very unintentional way. When the fast is over, we eat whatever food we have as quickly as we can, not stopping for a breath until the entire bag of potato chips is gone.
We immediately reward our valiant efforts to improve our health (by fasting) with eating that likely does the opposite!
So how can we beat this subconscious instinct to binge? With mindfulness. With simply stopping, taking a breath, paying attention to our state of mind, and being more intentional with our food selection and how we consume it.
There are many different techniques to approach mindful eating, but they all serve the same purpose: To bring awareness to your eating. For the sake of this being a helpful article, we'll lay out a few methods you can start practicing today—maybe upon breaking a fast!
1. Why Am I Eating?
People often eat as soon as the fasting window finishes, simply because they can. Asking yourself why is an important first step to becoming a mindful eater. Eating because the fasting window is up may not be a great reason to do so.
Ask yourself: Why am I eating? Am I hungry? Tired? Thirsty? Bored? Sad?
Connect with your intention to make sure that it is an appropriate reason to eat. If you're eating because your emotional or tired, it may not be the best time to do so. Instead of eating to appease those feelings, maybe take a walk, do an activity you enjoy, or spend time with a loved one.
2. What Am I Eating?
The type of food you eat is paramount when it comes to breaking your fast. The surge of new stem cells that become available after a fasting period is fueled by the food you consume post-fast.
Ask yourself: What are you eating? Is it serving your health?
Developing food ethos is important for mindful eating. What matters to you when it comes to your diet? For some people, eating organic, non-GMO, or supporting local farms may be important. For others, it may be about pursuing a specific style of eating (like ketosis) that requires a mindful macronutrient approach.
No matter how you decide to fuel your body (because there is no one-size-fits-all diet), do it mindfully. Decide what it is you stand for, and what your goals are, and then from there create a framework of foods that support your decisions. Remember that these goals and values may evolve over time, so check-in with yourself regularly to ensure your diet is still serving you.
3. How Am I Eating?
Eating on-the-go, too quickly, or in a state of distraction generally means the body is in ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, known as a sympathetic state. However, proper digestion occurs in a parasympathetic state, while the body is in ‘rest-and-digest’ mode. Tapping into the parasympathetic state requires slowing down the body and the mind.
Ask yourself: What state are your mind and body in right now as you're eating?
To optimize digestion and eat more mindfully, carve out a period of time to stop what you’re doing and simply eat. Focus on eating more slowly and chewing properly. Try to avoid unnecessary distractions like technology, working, or driving.
4. How Am I Engaging With My Food? What Is My Relationship To the Experience?
These two questions address your physical and emotional relationship with your food. Getting in touch with how your food makes you feel can help you tailor your diet to help you optimize your fasts, and thrive in this life.
Ask yourself: How does this food make you feel? Do you feel energized? Bloated? Lethargic?
In addition to your physical feeling, it's also important to tune into your emotions. A healthy relationship with food should not induce any guilt or regret. A diet that promotes shame after a meal is more likely to lead to unhealthy habits like deprivation or binging.
As mentioned previously, fasting, while potentially healthy, can become a harmful habit if it comes from a place of guilt for over-eating junk food during periods of ‘feasting’.
Finding a balance between the periods of feasting and fasting can be achieved through mindful eating. When you connect to the types of foods that make you feel good and eat from a place of loving awareness, fasting compliments otherwise healthy eating patterns. If fasting becomes a punishment for unhealthy or mindless binge eating, it can quickly spiral downwards into disordered eating patterns.
Exercises for Mindful Eating
Once you have a better understanding of your eating habits and relationship with food, try some of the following exercises to cultivate more mindful eating habits during your next meal.
1. The Raisin Meditation
The ‘raisin meditation’ is generally (and unsurprisingly) done with a raisin, but it can be performed with any type of food. The meditation takes you through a fully conscious consumption of a raisin, from the time you pick it up, all the way through digestion. Although it’s not realistic to do this with every meal, it can be useful to stop and connect this deeply with food every so often.
The raisin meditation is especially powerful when done with the very first foods you consume post fast. While you are in this hyper-aware fasted state, try going through the following steps as you re-introduce food into your diet:
- Holding: Hold the raisin in your hand or between your fingers.
- Seeing: Give the raisin your full attention, examine it like it’s something totally foreign that you’ve never seen before. Focus on every curve, wrinkle, ridge, and crease. Notice how the raisin changes under the light as you move it around in your hand.
- Touching: Slowly run your finger around the raisin, or turn it between your fingers. How does it feel? Explore the texture. You can do this with your eyes closed if it helps you focus.
- Smelling: With your eyes closed, hold the raisin up to your nose and focus on the scent with every inhale. With a slow and steady breath, take in the aromas and notice the impact that the scent is having on your mouth, stomach, and body.
- Placing: Slowly bring the raisin to your lips and gently place it in your mouth. Notice how effortlessly your body orchestrates the movement to coordinate the placement. Sit for a moment with the raisin on your tongue, and this new sensation of having it in your mouth.
- Tasting: Notice the movement that the raisin must take before you can chew it, and how effortlessly your mouth knows how to get it in place. Take one or two chews into the raisin, and really focus on the experience of flavor as it comes in waves. Notice the physical sensation of the flavors bursting out of the raisin, how they hit the tongue, and how they make you feel. Pay attention to the change in texture, flavor, and how the raisin itself transforms as you chew it.
- Swallowing: Notice the intention to swallow as it arises, before you actually swallow it.
- Following: Finish off with an awareness of the raisin going down your throat, and into your stomach. Sit with your body as a whole once you have finished swallowing and the feelings that arise after eating so mindfully.
2. Put Down Your Fork In Between Bites
Although the raisin meditation is a great way to really check-in with your food, it’s not always possible to meditate your way through every single meal. Especially if you have, like, a life or something.
You can, however, cultivate generally slower eating habits that force you to pay more attention to your eating patterns.
Eating too fast is hard on digestion, and also prevents you from noticing satiety, which often results in over-consumption of food. Slowing down when you eat can improve your gratitude for food, digestion, satiety, and help you consume less overall.
There are a few ways to slow down during meals, but one of the easiest ways is to set down your fork in between bites. The simple act of putting your fork down after each bite reduces the likelihood of shoveling more food down before you have properly chewed and swallowed the previous bite.
You can also set a timer for a longer period of time (say, 25 minutes per meal) and aim to space out your meal so that you finish at the same time that your alarm goes off. This might take some practice, but with time you will indeed learn to slow down your eating and appreciate each bite even more.
3. Put Away Electronics
It has become commonplace for many people to eat dinner with the TV on or while scrolling through Instagram. However, eating in a distracted state takes our mind away from food and often results in the same issues of overeating and impaired digestion.
Commit to eating technology-free, and instead direct your attention to the people around you or simply the food on your plate. Even if being completely present is too hard at first, try reflecting on your day, or thinking about the future—but without any screens involved.
Mindful eating is a powerful practice to compliment, and even enhance, the benefits of fasting.
However, modern society promotes mindless eating, so cultivating the habit may take some un-learning and regular practice.
Before eating, asking yourself questions like “why am I eating? what am I eating? how am I eating? and what relationship do I have with my food?” can help you bring more conscious awareness to your eating habits and prepare your mind for intentional eating.
And when you're ready to break your fast, you can practice the simple mindful eating practices discussed to encourage healthier eating choices, better digestion, less over-consumption, and a greater appreciation for food.
What's your experience with breaking your fast? What methods have you found helpful? Let us know in the comments below!