Fasting has a number of purported health benefits, although human trials on water fasting are limited. Fasting has been used by mankind for ages; many swear by the practice as the key to longevity. Long fasts should be introduced to the body gradually, but once you’ve reached the level of being able to go for extended periods of time without food, it’s equally as important to know how to break a long water fast.
Why Should I Water Fast?
The science behind water fasting partially comes down to a process called autophagy. Autophagy is a method your body uses to “self-clean”, or literally translated, to “self-eat” damaged cells. It can be induced a few different ways, and one of them is abstaining from food for a determinate length of time. Because this self-cleaning phenomenon isn’t fully understood, there is no exact amount of time recommended to water fast for to get the best results, but the effects of autophagy are thought to peak after around 20 hours, slightly less for women.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is another aid responsible for the cellular renewal stimulated by water fasting. HGH is an important hormone that stimulates cell production & regeneration in humans. It is also responsible for preserving muscle mass and breaking down fatty acids for energy during fasting. Paired with autophagy, which is busy getting rid of old broken-down cells, the two can work wonders for your health.
Long Vs Short Fasts
While intermittent fasting (IF) has grown exponentially in today’s society (IF is fasting either every day or a few days a week for periods of 14-23 hours), long fasts have been used throughout history for cultural and spiritual reasons, as well as to combat illness. There is a more pronounced spiritual aspect regarding longer fasts because they have as much to do with your mental state as they do with your physical state. Most practitioners consider a “long” fast to extend for at least 72 hours (at the very least) and use them to achieve mental and physical renewal.
The value of autophagy is realized through both long and short water fasts but is thought to deepen in effect the longer you go without food. Because HGH is released in spurts throughout fasting it’s hard to pinpoint what provokes the highest levels of the growth hormone, but valuable levels have been shown to retain their presence even after 5 days, suggesting the effects of HGH last throughout a long fast.
How to Prepare for a Long Fast
In order to set yourself up for success, you will need to take to make sure your fast is not going to shock your system. If you have zero experiencing with fasting you aren’t going to want to jump straight into an extended fast right away as it will be highly uncomfortable, and in some cases it can be dangerous. You should gradually be restricting your eating windows throughout the weeks prior and should have already successfully completed a couple full 24-hour fasts to prep yourself to go without food for a longer period of time.
Additionally, the foods you’re eating should be light and healthy. There is no reason to put your body through undue stress by loading up on injurious fats and sugars right before attempting to rid yourself of unwanted by-products created by those very “evils”.
Longer fasts have shown to encourage changes in physiology that remain months after the fast has been completed, so it is not necessary to complete extended fasts more than once every few months (or longer).
It’s also not recommended to partake in a longer fast if you are ill or experiencing a major health issue without guidance and approval from your doctor. Actually, even if you aren’t sick, it’s still worth a quick visit to your GF just to be on the safe side.
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How Do I Break a Long Water Fast?
Over the course of your fast your digestion system will get very sluggish, and for this reason you’ll want to avoid hard to digest foods when you do finally begin ingesting calories again. A good rule is to choose foods and drinks containing enzymes and hydrochloric acid to get your gut prepped to start breaking down solid food again.
Below are some general nutritive guidelines to use to avoid gastrointestinal distress (and general malaise) when breaking your fast. Keep in mind while these selections are always helpful for your gut, if you are practicing shorter fasts or juice fasts you needn’t be as wary of ill effects from consuming calories too quickly. This is because your gut hasn’t gone through a long enough period of inactivity to have to adapt as strongly to the re-entry of food.
- Apple Cider Vinegar & Lemon
While apple cider vinegar itself doesn’t contain any digestive enzymes, it is a good way to introduce acid back into your stomach and if you include the “scoby” or the “mother”, (which are the fibers left behind) it becomes prebiotic in nature.
The citric acid in lemon juice can encourage the secretion of gastric juices, and the pulp of the lemon has fiber that also acts as a prebiotic when ingested. A mixture of lemon juice (with pulp), apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”), and warm or cool water to dilute the acidity, will help prep your gut environment to start breaking down food again.
- Bone Broth, Soup, or Kefir
Now that you have started introducing some prebiotics into your system, it’s time to begin with some electrolyte laden liquids. Bone broth and soup are both great choices, and while you don’t necessarily need to start with the apple cider/lemon concoction if you do, wait a few minutes before starting to sip some broth or kefir. At this point it’s worth a self-check-in; some will find it okay after this point to start ingesting some solid food and others will find they need to stay at the broth level for a day before attempting some light fare.
- Probiotic Foods
When you are feeling sound enough to eat, be sure to wait at least 15 minutes after ingesting liquids or broth to do so. Too much liquid in the gut will dilute digestive enzymes and cause indigestion, particularly after a fast. The foods you choose at this point are important. Try to pick foods like sauerkraut and kimchi which are full of probiotics, avocados which produce lipoates to help break down fat during digestion, and pineapples which contain bromelain – an enzyme that assists in protein absorption.
The Bottom Line
Breaking a long fast too quickly can result in nausea, diarrhea, and general stomach issues so it’s important to do it slowly and carefully. Even if you don’t follow specific guidelines to breaking your fast you should at the very least avoid over-processed and over-cooked meals like grains, beans, meat, and dairy. Long water fasts can be an excellent tool for your health but be sure to take a pause if you are feeling any signs of illness and consult with your doctor.
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