How to Break a Water Fast: 3 Helpful Tips

Even though many people don’t consider how to best break a water fast when choosing to do one, breaking a water fast the right way is crucial for maximizing the benefits of water fasting while minimizing the potential risks of abstaining from eating for an extended period of time.

But, what is the best way to break a water fast? What are the important things to keep in mind for how to break a water fast? And why is it important to plan how to break water fasting protocols and resume your regular diet?

In this article, we will discuss why it is important to consider how to break a water fast, and tips for breaking a water fast to ensure that your body recovers properly and re-adjusts to normal healthy eating.

We will look at the following: 

  • Why It Matters How You Break a Water Fast
  • How to Break a Water Fast

Let’s get started!

A person drinking a glass of water in the kitchen.

Why It Matters How You Break a Water Fast

Before we look at the specifics about how to break a water fast, let’s look at why breaking a water fast requires thought.

In other words, after prolonged fasting, why can’t you just eat whatever you want?

The reason why it matters how you break a water fast is that when you are doing any sort of prolonged fasting, your digestive system gets a break from needing to process, digest, and absorb all the different foods and beverages you normally consume.

Ultimately, although the digestive rest and reset caused by extended fasting are indeed potential health benefits of fasting, it also means that the digestive system isn’t ready to jump right back into your normal diet after only processing water and electrolytes for 24 hours or more (depending on the length of your water fast).

Even though we all experience a mini fast every day when we sleep, prolonged water fasting is much more of a pause on all digestive needs than a regular overnight fast.

A person holding their stomach.

Essentially, going from having nothing in your digestive tract for a day or more gives your digestive system a mini “vacation“ of sorts.

This means that if you jump right back into eating any type of food to break a water fast—and in any quantities at that—the digestive toll can be an unwelcome shock to your gut.

As a comparable analogy, imagine that you have taken a break from exercising for a couple of weeks. You would not jump right back into a long run or high-intensity workout; your body would be in shock, and the risk of injury would be high.

Even though the time course might be different here such that water fasting for even as little as 1-2 days will still require a measured approach for how to break a water fast, whereas you can take more time off of exercising without needing to adjust your training routine, the principles are the same.

Moreover, if you are not careful about properly breaking a water fast, you put yourself at risk of developing a condition called refeeding syndrome.

A person holding their stomach.

Refeeding syndrome is a dangerous condition that can occur if you eat too much too soon after prolonged fasting. 

It occurs because eating too much too soon after prolonged water fasting causes a rapid change in the fluid and electrolyte balance in your body.

This is problematic because even if you try to replace your electrolytes during your water fast, electrolyte levels almost always get somewhat depleted during an extended water fasting protocol.

Several of the key electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, and phosphate, are necessary for digesting and absorbing nutrients such as carbohydrates.

Therefore, if you eat a carbohydrate-rich meal after water fasting or choose foods to break a fast that are high in simple sugars or starches, you will flood your digestive system with nutrients that your body simply cannot digest and absorb because of the depleted electrolyte levels.

For this reason, it is imperative that you plan ahead for how to properly break a water fast and choose the right foods and nutrient intake timing when breaking a water fast.

A bowl of chicken broth.

How to Break a Water Fast

As mentioned, it is important to consider how to break water fasting periods so that you do not shock your digestive system or cause issues with fluid and nutrient absorption and electrolyte balance.

Here are some tips for safely breaking a water fast:

#1: Choose the Best Foods to Break a Water Fast

What you eat after water fasting will affect how your body recuperates from your fast.

Eating a rich, heavy, calorie-laden meal or processed foods to break a water fast can be a recipe for disaster.

Not only can it undo some of the potential weight loss and health benefits of a water fast, but it also can cause significant digestive distress and the potentially disastrous sequelae of refeeding syndrome.

The best foods to break a fast are those that are lower in carbohydrates, rich in electrolytes, and gentle on the stomach. 

Bowls of watermelon and honeydew melon.

Examples include:

  • Bone broth
  • Steamed or stewed green leafy vegetables
  • Avocados, cucumbers
  • Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, berries, bananas
  • Small portions of fish such as white fish varieties or salmon
  • Chicken broth
  • Whole eggs
  • Baby food blends
  • Baby food oatmeal
  • Plain organic quinoa
  • Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, and kefir

#2: Avoid the Worst Foods to Break a Fast

It should go without saying that the best way to break a water fast is to choose the best foods to eat after fasting. However, it is equally important to stay away from the worst foods to eat after fasting.

While it is probably not surprising that some of the worst foods to eat to break a fast are highly processed foods such as pastries, donuts, sweetened fruit snacks, ice cream, and refined grains and simple sugars, some normally healthy foods should also be avoided as the first foods to break a fast.

A variety of vegetables.

For example, you should avoid food such as raw cruciferous vegetables, legumes, seeds and seed butters, and nuts and nut butters after fasting because these foods can be very difficult to digest.

Many people experience excessive gas or sharp gas pains when trying to digest high-fiber foods after water fasting because the digestive system is completely empty, and the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut may have shifted. 

These bacteria are necessary to break down fiber, so you need to slowly ease back into eating fibrous carbs such as beans, peas, lentils, nuts, peanut butter, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, and raw broccoli, cauliflower, kale, or Brussels sprouts after fasting.

If you do want to eat cruciferous vegetables in your list of foods to break a fast, you should make sure to cook them or steam them to help break down some of the fiber.

In fact, some water fasting experts say that steamed cauliflower, brussels sprouts, or broccoli can be some of the best foods to eat to break a fast as long as they are thoroughly cooked so as to help reduce the risk of digestive distress.

As your digestive system returns to normal and seems more tolerant of the foods you are eating, you can add some of these otherwise nutritious foods like nuts, beans, and seeds that you should not eat after water fasting back into your regular diet.

Three bowls of baby food.

#3: Ease Back Into Eating After Water Fasting

In addition to eating the best foods to break a fast, you also need to be cautious and deliberate about how much you are eating at one time.

You need to gradually ease back into eating and choose the best foods to break a water fast.

With extended water fasting protocols, not only has the actual size of your stomach probably decreased, but again the ability of your digestive system to handle large volumes of food and a high-caloric content in your stomach will be greatly impaired.

Start with very small amounts of food and drink at frequent intervals and then gradually and progressively decrease the frequency of your nutrient intake and increase portion sizes, the complexity of the nutrients in your meals and snacks, and the total caloric intake as your digestive system “wakes back up.”

Most of all, one of the best tips for how to break a water fast effectively is to avoid all processed foods and fatty foods such as red meat, fried foods, sweets, dairy products like cheese and full-fat milk, ice cream, alcohol, and soda.

For some people, breaking a water fast is surprisingly difficult because they may either physically or emotionally feel unmotivated to resume normal eating.

If you find that you have no appetite after water fasting, check out our guide here regarding the best foods to eat when you don’t feel like eating.

Sliced bananas.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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