Intermittent fasting has become a global phenomenon in recent years.
And unlike many other health or diet trends, it’s been rigorously proven as an effective and accessible practice for almost anyone.
But once you’re ready to eat, how do you break a fast? And what can you eat while fasting?
We spoke to Mindvalley’s Head of Health & Fitness and author of the Beyond Fasting Quest, Ronan Oliveria to find out.
Intermittent Fasting: The 16/8 Method
While there are many kinds of intermittent fasting practice, the most popular and most accessible practice (championed in Mindvalley’s Beyond Fasting Quest) is the 16/8 method.
As the name suggests, the 16/8 method involves a daily fasting window of about 16 hours and a daily feeding window of approximately 8 hours.
Doing this method of fasting can be as simple as not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast.
So let’s say you have your last meal at 7 pm, that means you can break your fast at 11 am the next day.
When starting this fasting practice, Ronan says it’s best not to change what you eat at first.
(As you progress through Mindvalley’s Beyond Fasting Quest, Ronan slowly introduces nutritional best practices that best complement intermittent fasting, depending on your personal goals.)
Intermittent fasting is about when you eat. To begin with, just eat what you would typically eat. There’s no need to add or remove anything from your diet.
In most significant studies, this is how researchers are able to isolate intermittent fasting as a variable.
That’s how we know that even if you eat exactly the same food as you usually would, you will still see some benefits from intermittent fasting.
How Do I Break My Intermittent Fast?
There are no special requirements for breaking a 16 hour fast.
Intermittent fasting, particularly with the 16/8 method, is not an aggressive assault on the body.
Let’s be honest. Most of us have gone without food for 16 hours at some point in our lives. It’s not going to be a massive shock to the system to put something in your belly.
That being said, a tub of Ben & Jerry’s probably isn’t going to help. Ronan reminds us that while it can be tempting to ‘reward’ your abstinence with a treat you wouldn’t typically have, that kind of defeats the purpose.
Adding treats to your feeding window is the same as adding treats to your standard eating patterns. You’re going to get the additional calories.
That’s why it’s essential to know why you want to fast in the first place.
Intermittent Fasting Goals
Intermittent fasting can have many health benefits for both men and women, but according to Ronan, the most common benefits people gain from the practice are:
- Weight Loss (and specifically Fat Loss)
- Managing Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Health
- Longevity Through Autophagy
- To Improve Gut and Digestive Function at Rest
Depending on which of these you’re after, and it could be all of them, then there could be some wiggle room for you during your fasting window (we’ll come to this shortly.)
What Can I Eat During My Fasting Window?
So the short answer to this is — nothing.
You don’t want any calories, and really, avoiding everything except for water is going to give you the best results.
It’s important to keep yourself hydrated when fasting.
Some people drink black tea or coffee, but the caffeine in these have diuretic properties (they make you pee) which means that it causes your kidneys to flush extra sodium and water from the body through urine.
Many people experiencing fasting fatigue, low energy, or irritability are likely just a little low on salts (electrolytes).
Add salt to your water
What you can do is add a little pinch of mineral-rich salt to your water to help maintain your body’s electrolyte balance.
As for the types of salt, avoid refined table salt as it is poor in minerals and sea salt because it could contain heavy metals and microplastics.
Use a high-quality mineral-rich salt such as:
- Pink Himalayan salt
- Celtic salt
- Black lava salt
- Kala namak
- Red Hawaiian salt
Remember — it’s just a pinch! If you can taste the salt in the water, you’ve probably added too much. We don’t want it to taste like the sea!
Are There Any Exceptions When Intermittent Fasting?
There’s no one-size-fits-all in this practice. Rather than follow instructions, you want to learn how to navigate this system according to your own goals.– Ronan Olivera, author of Mindvalley’s Beyond Fasting Quest
‘True’ fasting means no food at all. Just water.
However you may have heard some people say that they drink Bulletproof Coffee (highly fatty coffee made with ghee or grass-fed butter) or take some coconut oil during their fasting window, so what’s going on there?
Ronan says it all depends on your goals.
1. Intermittent fasting for weight loss
The way the fasting mechanism works for weight loss (along with autophagy and the metabolic benefits) leads to intuitively reducing your calories. When you restrict your feeding window to 8 hours, you’re less likely to feel hungry between meals, and you eat less.
So if weight loss is your goal, you don’t want to interrupt your fasting window at all.
Ronan says he takes his water with some ginger and a few drops of lemon. That’s at most two or three calories. You could have cucumber water, black coffee, or tea (just remember the salt rule from before.
2. Managing insulin sensitivity and metabolic health
If your primary concern is decreasing insulin levels or improving your body’s metabolic health, you might not be concerned with weight loss.
Perhaps you’re even using fasting to gain weight, combining it with strength training. If your goal is a very metabolically healthy body, you can add calories in your fasting window in the form of healthy fats.
This is when adding ghee or butter to coffee or having coconut oil makes sense.
3. Longevity through autophagy
Autophagy is a natural kind of cellular pruning mechanism. You could think of it a bit like recycling. The body destroys damaged bits of cells and proteins to use the raw materials for something new.
The idea behind utilizing autophagy in intermittent fasting is that in the absence of external energy sources (i.e., food) when the body literally begins to eat itself. That’s exactly what autophagy means – auto (self), phage (eat).
It’s thought that encouraging autophagy through fasting can lead to a longer life…which kind of makes sense when you think about it. Now, autophagy doesn’t really kick in during a 16/8 fast. It’s more of a 24-hour+ kind of bad boy.
But some organs of the body will start autophagy a little earlier, so you still gain some autophagic benefits from it.
What’s crucial for autophagy is negligible calories and no amount of amino acids.
Some people like to have a bone broth during their fasting window, and even though it has a tiny amount of calories, it has some amino acids, which shut down the process of autophagy.
Again the best rule is if you’re going too fast, then fast. Because even the tiniest amount of nutrition can interrupt the processes that lead to benefits.
4. To improve gut and digestive function at rest
If you’re looking to improve digestive function through intermittent fasting, the idea is to give your system a prolonged rest period.
You have to be strict with yourself. Just like the autophagic issue, even the smallest amount triggers the digestive system, effectively resetting the clock.
Even black coffee or lemon water will trigger certain functions. The gallbladder will contract, the gut gets put to work, the liver has to process something, etc., etc.
So are there exceptions to intermittent fasting ‘rules’? Not really. Unless you’re trying to gain weight, just stick to eating in your feeding window and stick to water in your fasting window.
Discover the Truth About Intermittent Fasting: And Take Your Health, Weight Loss & Longevity to a Whole New Level
If you’re interested in learning more about Intermittent Fasting and changing not only when you eat but what you eat to gain:
- A Lifetime Of Better Health
- A Healthier Metabolism And Digestive System
- Optimal Weight
- And even a renewed relationship with food, hunger, and yourself…
Learn more about Mindvalley’s science-based 28-day protocol — Beyond Fasting, in a free Mindvalley Masterclass with Ronan Oliveira.