So far this month of March, Christians all over the world have been observing the 40-day Lenten fast, during which they deny themselves the pleasure of the daily three square meals and the joy of snacking on their favourite treats.
In a week from now, they will be celebrating the end of the fast, thus enabling them to return to their normal eating habit.
We must realise, though, that there’s the natural tendency to indulge in binge-eating after breaking a fast at 6pm, as if to catch up on the lost “opportunity” and to make up for all the goodies they had denied themselves while the fast lasted.
However, experts say the best way to break a fast at the end of the day is not to load your plate with the usual food quantity, but return to normal eating gradually, especially by eating those foods that are very easy to digest, before settling permanently for the usual solid stuffs.
A nutritionist, Dr. Soje Sholebo, warns that you should never overindulge if you don’t want to suffer gastrointestinal problem such as constipation and stomach ulcers.
Sholebo says having abstained from food and water for long hours, the digestive and the body’s metabolic systems had been on break for a while. As such, he advises people who have been fasting for more than two weeks to ease the body’s functions and digestive system back to its old pace gradually.
He advises people who have been observing the 40-day fast to avoid heavy meals when breaking the fast in the evening. Instead, he recommends a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.
For many who had looked forward to the fried or jollof rice and meat that will be served to mark the end of the Lenten period, Sholebo says the worst thing to do in the next few days is to eat fried or processed foods.
He notes that since fasting is also a means of detoxifying the body, eating fried foods which contain toxic substances after a long fast could lead to inflammation of the body cells.
He says, “Start with fruit and vegetables. Vegetable soups have enough fibre to give strength and also restore lost nutrients for the first week. For the next week, add cooked yam and brown or white rice.
“Stay away from fried foods because they are a real slippery slope to ‘retoxifying’ yourself. Add proteins in the third week. Eat smaller meals more often throughout the day. Drink water with slices of cucumber or citrus to help hydrate more efficiently. Your body is still detoxifying, so keep foods simple and healthy for long-term result.”
Again, experts on quickfasting.com warn that eating the wrong meal after a fast could lead to stomach ulcers, constipation and, in severe cases, a heart attack.
The nutritionist advises those who have been on the long fast to avoid eating in fast food joints and restaurants for the next two weeks.
He says home cooked meals, which usually contain more natural ingredients and are less likely to have preservatives and chemicals, are the best option for individuals that have been fasting.
“I hear people say ‘I am fasting, I’m going out to my favourite mama put to have my Eba and Ogbono soup.’ This is wrong. When on a long fast of about 20 days or more, the digestive system shuts down partially or completely. The stomach and the intestines have been cleaned out. A thorough fast cleans out everything. Therefore, you must allow time for the digestive system to prepare itself for food again.”
The experts add, “If you eat solid food or processed food after a long fast, the first thing that will occur is constipation. Your digestive system will not move that solid food until it starts functioning again. This is because, all along, it has been busy cleaning, not digesting.”
Sholebo says citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, and foods such as yoghurts, are the best foods to take, as they contain “good” bacteria that help to restore the intestinal flora and the digestive system.
Water is another fluid that the body must have in abundance in the first two weeks after a fast if you must restore the body’s metabolism and also nourish the skin.
The nutritionist says fasting can lead to dehydration and consequent loss of moisture to the skin cells, resulting in wrinkles. He recommends at least a sip of water every hour to make up for the low water intake during the fasting period.
“Your skin contains plenty of water, and it functions as a protective barrier to prevent excess fluid loss. But you lose a lot of water during a long fast and dehydration makes your skin look more dry and wrinkled. A sip of water every hour will do the trick, or you can have watermelon. This is a great fruit to start with, because it has higher water content than other fruits,” Sholebo adds.
Other habits you should avoid in the next one week if you have been fasting are smoking and heavy drinking. Physicians warn that tobacco and alcohol may shock the system after fasting and this may lead to sudden cardiovascular events like a heart attack.Finally, Sholebo notes that how you break a long fast has a major effect on the benefits that you receive from the fast.