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Easter Bunnies

Creative Commons courtesy of LexnGer 

Dietitian Linda Van Horn warns against eating an entire chocolate bunny on Easter morning. Especially if you abstained from chocolate during Lent, binging could cause digestive issues.

The healthy way to break a fast

by Elle Metz
Apr 16, 2014

Fruit Bowl

Courtesy of Elle Metz

Experts suggest reintroducing food gradually after a liquid cleanse. Eating easily digestible carbohydrates, like fruit, is best.

Juice fast

Creative Commons courtesy of Bertholf 

Juice cleanses have increased in popularity over the last few years. Juice Rx founder Dean Kasal describes his as "a fast combined with liquid nutrition."

chocolate chip cookies

Courtesy of Elle Metz

While breaking a Lenten fast may require less transition than breaking a liquid cleanse, eating a plate of cookies is not a good idea.

Easter Sunday marks the end of Lenten fasting for millions of Christians.

Whether someone gave up sweets for Lent or hasn’t eaten solid food in a week as part of a cleansing fast, there’s a healthier way to transition to a regular diet.

Many Christians choose to give up chocolate, sweets, alcohol or other substances for Lent, though people also emphasize service activities.

“Someone who gave up chocolate for Lent is clearly going to be enjoying that chocolate Easter egg,” says registered dietitian and professor of preventative medicine-nutrition at Northwestern University Linda Van Horn. But it’s “no wonder that you feel sick if you’ve eaten no chocolate for six weeks, and then you’re eating a box, an entire chocolate rabbit or something like that.”

Reintroducing a forbidden substance can initially cause an upset stomach and digestive issues, according to Van Horn.

Some Lenten fasts could also “reduce your tolerance to certain types of food,” says Barbara Fine, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer in Chicago. “You have to be careful.”  For example, if someone needed four cups of coffee for a morning pick-me-up before, they may only need one to obtain the same effect now.

Both Van Horn and Fine recommend reintroducing the substance gradually – in other words, don’t eat the entire chocolate bunny on Easter morning.

Eating food you haven’t had in weeks is very different than transitioning from a liquid diet to a solid one though, Fine says.

For a person breaking a Lenten fast, the reintroduction process “really doesn’t matter as much, to be honest,” she says.

Coming off of a juice cleanse - hardly a religious experience but very popular - involves a more nuanced process though. In the last few years, juice bars have popped up across the city for increasing numbers of cleanse devotees.

Dean Kasal, the founder of Juice Rx in Chicago, describes his juice cleanse as “a fast combined with liquid nutrition” that gives the digestive system a break.

His customers consume six fresh-pressed juices per day for anywhere from one to seven days. They then go back to a solid-food diet.

“Most people begin reintroducing food without a hitch,” says Kasal. “I’ve had a larger breakfast after a cleanse and I still felt good…I think it’s all how sensitive your body is.”

However, “if you’ve eaten nothing for several days,” says Van Horn, “you really want to sort of introduce food back slowly so that you’re not overwhelming your gastrointestinal system.”

She recommends eating easily digestible carbohydrates such as oatmeal, fruit or a slice of toast with peanut butter at first.

“Binging after a fast is without a doubt going to produce some of those GI consequences that people will not be happy with,” Van Horn says. 

Along with gastrointestinal issues, a person’s blood sugar levels will be altered and their metabolism will have slowed during the cleanse, says Fine, so it will take time for their body to readjust to eating solid food.

While decreasing substances like caffeine, alcohol or sweets for Lent “is a healthy thing to do,” says Fine, she says she doesn't recommend a liquid cleanse.

Van Horn agrees. “We have yet to see any data that would suggest that a fasting cleanse is valuable for health outcomes.”