Never in a million years, would I have thought that the number one question people would ask me upon learning that I’m a nutrition and health coach, would be “Do you have any tips for making the fast on Yom Kippur any easier?” But there ya have it. Numero Uno.
We are currently one week away from Yom Kippur 5777. For those who are not familiar, Yom Kippur is a 25-hour fast required of all Jews except those with health issues and special permissions, that occurs shortly after our new year, Rosh HaShana. The fast begins at sundown and continues to sundown plus one hour, the following day. Jews around the world spend much of the day in the synagogue in prayer, or in private contemplation, or as many do here in Israel, riding their bikes through the completely deserted streets and highways.
Although the Jewish calendar contains many fast days, Yom Kippur is considered the Big Daddy of fasts. It falls at the end of the summer, but at many locations the world around, including where I live, it is still quite hot. Due to the fact that not even water may be consumed during the fast, combined with the heat and the vigorous nature of the day’s prayers, many of which involve long periods of standing, the Yom Kippur fast is difficult and taxing for most.
Thus, all the questions to me about how to make it easier!
The biggest reasons that fasting is painful for most people are:
1. withdrawal from caffeine
2. low blood sugar
The following steps attempt to address these three factors:
Stop drinking coffee and cola NOW
You have one week to wean yourself off of caffeine. Every year I remind myself to start cutting back a month in advance, but I always procrastinate until this last week. People, it is better to have a headache today, when you can take some advil or eat a snack, than on Yom Kippur itself when you have to stay mentally focused and physically energized. When the fast is over you can go back to coffee, or use the fact that you are free of it, to see what the decaffeinated life is like.
Stop eating sweets TODAY
Honestly, I am sorry for the bold and caps, but I definitely am yelling! You all asked me how to make the fast easier and I am answering by telling you that suffering a little now will make that one day easier. Maybe that’s a bad bargain, but it’s my honest answer.
If you are in the habit of eating sweets regularly, it will be a painful withdrawal to go without them. You might get a severe headache, suffer from terrible cravings and hunger pains, have very low energy, and a negative mood. Use this week between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur to clean your physical, as well as spiritual house. If you need tips for overcoming sugar addiction, they are in my free Cravings Buster E-Book. But if I had to sum it up in one tip, that would be to eat fruit whenever you crave a sugary treat. That will help wean you off the
crack, I mean sugar.
Carb-load the day before
I don’t mean you should stuff yourself, as that might backfire (the more we eat, the more we want to eat!). But where I usually push clients to make sure they are getting enough protein, the day before Yom Kippur, you can go ahead and eat some extra carbs. Carbs contain water, while protein requires water for digestion. It’s a small advantage but it all adds up. Like an athlete before a big event, by making sure your muscles are loaded with glycogen, you will make the physical demands of the day (all that standing!) easier. Healthy choices would be white or sweet potatoes, rice, whole grain bread, quinoa, and oatmeal.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drink a lot of water each day, starting about 3 days out. Not soda, tea, gatorade or anything else, just water. Aim for 1 1/2 – 2 liters per day. If you live in Israel or anywhere else hot, you will get dehydrated on Yom Kippur. Move slowly, take it easy, and if you feel like you are going to faint, sit down with your head between your knees. (Trust me, I’m a fainter!). If it ends up that you have to drink, then you have to drink. Life and health are always more important.
How not to binge your face off when the fast is over
That should be a post in and of itself! It is quite common to be SO hungry that you end up consuming upwards of 3000 calories from 8 -11pm post-fast! These are your post-fast instructions. As soon as the fast is over:
- Drink a glass of water. Lots of people go for juice here or coffee, but get that glass of water in FIRST. It will quickly help to start rehydrating you. A sugary drink is just going to start up that blood sugar roller-coaster.
- Eat an actual meal. Most people go for sweets right away. If you want to not spend 4 hours binging, don’t do this! Eat a meal that is balanced with protein, fat and carbs. Americans tend to go for the tuna or egg salad on a bagel deal. If you want vegan versions of those delicacies, I have them here. Make them ahead of the fast so they are ready to be eaten right away. Include some fresh veggies and finish with a piece of fruit. If you want coffee or tea, NOW you can have it.
- If you are still hungry after eating, set a timer for 20 minutes. If you are still hungry after the timer rings, then either have more real food, or have a bowl or two of soup.
- Remember that you do not need to make up for 3 lost meals. Your body can do without food for many weeks. It cannot go without water though, so priority number one is hydration.
I hope these tips will help you all have an easier fast. If you go through the trouble of weaning yourself off of coffee and sweets, I would humbly suggest that you just keep going like that. Let the High Holy Days be the beginning of a wonderful, new health endeavor!
I wish the best for you and your families in the New Year. Gmar Hatimah Tova.