When I speak to my patients about fasting, I often hear “I start out fine, but then I get a terrible headache” and “I am fine during the fast, but once I break it I feel awful!” For many, the idea of the fast looms large and intimidating. Fasting for Yom Kippur is meaningful, but certainly not easy. Although a few days in advance, it’s not too early to begin preparing. It’s not just about being healthy, but also to help stay focused on other aspects of the day, rather than the stomach.
We are able to go for a while without food because our bodies store energy in the form of glycogen (found in our liver and muscle cells). When we don’t eat, our bodies tap into the glycogen stores for energy. However, we aren’t camels. Water is the biggest component of our bodies by weight, and it can’t be stored like glycogen. So, rule number 1: Drink up! And more than usual! When you are dehydrated you feel irritable, tired and lethargic. Be sure to drink plenty of water the day before, and consider having a rehydration sachet before the fast. Avoid alcohol, salty foods and caffeine containing drinks and foods since they can induce dehydration. Besides for drinking water, consuming fruits and vegetables will ensure you reach an optimal hydration status as well as providing all the necessary electrolytes. Not everyone is crazy about drinking plain water – so check out this article for ideas on how to hydrate: Rethink your Drink!
Next, start skipping those morning coffee runs. This will help the headache you may get when you suddenly withdraw from the caffeine. And, just as losing the caffeine can bring about withdrawal like symptoms, so too can sugar. The more we consume sugary foods or drinks, the more our body craves them. Gradually cut back a few days before the fast.
How you eat the day before can affect how easy the fast goes. Focus on nutrient rich foods. The last meal before the fast should be carefully considered. It is important to consume protein as well as high fibre foods to help keep you fuller for longer and stabilize your blood sugar levels. It is a common misconception that you should eat a big meal prior to the fast – ‘to stock up.’ This can lead to abdominal discomfort, dehydration (as our body uses more water to digest and metabolize larger meals), as well as increase our insulin levels which can actually in turn leave us feeling hungrier! The best way to avoid over eating is to ensure you set aside enough time to eat slowly without rushing before sundown.
This preparation beforehand will allow you to shift your focus from feeling poorly to the importance and significance of this very important day.
After the fast don’t overdo it! Break the fast strategically. Start with fluids, like tea or a glass of water. A bowl of soup is also a good choice. Go easy on the bagels, cheesecake and bulkas as too much sugar could cause hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels), which may give you a headache and even cause some nausea.
Fasting can be easier for some than for others, no matter the foods they eat beforehand. There are people who are just able to put food out of their mind and not think about it as much. However, it is important to always check with your doctor and Rabbi to make sure that you are able to fast if you have chronic medical conditions, are pregnant or nursing or for any other medical necessities. If in doubt, consult!
Wishing you all an easy and meaningful fast!