14 Tips to Make the Yom Kippur Fast Easier

And if you can’t follow these simple suggestions, see Tip No. 11 - before you start the fast.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Fasting? Hurry up and cut the caffeine.
Fasting? Hurry up and cut the caffeine. Credit: Dreamstime
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Yom Kippur is upon us, and we may repent but we don’t want to suffer overmuch while about it. Or after it. Fasting for 25 hours on Yom Kippur is a fundamental tenet of Judaism and if done with aforethought, it can be spiritually uplifting and, most agree, physically cleansing. Or it can leave you with furry teeth, breath like a drain and a massive headache. Your choice. Here are 14 tips to make your fast easier – not including “if in doubt, ask your doctor.”

For Haaretz's guide to Yom Kippur, click here.

1. Dial down your caffeine habit well in advance.

Ahh, that first cup of coffee, perfectly prepared the way you like because you made it. You thrill at that delicious glow in your mouth and feel it flow down, scalding away the post-sleep blahs. The second cup, the moment you get to the office, is de rigeur and by 11 you’re ready for the third. All this is between you and your Maker, but if you don’t gradually scale back your caffeine habit during the week before Yom Kippur and go cold turkey – you’re asking for nausea, shakes and a horrible headache, advises Mariana Urbach, chief dietitian at the Clalit health maintenance organization. The same applies to colas, energy drinks and teas with a tannin kick. Urbach suggests gradually replacing the habitual hot drink with herbal teas. Haaretz notes the possibility of decaf.

2. While reducing caffeine intake during the week, if you’re the scheduled-meal type, vary your mealtimes.

Chabad supplied that interesting tip. Yes, you’re hoping your brain can trick your stomach into not getting all enzymatic on you come 1 P.M. on the dot. Surprisingly, say adherents, it works.

3. Saturate your body with water (not coffee, coke or arak)

Experts assure us that fasting for a day won’t kill (most of) us, but dehydration can. Or at least it can make us sick as dogs. You get three tips in one here, all applying to the day that builds up to the fast: Don’t eat spicy or salty foods, whose digestion will dry you out, making you feel thirstier. Do drink more water than usual: Our bodies can’t store water the way they store energy, which means you’re likely to pee a lot, but entering the fast thoroughly hydrated will help you weather it better. Having saturated yourself, don’t waste the effort by swaddling yourself on the actual day: Wear cool clothing that minimizes sweating.

4. A corollary of the “saturate your body” tip

Soaking up liters of coke, orange soda or carbonated water with touches of aloe and kiwi ahead of the fast won’t do the trick. You’ll get a craving for the sugar rush and use up precious bodily liquid in digesting all that sugar. As for soft drinks with artificial sweetener, read this.

5. Don’t eat a lot of meat before the fast.

Eating high-protein low-carb diets can give you bad breath. Unless you also have bad teeth. Then it’s probably both meat and carbs. Or reflux. Etcetera. But the point is that your system, leisurely digesting meat which takes a lot of water from your body that you’re not replenishing, is asking for toilet-mouth and “furry” teeth. Up to about 150 grams in the pre-fast meal is fine, Urbach says, eaten with veggies and carbs.

6. This isn’t the time to be faddish about carbs.

Our bodies may not store water but they do build up an energy bank in the form of glycogen, stored up in our muscles and liver. You can build up your glycogen bank during the day before the fast by indulging in carbohydrates, from pasta to potatoes to bread. Pre-Kippur is not the time to indulge in unnecessary gluten-free diets , though they may be all the rage, as is the controversy over their efficacy in weight loss, not to mention whether people know what gluten is. If you’re gluten-sensitive, skip to Tip 7. If you’re not, you can store up energy that your body can access during the fast by eating pasta and other gluten-rich foods.

7. Don’t p-g out in the pre-fast meal.

Quaking at the thought of fasting, or just because the meal’s really good, you gulp down the pre-fast meal and take seconds. You are confident you’ve eaten enough to get you through two fasts, not one. What you have just achieved is to distend your stomach, which will just mean you feel hunger again sooner. This is why eating a great big healthy, organic salad chock full of lettuce and nuts and whatnot is a bad idea, notes Urbach. Also, the bigger the meal, the more water your body will use in digesting it. Other experts suggest a meal high in fat (but low in salt!), to stave off hunger for longer.

8. Bread is salty

You may not realize it, but most industrially produced breads are high in salt. It’s one thing to consume them earlier in the day, but less advisable at the pre-fast meal. ‘Nuff said.

9. There is such a thing as no-salt potato chips and gluten-free Bamba snacks

Now you know.

10. Don’t eat dessert with the pre-fast meal

Save it for after the fast, when the sugar crash and burn won’t make you crazy.

11. An ounce of prevention

Ask your pharmacist for a long-lasting headache medication, which you swallow ahead of the fast. It may not last throughout the whole of the fast, but if you’re prone to that Yom Kippur headache, it could help. If in doubt, ask your doctor. In Israel, such medication is available in the form of over-the-counter suppositories, which you insert before the fast, of course.

12. Rumination

Tempting though the empty streets may be (in Israel at least), this isn’t the day to rediscover your roller-skating skills when not ruminating over your sins. That would make you sweat. Rediscover “books.”

13. Call in reinforcements

Another helpful tip courtesy of Chabad – for expecting women with children: Line up people to help with the other kids ahead of the fast, to conserve your energy and hydration. You may want to think of activities in advance for them, the Hasidic organization advises. It adds that you feel ill or if signs of birth appear, you may need to stop fasting.

14. Don’t even bother looking at the scale.

Fasting for 24 hours won’t slim you down. To lose a single kilo of real weight you have to forgo about 9,000 calories and that doesn’t happen in a day, Urbach observes. If there is a discernible difference it’s almost certainly from water loss, which you have to make up anyway.

And here’s one for the road: Once the fast is over, don’t gulp down water and gorge, experts urge, lest you throw your metabolism out of whack, which can actually make you feel sick. Sip a cup of water or a sweet drink slowly and eat a snack. Have a proper meal about an hour later, counsel the experts. That is the time for the dessert gratification you put off.

This article was originally published in September 2014

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