The Fast and the Furious: Yom Kippur and Avoiding Being ‘Hangry’

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Don’t be this guy this Yom Kippur. | Photo Thinkstock/Filip Warulik

Ah, the sounds of Yom Kippur.

The silence of deep prayer and meditation during services.

The shuffle of feet as people sit and stand intermittently as they reflect and atone for the past year.

And the rumbling of empty stomachs as people head into the core hours of fasting for the holiday.

Fasting for Yom Kippur is meaningful, but it is certainly not easy. If you ever woke up the next morning and instinctively poured yourself a bowl of cereal without a second thought, don’t worry — you’re not alone.

But there are ways to prepare for the fast that will keep you energized and healthy for the seemingly never-ending 25 hours.

Though Yom Kippur is still a week away, it’s not too early to begin preparing your body for the fast.  

One important tip from Alex Pollak, founder and CEO of ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., an events medical services company: If you need it, ask for help.

“People have underlying conditions that are sometimes exacerbated by fasting,” he noted. “Ask your rabbi for a heter to eat if you need medication or have issues.”

Don’t be afraid to sit, even if everyone else is standing, he added.

“If you feel weak, sit,” he said, “especially if you’re sitting for a while then suddenly stand, your blood pressure could drop and you could pass out. If you feel weak and lightheaded, you could lay down and put your feet up because it redistributes the blood.”

Start skipping those morning coffee runs — no matter how much that may pain you — and begin cutting down on caffeine at least a week before, advised Dr. Tzvi Dwolatzky in an article on myjewishlearning.com. This will help the headache you may get when you suddenly withdraw from caffeine.

Also start to take it easy with salty foods and artificial sweeteners and keep away from alcohol because it stimulates the loss of body water, he noted.  

Leading up to the fast, drink liquids but don’t overdo it. Make like a camel in the desert and drink plenty of water, but you don’t have to feel like a water balloon — drinking too much can wash out essential salts from your body, the article said.

Pollak also noted you need electrolytes to really hydrate you before the fast, and also rehydrate you afterward.

Known as the Philly Dietitian, Theresa Shank, a registered dietitian and owner of Philly Dietitian LLC,  echoed the importance of drinking plenty of water.

“Drink a lot of water the day before to insure adequate hydration for the next day’s fast,” she advised.

For good measure, she recommends drinking half your body weight in fluid ounces.

Theresa Shank, Philly Dietitian | Photo provided

“For example, if a person weighs 160 pounds, then their recommended water intake would be 80 fluid ounces,” she said. “I recommend that this liquid apply to water instead of caffeinated liquids, which tend to naturally dehydrate the body.”

Though Shank is not Jewish, she has a few recommendations for pre-Yom Kippur meals. And she recommends not skipping meals the day before.

“A person will want to consume nutrient-dense meals and snacks that include protein, fiber and carbohydrates to help keep them full, but most importantly to provide longer lasting energy that their body will need to use as fuel during the fast,” she noted.

The day before the fast, you might also want to skip the gym.

“It is recommended not to exercise the day before because it can decrease a person’s energy stores — which the body will need to use as fuel for the fast — and also increase a person’s chance for dehydration during Yom Kippur,” she explained.

Avoid drinks like juice, alcohol or those with caffeine because it can induce dehydration. She also advised limiting or avoiding the consumption of high-sodium foods such as canned goods or packaged items that may lead to an increased sensation of thirst.

Instead, Shank has a few recommendations of what to eat the day before: whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, legumes and lean protein sources such as chicken and fish.

The day before, eat fruits and vegetables that have higher water content, such as peaches, watermelon, cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, spinach, carrots and peas.

However, she noted, not everyone should fast. As any list of what to do to prepare for Yom Kippur will tell you, check with your physician to make sure that you are able to fast. If you take medications, be careful that you don’t need to take it on a full stomach.

“Many chronic medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or arthritis, do not usually prevent you from fasting, as long as your condition is stable,” Dwolatzky noted. “This is usually the case for pregnant and nursing mothers as well. Clearly an acute illness accompanied by fever, vomiting or diarrhea will prevent you from fasting. Before going any further, you should check with your doctor whether your health allows you to fast.”

Shank does not recommend that children under 12 fast for the holiday. And seniors may have difficulties as well.

“Fasting can be difficult, especially for seniors who have medical conditions such as diabetes or hypertension, two conditions that are affected by a person’s nutritional intake,” she said. “I recommend that individuals with these conditions or other medical necessities speak with their physician before participating in the fast.”

To prepare, Shank created a sample day of a protein-, fiber- and carbohydrate-rich diet to consume before Yom Kippur:

Breakfast: eggs, whole grain toast with peanut butter and a serving of fruit, or a bagel with lox and fruit

Snack: Grapes and cheese

Lunch: Chicken, vegetables and quinoa or brown rice

Snack: Hummus with baby carrots, whole-grain pita chips and a serving of fruit

Dinner: Whole-grain pasta or potatoes served with fish and a starchy vegetable such as carrots, peas or corn

Wishing you an easy fast and a meaningful Yom Kippur! 

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