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Fast Forward

September 10, 2009 By:
Rita Charleston, JE Feature
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I always loved going to my Bubbe Minnie's house, especially during the High Holidays.

She'd sit around her dining table with me -- one of her younger grandchildren -- enjoying the last meal before Yom Kippur, and telling me I didn't have to start fasting until I got up from the table.

Actually, because I was only 3 or 4 years old at the time, tradition says I didn't have to fast at all. But I desperately wanted to be like all the grown-ups around me and do what they were doing.

So, like any adoring Bubbe who enjoyed a chubby-cheeked grandchild -- which I certainly was at the time -- she kept feeding me. And I kept eating. And eating. And eating. Until I could eat no more. Then it was time to get up from the table and begin my fast.

I never did quite make it until sundown the next day, but when I think about Bubbe Minnie, I recall those days fondly.

This year, the holidays begin at sundown on Sept. 18, with the beginning of Rosh Hashanah; Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sept. 27.

As we know, these days are the most important of all Jewish holidays -- a time of reflection, prayer, and eventually, fasting as a means of repenting.

But, say local doctors, it's important to keep two things in mind that could possibly affect our health: overeating -- and then fasting.

For some, getting ready to fast on the Day of Atonement can mean eating a huge meal.

"Bad idea. Better to start a week before Yom Kippur, so you can ease your fast by preparing your body in advance," explains Stephen Rosen, chief of endocrinology at Pennsylvania Hospital.

"Start by tapering off such things as coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages the day after Rosh Hashanah," he continues. "Also, cut back on refined sugars and candy, cigarettes and cigars, and anything else you use habitually that you'll long for when you can't have it."

Too Much, Too Soon

According to Barry Marks, a family practitioner at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, "the temptation to eat a lot before fasting is common among many people, but it is highly inappropriate, even dangerous."

One thing you can do is keep the pre-fast meals (especially lunch and dinner) on the small side, and drink plenty of water, he says: "Drinking a lot the few days before Yom Kippur can cut your risk of becoming dehydrated during your fast."

Additionally, continues Rosen: "It's best to consume small meals comprised of complex carbohydrates, some protein, some fat -- foods that will stick with you during the next days and give you the energy you need."

Overeating before and/or after Yom Kippur can become a major health issue, especially if you have diabetes, heart problems or any type of chronic long-term disease.

It can even be problematic in someone simply in the normal range: Consuming too many calories and too much food puts a stress on the body in terms of digestion.

And as far as fasting itself?

It's best broken by eating a light to moderate dairy meal. However, note the doctors, there are those among us who should not even consider fasting, including children under the age of 9; pregnant women; the elderly; and anyone on medications or suffering from a host of specific diseases.

Concludes Marks: "The best way to handle this holiday for all concerned is to check with your physician. Ask for guidance before the holidays."

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