I recognize that fasting is meant to bring us to a higher spiritual plane and help us concentrate on what’s important about the day. The intensity of atoning for a year of sins should make anyone forget about their hunger right? For some perhaps, but I usually have a hard time thinking about anything else. It’s not even that I’m in immense pain or suffering from extreme fatigue. It’s more that I really want a slice of pizza.
This year I’ll try to approach it from a science perspective. It takes roughly 1 month for a person to die from starvation but a only 1 week to die from dehydration. Water is the key. How many pre-fast dinners has your mother warned you to keep drinking water? You just stuffed your belly with chicken, roast veggies, rice, and salad and she wants you to keep drinking? So you do and you go into the fast strong and full. By the morning though, you feel just as hungry as usual so where did you go wrong?
True, it’s crucial to hydrate properly prior to a fast but overeating is a common mistake. You should eat to feel satisfied and make sure to drink water the whole day before. Overeating requires use of stored water to aid in digestion so you’re depleting your water stores before the fast even starts!
Additionally, carbohydrates help store water so make sure your meal has a higher amount of starch than protein. The protein will help with the first 4 hours of the fast but the carbs will help keep you hydrated into the next day. That’s why endurance athletes “carb-load” before a marathon. They follow a low carb diet in the days leading up to the event, than have a big pasta meal the night before. Some even claim to be able to see their muscles expanding!
Some good meal ideas are beef and potato stew, fish with brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes, or chicken vegetable stir fry served with brown rice. Watermelon makes a great dessert because of its water and high sugar content. If you’re not a water person, try a sports drink (Gatorade, PowerAde) or juice to help provide fluid and extra carbs but avoid any caffeinated beverages. You should limit the added salt but the meal doesn’t have to be bland: try fresh herbs, dried spices, or lemon juice for flavor.
I wish you all a tolerable and meaningful fast and remember to give thanks for all the good in your lives. For more on Yom Kippur, click here.