Every year we hear suggestions to help people have an easier fast on Yom Kippur. This year I have compiled a list of what I hope will be helpful suggestions based on a naturopathic medical perspective.
Before beginning your fast, begin to wean yourself from substances you might be addicted to, such as caffeine, and foods that are not nutritious, like cookies and candy bars. This includes chocolate, coffee, soda pop, black tea, aspartame, sugar, corn syrup and any substance you either cannot pronounce or are convinced was invented in someone’s laboratory or basement experiment. Many people suffer from withdrawal headaches when they give up substances like caffeine, which makes fasting a very unpleasant experience.
A few days before the fast, begin drinking plenty of fluids. Water is a good idea, but I recommend people also drink liquids that contain electrolytes. My favorite is coconut water (which has more potassium per glass then nearly three bananas). You can try sports drinks high in electrolytes, though avoid those high in sugar or corn syrup. Fluid and electrolytes will help you avoid dehydration.
Begin decreasing your salt intake a full day before the start of the fast; the meal before your fast should contain no added salt. Excessive salt can make going without water for 25 hours extremely difficult. Avoid cured or salted meats, canned goods that have added salt and salty sauces like pasta sauce and gravy.
Many people mistakenly eat large meat meals before a fast only to be wracked by thirst a few hours afterward. Red meat requires plenty of water to be digested and eliminated from the body; even without added salt, it is easy to become thirsty after eating red meat. In our house, we eat either a vegan or milk-based meal before the fast.
Avoid processed foods (these include microwavable meals and ready-to-serve meals high in sodium and laden with chemicals). Instead, keep your meals simple and flavor them with lemon juice or a dash of curry powder.
Load up on carbohydrates beginning a few days before your fast. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and bind to water, which keeps you hydrated. They also provide energy throughout the day. Good choices for complex carbohydrates include whole-wheat pasta, whole grains and root vegetables such as carrots, yams and sweet potatoes.
Before your fast, have a little protein such as baked or boiled chicken or a vegetarian dish of beans. Beans burn slowly and are high in fiber, keeping you full longer. A simple meal of hummus and whole-wheat pita is a great pre-fast meal.
Avoid overeating before the fast. If you overeat, you may become uncomfortable and thirsty early on. Eat until you are satisfied but no more.
Do not over-exert yourself on Yom Kippur. If you must walk long distances to the synagogue, walk on the shady side of the street to avoid direct sunlight or think about arriving early if it will be hot later in the day. Make sure to rest when you can and pace yourself.
Hopefully, with these simple suggestions, the holiday will be a far more pleasant experience with far less discomfort.
Dr. Whimsy Anderson, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor licensed in California. (Printed with permission.)