Five Tips for an Easy and Safe Fast

The Yom Kippur fast begins at sundown today and goes for 25 hours. In Los Angeles the start time is 6:13 pm. The fast ends at 7:06 pm Saturday.

The Yom Kippur fast is no Hollywood diet.  There’s no cayenne or green drink, not even maple syrup.  No food, no water—nothing. Of course, don’t fast if you or your physician thinks it will endanger your health.

Your fast should be a time to focus on prayer and personal reflection.  It should not endanger you, or make you so miserable that you can’t experience the physical and spiritual power of the day.

Here’s five tips to help you to a tsom kal, or easy fast:

1. Drink plenty of water.

Start now, if you haven’t already.  The hardest part of fasting is dehydration.  Drink plenty of fluids throughout the rest of today.

2. Avoid coffee, sugar, fatty and spicy foods. And junk food.

Keep these out of your system before beginning the fast, as they will increase your need for water tomorrow. Junk foods won’t give you the sustainable nutrition you need—not for Yom Kippur, not ever.

3. Eat normal meals full of complex carbs and healthy foods.

Here’s a trick your rabbi may not tell you: oatmeal. A bowl of whole grain cereal between now and sundown will give you a good base of healthy energy for tomorrow.  Don’t try to eat for two days or two people—it will increase your thirst and discomfort.

4. Sleep well.

You need will power to maintain a 25 hour fast, and lack of sleep breaks down the will. After services tonight, get rest.  What are you going to do anyway, go out?

5. Don’t rush your final meal.

Give yourself time to eat a healthy, normal meal.  Don’t reach for the saltshaker.  Have two glasses of water and cut down on the wine. Just before the fast, have another glass of water, floss and brush, and enjoy the day.

6. Avert your gaze.

I almost forgot another important point: Keep all this food out of your line of vision.  We eat first with our eyes, then with our noses, finally with our mouths.  You can avoid a lot of temptation by going through your home today and putting away any food that’s on the counters,  hiding the cookbooks, and turning over the food magazines.  Think of this month’s Saveur as a mirror in a house of mourning—cover it up.

Now, what about how to break the fast?

Start with something light—I like a piece of toast or bread with fresh avocado, olive oil and salt.  Then again, I always like a piece of toast with avocado, olive oil and salt.

If you don’t gorge when Yom Kippur ends, the day’s spiritual high seems to linger.

Many years ago, when I worked in the Moroccan Jewish neighborhood of Musrara in Jerusalem, I noticed that the men would gather at the end of the fast and do a shot of Boukha, or fig brandy. 

Call me a fundamentalist, but I’ve been doing that ever since.  But that’s just me…

Tsom kal…..

Let me know your fasting tips in the comments section below….