Today, millions of Jews celebrate Yom Kippur, the religion’s holiest day. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, and many Jews spend the day praying, fasting, and asking for forgiveness for past wrongdoings. A common greeting for the holiday is “Jom kal,” which means “Fasting made easy.”
Fasting is an important spiritual practice. Some religious leaders claim that occasional fasting helps them devote their full attention to prayer. But some people may find it difficult to fast during the entire day of Yom Kippur.
In general, fasting for short periods of time can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But before you fast, consult your Rabbi and doctor. If you need to eat to maintain your blood sugar levels throughout the day, then you may need to think about how you can meet your medical needs while worshiping. Conditions such as diabetes and hypoglycemia can make fasting dangerous.
Even if you don’t have a prescribed diet for your medical needs, you may experience some unpleasant side effects during your fast. In 2019, a team of researchers studied how intermittent fasting can affect a person’s cardiovascular health. This study does not focus on intermittent fasting for spiritual purposes, but some of the researchers’ findings may still be useful for people who fast during religious holidays. Some of the most common complaints from study participants include:
- Hunger pangs
- Difficulty focusing
- Headaches (especially if participants did not drink enough water during their fast)
How can you make your fast easier? First, drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Drinking water throughout the day can help keep your stomach full, which can ease some of your hunger pangs. Second, take breaks throughout the day to do gentle activities like walking and stretching. It’s not uncommon for coffee drinkers or nicotine users to experience some withdrawal symptoms, which can make you feel irritable or tired. Moving your body can refresh or energize you. Some people use aromatherapy throughout the day to boost their energy and lighten their mood.
If you have specific medical needs, you can work with your Rabbi to find healthy strategies such as chewing gum or drinking fluids other than water.
What should you avoid during your fast? Do not do strenuous activities. Avoid getting too hot or too cold, as sweating or shivering uses calories your body may not need to save.
When you break your fast, you may be excited to eat your favorite foods. Even if the honey cake seems overwhelming, remember to pace yourself as you start eating again. You may feel nauseous or have a stomachache if you eat too quickly. The Food Network recommends drinking hot decaffeinated beverages and eating small bites of carbohydrate-rich foods. You can eat fruit, bread and soup to replenish your sugar and fill your stomach.
Yom Kippur encourages Jews to prioritize their spiritual well-being. Fortunately, you can also be proactive about maintaining your physical well-being during this fast day.