Today, millions of Jews celebrate Yom Kippur, the religion’s holiest day. Yom Kippur is a Day of Atonement, and many Jews spend the day praying, fasting, and asking forgiveness for their past wrongdoings. A common greeting for the holiday is “Tzom kal” which means “Fast lightly”.
Fasting is an important spiritual practice. Some religious leaders argue that occasional fasting helps them give their full attention to prayer. But some people may have trouble fasting the whole day of Yom Kippur.
In general, short fasts can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But before you fast, consult your rabbi and doctor. If you need to eat to keep your blood sugar levels up throughout the day, you may need to think about how to accommodate your medical needs during worship. Conditions like diabetes and hypoglycemia can make fasting dangerous.
Even if you don’t have a regular diet for your medical needs, you may experience some nasty side effects during your fast. In 2019, a team of researchers looked at how intermittent fasting might affect a person’s cardiovascular health. This study doesn’t focus on intermittent fasting for spiritual purposes, but some of the researchers’ findings may still be helpful for people who fast on religious holidays. Some of the most common complaints from study participants are:
- hunger pangs
- Difficulty focusing
- Headaches (particularly if participants did not drink enough water during the fast)
How can you make your fasting easier? Drink plenty of water first to avoid dehydration. Drinking water throughout the day can help keep your stomach full, which may reduce hunger pangs. Second, take breaks throughout the day to do light activities like walking and stretching. It’s not uncommon for coffee drinkers or nicotine users to experience withdrawal symptoms, which can leave you feeling irritable or tired. Moving your body can refresh you or energize you. Some people use aromatherapy throughout the day to increase energy and lift their spirits.
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? Don’t do strenuous activities. Avoid getting too hot or too cold, as sweating or shivering uses up calories your body may not be deprived of.
When you break your fast, you may look forward to enjoying your favorite foods. Even if the honey cake looks irresistible, remember to slow down when you start eating again. You may get nausea or stomach pain if you eat too fast. Food Network recommends sipping warm, decaffeinated beverages and eating small bites of high-carb foods. You can eat fruit, bread, and soup to top up your blood sugar and fill your stomach.
Yom Kippur encourages Jews to prioritize their spiritual well-being. Fortunately, you can also actively take care of your physical well-being on this fasting day.