Tips to Ensure an Easier Fast

Tips to Ensure an Easier Fast (from the OU website)

By Ira Milner RD

While some people fast with little difficulty, most of us expect to feel more or less bedraggled after only a few hours. If fasting means headaches and assorted misery for you, it might be the fault of what you eat or drink beforehand. A few simple precautions in planning your pretaanit menu could make all the difference.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Water has been called “the indispensable nutrient” for a very good reason. Although a person can live without food for weeks, a few days without water would be fatal. Water makes up approximately 60 percent of the body’s weight and is involved in practically every bodily function. Among its essential tasks, it transports nutrients and oxygen through the blood; maintains body temperature; lubricates the joints; cushions a developing fetus and serves as a medium for the thousands of crucial chemical reactions taking place in the body.

Much of the discomfort commonly experienced during a fast may be due to avoidable water loss. Treat yourself to a leisurely glass of a non-caffeinated beverage several times a day well before a planned fast. Providing the body with enough fluids to function properly is a daily business. Your recommended intake is six to eight 8-ounce glasses (or their equivalent) per day, but that should be upped to eight to ten glasses the day before a fast. (Because the elderly tend to have less developed thirst sensations than younger people, they should be especially careful about getting their daily quota of water.) Don’t worry about drinking too much, since the body is highly efficient at getting rid of what it doesn’t need.

Beverages are not the only source of water. Even foods you might consider dry contain some water. Most fruits, for instance, are more than 80 percent water; bread, around 35 percent. Eggs consist of 75 percent water; meats, between 40 and 75 percent; vegetables, from 70 to 95 percent. Although coffee and tea also supply water, the diuretic properties of caffeine make these beverages inadvisable at a pre-fast meal. Diuretics produce water loss at the cell level and therefore ultimately increase the body’s need for water.

Decrease Protein

Most Americans consume far too much protein, averaging 2-3 times more than needed. A growing body of evidence suggests that high animal protein intake can be a contributing factor in heart disease, certain cancers and may pose a problem for those suffering from kidney disease.

Eating excessive amounts of protein may also be counterproductive before a fast. Since protein attracts water, too much of it may actually leach water from the tissues. In extreme cases, dehydration could result because the unneeded protein pulls out water that will later be necessary to remove the waste products of protein synthesis from the body.

Increase Starch and Fiber

Sugars (including honey and corn syrup) are simple carbohydrates. Starch and most dietary fibers are considered complex carbohydrates because they are chemical chains of many sugar molecules. During digestion both starch and sugar break down into glucose — the simplest form of sugar.  Consumption of complex carbohydrates helps to ease the pangs of a fast because they take longer to break down in the digestive process.

A diet of reduced intake is best supplemented with additional complex carbohydrates. Increasing those carbs will also help the body retain water.

Your best bet before a fast, then, is to load up on the following foods: breads and cereals (especially wholegrain); pasta, rice and potatoes; vegetables with edible skins, stems, and seeds; legumes; fruits (especially those with edible skins and seeds); nuts and popcorn (without the added fat and salt it makes a great, healthy snack).

Decrease Salt

No real news here. When you eat salted foods, the sodium in your blood level rises. This not only stimulates the brain’s thirst receptor (which triggers the thirst sensation), it also affects the body’s water requirement, because water is needed to remove salt from the body. So even if you can’t live without pickles and other salted delicacies on a daily basis, try to resist anything very salty before a fast.

Avoid Caffeine

If you regularly drink more than two or three cups of coffee a day—or if you are a caffeinated cola fanatic—consider tapering off several days before, so that by one or two days prior to the fast you will not be consuming any caffeine at all. Although caffeine isn’t technically addictive, the body becomes accustomed to its stimulant effects. Suddenly abstaining from caffeine after an extended period of even moderate intake will probably produce the characteristic “withdrawal headache.” The diuretic properties of caffeine, as mentioned earlier, will aggravate you further by increasing your need for water. Finally, you can minimize water loss by being careful not to exert yourself too much the day before a fast. Exercise only moderately, and stay out of the sun as much as possible.

By following the suggested recommendations set forth, some of the discomfort experienced on a taanit can be alleviated.

The Basics

Include:

Eight to ten glasses of water (or other, non-caffeinated beverages)

Small portions of animal protein.

Large portions of starch and carbohydrates (whole-grain breads and

cereals, pasta, potatoes, legumes and unsalted popcorn).

Vegetables and fruits with edible skins or seeds.

Avoid:

Coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas

fried, salted, or spicy foods.

Menu Suggestions:

Liberal amounts of plain water, 100 percent fruit juice, seltzer, and herbal tea (teabags rather than bulk tea are preferable)

Whole-grain challah.

Chicken (broiled, baked, grilled, boiled).

Rice (preferably brown) and lentils or limas.

Lightly sautéed or steamed mixed vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, snow peas, carrots) or tossed salad with romaine or other dark green varieties of lettuce.

Cakes and lots of fresh fruit.

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35 responses to “Tips to Ensure an Easier Fast

  1. NOTE – you all thought I was the only writer in the family?? 🙂 I read this article way before i met the author and married him…

  2. And, QoH, don’t forget that I was writing before you were born. 🙂

  3. do you really want to advertise your age, my love?? 😉

  4. Sure, I see nothing wrong in telling people that I’m 39.

  5. Thanks Ira! Someone told me that drinking grape juice before a fast can make the fast easier. It sounded like a old wives tale, but I still remember it. Anything sound in this advice?

    (And Hadassah, stop bickering with him in your comments! :-P)

  6. 39 – my eye!!!

    KA – i am not bickering, just merely stating facts. and the KoD always agrees me and tells me I am right….;)

  7. LOL you guys are cute. (The article wasn’t half bad either ;o)

  8. KA, there are no special properties associated with grape juice that I’m aware of that will ease the fast. Having said that, if drinking grape juice is more enjoyable to drink, helping one consume more fluids before the fast than it’s a good idea to drink it.

  9. KoD

    I was explained that Grapes help you retain water (therefore you should eat loads of them before the fast) maybe the popular belief is that grape juice would do the same?

    BTW see how people look for food that help you retain water before a fast and run away from them for the rest of the year 😉

  10. Good point, Emet.

  11. Any idea on how to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms during long fasts?

  12. Two ways: 1) Taper down caffeine-intake several days before fast and 2) caffeine suppositories.

  13. Thanks Ira.
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  14. Thank you Ilana.

    When I wrote this article 20 years ago, no one had written on this topic and, therefore, I spent a great deal of time doing original research. It is very gratifying to me that people still tell me that they fast much better, following this advice.

  15. KoD – everyone does EVERYTHING better when they follow your advice. especially me. you’re a smart (sugar free low cal) cookie!!

  16. Awww shucks, QoH. Aren’t you a little biased?

    And, flattery will get you everywhere.

  17. me? biased? perish the thought…

    if flattery gets me everywhere, there was this really cute pair of shoes i saw….

  18. Very informative post. I think, however, that the menu is for erev Yom Kippur. 🙂

  19. Mother in Israel – instead of the chicken substitute a pasta dish or a lasagna…even grilled fish…

  20. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

  21. Actually,with the lentil and limas you could probably skip the chicken altogether. My friend just showed me a really easy recipe for lentils. I’ll have to get hold of it.

  22. Question for Ira: My nephew says he loves drinking a lot of POWERade (a kosher Gatorade like drink) 12 hours before a fast. He says it make shis fast much easier.

    what are you thoughts?

    thanx.

    Keren

  23. Keren Cohen,
    I’m not sure that drinking PowerAde will benefit more than just the water that is found in it. I do know that it can’t hurt drinking it. In fact, my doctor believes it is beneficial and actually makes sure that he and his family drink PowerAde before each fast.

    Typically, PowerAde is consumed when dehydration can occur such as extreme sports activities and gastrointestinal disorders that cause diarrhea and/or vomiting. For a 24-hour fast, my humble opinion is that it is not necessary but as I mentioned in an earlier response, if it helps one to consume more fluids, then by all means offer it before a fast.

    • Hey KoD! So the only real issue with using pure water or Powerade in large amounts is it throws of you electrolyte balance. Pure water has none and too much can hurt your body. Large quantities of Powerade can make you VERY sick if you are not an athlete. The point of the ‘ades’ is to replace lost electrolytes. If you aren’t losing them and yet drinking them… you overload your system with electrolytes. Why am I an expert? Well, I live in Colorado so water is important but my father overdosed on Gatorade once. It was very bad. Couldn’t urinate and was in a lot of pain.

      I always replace half of my bottle of powerade with water. You end up drinking double the fluids and the sticky sweet taste is cut too. It also helps dilute the electrolytes. And I am a yoga/pilates/weightlifter so I am active. Electrolytes before a fast can help but you also want to make sure your cells are full of water so they don’t draw water from your fat or organs. It’s all about balance. 🙂

      Thanks for this, KoD! Great article!

  24. thanks for the reply!

  25. I’ll be fasting for the first time this year, I’m going to follow all of your advice and hope that it isn’t too awful! 🙂

  26. I can no longer fast but I appreciate the information about protein and water. I intake about 100g of whey isolate based protein and have issues because I don’t drink enough water…now I understand the connection!!!! Thanks KoD!

  27. Pingback: Shana Tovah « In the Pink

  28. Pingback: Some thoughts on Yom Kippur « In the Pink

  29. Regarding hydrating: Yes, it’s important, but you DO need to be careful about drinking too much water. Believe it or not, too much water can not only make you sick, it can kill you. So if you increase your water intake before a fast, make sure you don’t overdo it.

    • Susan – yes you are right but that is in extremes. Also, adding a touch of salt to your water helps balance you out since the issue with water intoxication is a lack of electrolytes in your system (there is also the reverse problem when you drink too much Gatorade and don’t exercise).

      The key is to drink between 50 and 70 oz of water per day. Drinking 2 or 3 gallons without exercising or any sort of electrolyte in your beverage can cause water intoxication. The amount varies per person and depends on your activity level and altitude. A good rule is to drink enough water until your urine is clear and you aren’t thirsty. Drinking consistently throughout the day makes a difference too.

      I try to drink 60oz of water everyday because I live a mile high (Denver, CO). In the week leading up to a fast, I will up that by at least one more 16oz glass. Therefore, my body doesn’t go into thirst or extreme thirst where it uses the fats cells and organs for water. I build up a nice an healthy system so by the time it’s time to fast, I am in a good place and not dehydrated.

      Know this… if you are thirsty? You are already dehydrated!

  30. Are there Tips for After Fast too.
    🙂

    • Yup… you wanna eat everything in sight but you can’t. Pick small portions and take a variety. Your stomach will have shrunk slightly so don’t over do! 🙂 AND DRINK WATER! 🙂

  31. Great post!
    I used to suffer terrible caffeine headaches on fast days even when I went off coffee for a week or more beforehand. Last year I read somewhere that it takes ~24hrs for caffeine to leave your system and withdrawal to kick in. So I switched tactics and now I have a double esspresso minutes before the fast starts. Works great for me 🙂

    Have an easy fast
    gmar chatima tova to all

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