There are six fast days on the Jewish calendar. The two major ones, Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av are for about 25 hours. The other four, although still important days, last from pre-dawn until night fall. This leads directly to our first tip.
- Wake Up Early. If you find even the shorter fast days challenging, consider waking up pre-fast for an appropriate breakfast. This works especially well for the Tenth of Tevet fast that usually occurs in January and starts around 5:30 am (New York time). It doesn’t work as well during the summer-time fast, the 17th of Tammuz, which can start at 4:15, or earlier.
- Hydrate! Drinking is also prohibited on all Jewish fast days, so it is important to properly hydrate, especially before the summer fast days. Beware of caffeinated beverages as they are diuretics and drinking them will result in you being less hydrated, not more hydrated. Some people like to drink Gatorade or Powerade to ingest some nutrients. Water is always a great option.
- Cut Back on Caffeine. If you drink multiple coffees or caffeinated beverages every day, suddenly reducing your caffeine intake to zero during a fast day can result in a bad headache. Tapering down your caffeine intake several days prior to the fast will likely reduce or eliminate the headache.
- Food Choices. Stay away from salty foods, or any type of food that you know from previous experience makes you thirsty. “Low carb diets” may be all the rage, but when you are eating pre-fast carbs are important. A meal that combines carbs and protein will give you energy for a longer period than only eating foods with protein.
- Don’t Over-Eat. It might sound counter-intuitive but eating much more than you would ordinarily eat, will actually make your fast harder, not easier. Eating a substantial amount expands your stomach, and that will complicate your fast.
- Focus. I have a friend who divides the twenty-five hour fast days into hours and percentages. Every hour is assigned 4% of the fast, every 15 minutes, 1%. He then spends much of the day updating himself about the percentage of the fast that has passed. I can’t argue about the math. However, this strategy guarantees that you will spend the entire day focusing on the fact that you are fasting.
I think a better approach might be to emulate the Sage who said that we “don’t really have any fast days. On Tisha B’Av we are mourning the Temple and are too sad to eat, and on Yom Kippur we are like angels and don’t need to eat”. Although this a very lofty level, beyond most of us, it suggests an approach that we should consider. Instead of focusing on fasting, focus on the reasons we are fasting, and the fast will pass much more quickly, and it just might be more meaningful as well.