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Tips for a Safe and Healthy Fast Day

Bayit Shlishi 6.8.19

Above image - dreaming of the Holy Temple, which we all lament for on the fast day of Tisha B'Av

This year, Tisha B'Av - the day of the worst calamities that befell the Jewish people - falls on sundown, August 10, and continues until the stars appear on Sunday evening, August 11, 2019.

Since this is a fast day during the year's warmest weather, it's a challenge. A person could be especially susceptible to headaches, extreme weakness, dehydration and hypoglycemia, when blood-sugar levels fall dangerously low. With a few precautions and proper preparation for the fast, the dangers can be avoided and the fast can actually be safe and healthy.

Before the fast:

  1. Beginning with Friday morning, 36 hours before the fast, try drinking a glass of water every hour.
  2. On Thursday night and Friday, eat salty foods (this is no mistake!) such as pickles, olives and goat cheese. These are all the foods that people with edema avoid, for they help retain fluid and therefore prevent dehydration. To avoid thirst, stop eating these foods on the day that the fast begins, namely all day Shabbat (Saturday).
  3. Avoid sugary and starchy foods this Shabbat, for they have a high glycemic index (GI) and therefore cause a deeper GI Levelsplunge in blood sugar levels shortly after eating (see adjacent graphic).
  4. Eat plenty of good quality protein - eggs, fish and high quality pasture-fed (organic, if available) beef and poultry - protein is satiating and will provide slow-release energy during the fast, since they are complex food stuffs that require longer time to digest.
  5. Stay away from coffee and caffeine for 24 hours before the beginning of the fast. Drink herb tea instead.
  6. My favorite rule of thumb is to focus on eating foods that are as unprocessed as possible, not only making the coming fast easier and healthier but promoting better blood sugar balance and better digestion, both of which lead to better weight control. 

After the fast:

Be careful, for after the fast, your blood sugar levels are at their lowest. The worst thing you can do (a cardinal nutrition sin that many congregations commit) is to dive into the coke, fruit juices and pastries the moment the fast is over. This drives blood sugar through the roof and creates a shock to the body; this could actually trigger diabetes, Heaven forbid. What's more, drastic rises and falls in blood sugar cause headaches, nausea and fatigue. In order to avoid this, takes the following precautions:

  1. Break your fast with a glass of ice-water and high-fiber foods such as celery sticks or whole grain/bran crackers.
  2. Add to the above a portion of protein, such as cottage cheese or goat cheese, which will also slow the rise of your blood sugar level.
  3. Avoid all sugary substances, soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes and pastries - these are downright dangerous at the end of a fast.
  4. Drink at least 2 glasses of water an hour for the first 4 hours after the fast. This will replenish the body's fluids and slow the increase of blood sugar levels.
  5. Don't eat a heavier meal until at least an hour after breaking your fast in the above manner; preferably, do some light exercise (like a 30-minute walk) before having a heavier meal.

Feel free to pass the above advice along to friends and family. Even better, send them this link so that they can subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We have no doubt that the above tips will not only make your fast more bearable, but safe and healthy as well! Every blessing, and may we soon see our rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem, speedy and in our day, amen!

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