When looking at fast days on the calendar, we instinctively think that it’s a great opportunity for weight loss. What could be better to lower the number on the scale than a full day of no eating or drinking?
We have expectations of dropping 3-5 pounds in a single day. Obviously we are not fasting for this purpose, but this becomes a “side benefit” for some.
However, as most of us already know, that’s not the reality. Although our body does get cleansed from abstaining from eating or drinking for either a 12 hour or 25 hour period, it does not mean that we will necessarily be healthier from the fast itself.
When we look at the logistical aspects of the fast days, there are really 3 dimensions we can analyze: the pre-fast, the fast itself, and the post-fast.
When we first became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, we would be terrified to go a whole day without energizing our bodies. We looked up every trick in the book to prepare well, glanced at the clock every 5 minutes during the fast, and stuffed our faces until the exact second the clock turned the right zman. As we aged, we learned that fasting for a full day is not the end of the world (leaving aside real medical concerns), and that it becomes more bearable as we get older and mature.
When preparing for a fast day, it is crucial to hydrate ourselves very well the day before. Water is an amazing asset that we can utilize in providing our body and our mind with the proper energy to be productive and efficient.
Scientific data shows that beverages with caffeine, not only do not hydrate our body, but in actuality they dehydrate us. Although technically there is liquid entering our system, it does not provide our bodies with the hydrating properties that our body requires. There is nothing wrong with having caffeinated liquids, as I’m a big coffee drinker like many others, but we need to understand that the water in the coffee mug is not hydrating us.
What are hydrating liquids? The best hydration our body can receive is water itself. In addition to regular water, there are other options that we can use, being that not everyone enjoys drinking water plain. Adding cut up fruit to our water bottles is a healthy way to add natural flavors to our drinks. One can also look for plain or flavored seltzer as hydrating liquids.
For those that struggle with drinking water, sweeteners such as Mio drops and Crystal Light packs are also great additions to one’s intake, although they’re not as healthy as water. The number one recommendation that I give to my clients prior to fast days is Powerade Zero, as it replenishes the electrolytes in our bodies.
How much hydration do we actually need? This is an important question during the whole year, and especially before a fast day. Studies show that we need 64 oz. (8 cups) for proper hydration. However, there are medical recommendations for people to drink up to half of their body weight in ounces. What does this mean in practicality? Let’s say someone weighs 200 pounds. They should be drinking 100 oz. of water (12.5 cups), someone weighing 240 lbs should drink up to 120 oz. (15 cups). Although this may cause us to need to find the restroom more frequently, it’s an excellent way of flushing waste out of our bodies and assists with digestion.
(Those with medical conditions that limit their fluid intake should consult with their physicians.)
When planning our water intake, we should be spacing out our drinking throughout the day. It has a greater impact on our body if we spread out the drinking periodically throughout our day instead of chugging 64 oz. in the hour before the fast begins.
Regarding eating before the fast, we need to focus on what keeps us full so that will last for the duration of the fast. It’s important to focus on adding protein to our meal plan for the day before, as protein keeps us full longer. This does not mean that we should stuff our faces with extra protein, but adding one or two added portions of healthy proteins is a great way to keep ourselves full for the fast itself. I personally have had plenty of fasts prior where I have stuffed myself right before the fast itself and felt gross in the beginning few hours of the fast day. I have learned from my mentors, as well as from experience, that adding a few added portions of healthy proteins to our pre fast meals, will prevent bloating in the beginning and we will feel full for the duration of the fast.
Tip: Try to make sure that your last meal before the fast has some added protein options, such as fish, eggs, poultry, or nuts.
To wake up early or not wake up early, that is the question. I have come across people from both camps that insist that their methodology is more effective. Different people have different experiences in that realm. We have plenty of fasts that we can experiment with to see which strategy works better for us. I am not aware of any health ramifications either way, so do whatever works better for you.
During the fast:
During the fast, our bodies are experiencing a severe lack of incoming energy. As a result, it’s important for us to try to minimize the amount of time that we are in a heated environment, as our bodies exert energy when they are sweating. Additionally, it’s important to minimize the amount of energy we are expending with physical activity. While this comes naturally to many people towards the end of the fast, having the awareness in the beginning of the day may positively impact how we feel towards evening.
When the clock strikes the zman for breaking the fast, our natural instinct is to eat everything in sight. We justify to ourselves that because we didn’t eat the entire day we have “free calories” to eat whatever we’d like.
Although we didn’t consume any calories the entire day, we need to keep in mind two things, the short term and the long term. The short term impact of gluttonous indulging is the heavy bloated feeling we will feel for a few hours after the fast. The long term impact of overindulging is formation of a habit of consuming large portions of food in a short time span after not eating prior.
Our body requires a set amount of calories per day, varying on a person’s gender, height, and activity level, but if we develop the habit of eating in a fast manner that may transfer into other times in our lives. If we sit through a long davening and are presented with a kiddush, we may continue the habit we have developed and eat incessantly because we “skipped” a meal or two. Behavioral aspects are crucial when working on long term success with a healthy lifestyle.
ksiva v’chasima tova!