The First Step To Gently Breaking A Yom Kippur Fast

Returning each autumn in September or October, Yom Kippur falls between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot on the Jewish calendar. Known as the Day of Atonement, Jewish people repent for their sins by fasting at sundown until nightfall the next day. One also abstains from wearing leather shoes, washing, or using lotion. During those roughly 26 hours, no food or drink, including water, is consumed. For people accustomed to eating several meals daily, intermittent fasting can be jarring on their system, especially if they haven't been resting. And if you go to service, you likely won't be.

To ease your body out of its fast and prevent unwanted digestive issues from arising, resist stuffing your mouth with anything in sight when the fast breaks. Instead, start by first hydrating with a warm (or room temperature) beverage to replace lost fluids. Not drinking water can cause constipation and lethargy, so jump-start your digestive system with a cup of strong tea or apricot water. Even if you don't usually indulge, add a natural sweetener like honey or agave to replace the glucose your body has been burning and refuel the brain. A cup of clear soup, like broth, zapped in the microwave is also a nice hydrating boost.

When you're ready to eat solids, do so slowly, giving your body time to adjust. Although you've earned that t'beet or sweet kugel, your body will be happier if you introduce simpler, water-forward food first.

Preparing to fast and breaking your fast

To help mitigate any adverse side effects of fasting, like being hangry, prepare your body the day before by consuming food high in water, like fruit and vegetables, to stay hydrated. High-fiber vegetables and whole-grain starches will also keep you feeling full longer, as will high-protein foods like beans, lentils, and rice. Similarly, avoid overeating or eating too much salt and sugar, as this can dehydrate you.

Traditionally, Yom Kippur culminates by breaking the fast with a potluck-style dinner that will naturally slow down eating since you're also catching up with friends and family. Simple sugars are easily digested, so opt for fresh fruit, which will also help with hydration, or a traditional bagel platter that's easy to assemble. 

Although raw veggies are a healthy option, they are high in fiber, which may cause bloating and gas immediately following a fast, so stick to cooked or puréed vegetables to be safe. Try the easy-to-eat Sephardic staple, sopa de huevos y limon (a citrusy chicken soup), popular across the Balkans, Turkey, and even Greece after the Yom Kippur fast. The key is to listen to your body as you eat. Give yourself plenty of time between different foods to know if something is giving you digestive discomfort. 

If you have an eating disorder, type 1 diabetes, are pregnant or breastfeeding, under 13 years old, or recovering from surgery, you should speak to your rabbi and doctor before fasting.