Monday, July 19, 2010

From the Archives: Preparing for a Day of Fasting

From sundown Monday until sundown on Tuesday I will be observing the Jewish day of fasting called Tisha B'Av. Translated, Tisha B'Av means the 9th day of the month of Av. While not as holy as Yom Kippur, Tisha B'Av is a sad and solemn day on the Jewish Calendar. We mourn the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the second by the Romans in 70 CE.

I will not be working on Tuesday instead, I will spend some time in synagogue praying and reciting mournful poems (called dirges). While I am home I am allowed to use the air conditioner in my house. Not eating and drinking for 25 hours is hard, especially when it's hot out. But there is a way to prepare so the fast is not unbearable. I've re-posted this article several times since I've started this blog usually right before Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar and Tisha B'Av. I'll re-post it here with some modifications for this year.

To learn more about Tisha B'Av, click here.

Preparing for a Day of Fasting

A question I hear over and over again from co-workers and others who have never fasted for 25 hours is "how do you prepare for a fast?" Over the years, I've figured out what and how to eat the day before the fast.  As a runner, I couldn't help but  notice some similarities between the way I prepare for a fast and the way I fuel for a long run or marathon.

It may come as no surprise that the main component of a pre fast meal is complex carbohydrates. A group of Israeli doctors studied 5 men and 8 women between the ages of 19 and 64, all healthy. All spent their fasts indoors and staying mostly in air-conditioned rooms. The researchers wanted to know whether the discomfort of a food-and-water fast could be influenced by the composition of the pre-fast meal, and if so, what basic nutritional components would promote the easiest fasting. Their findings, summarized below, were published in the September issue of the Israel Medical Association Journal.

They found that the protein-rich meal created most discomfort and side effects during the fast. Weight and blood pressure decreased at the end of the fasts that followed each of the three types of meals, and heart rates increased after the high-fat and high-carbohydrate meals but not after the protein meal. There was a 40 percent increase in blood urea nitrogen and more excretion of sodium and creatinine after the high-fat meal and least after the high-carbohydrate meal.

Water is better conserved when one eats a meal high in complex carbohydrates, such as rice, pasta, beans, and other pulses. When protein breaks down, however, more water is excreted as urine to eliminate nitrogenous metabolic products from the body. (source article: Jerusalem Post, September 25, 2001)

Now that I've mentioned some scientific findings, here is how I will be preparing for the fast:

During the day:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
  • I ate a substantial breakfast of cereal , fruit, and whole wheat toast
  • I will eat a light lunch in order to save my appetite for the pre fast meal
Pre Fast Meal:

  • Potato soup. This is one of my favorite soups. It is a hearty, "stick to you bones" kind of soup. Soup is also hydrating and filling.
  • Israeli Couscous
  • Grilled Salmon. On Yom Kippur I ate chicken. We eat fish before Tisha B'Av because it is forbidden to eat meat or poultry between the first day of Av and Tisha B'Av. The reason is that during this time the sacrifices and wine libations in the Holy Temple ceased. 
  • Assorted steamed veggies
Since I am not a coffee drinker, I do not have to worry about caffeine withdrawal. If you do drink coffee, start cutting back a few days before the fast. Also, do not drink alcohol with your pre-fast meal since alcohol causes your body to get rid of water.

Lastly, I wanted to briefly mention the post fast meal. The key here is not to eat too quickly. I usually start with a glass of orange juice. The tradition in my family is to eat cold noodles with cottage cheese. My dad and wife like to include cinnamon.

"One who mourns Jerusalem will merit to see her happiness, as the verse (Isaiah 66:10) promises: 'Rejoice with her greatly, all who mourn for her'"—Talmud Taanit 30b.

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