Tips for Healthy Yom Kippur Fasting

If you're observing Yom Kippur this year, chances are you’re fasting from sundown on September 24 through nightfall on September 25.

Fasting is an important part of many religious traditions, and can usually be accomplished safely. However, if you have any health conditions — including pregnancy, breast-feeding, or diabetes or another illness — it’s best to consult with your religious leader and/or your doctor first.

And if you are taking any medications, be sure to ask your health care provider if you can safely skip them or whether they can be taken without food and fluids. If you feel unwell during a fast, rest, consider sipping some juice, and consult a clinician if your symptoms do not improve.

Please consider these additional tips, below.

Successful Yom Kippur Fasting

Some say a fast shouldn’t be easy. But, neither should fasting be so difficult that one can’t concentrate on prayer. 

The following suggestions may help your fast day go more smoothly.

Before the fast:

  • Get well hydrated.  Be sure to drink plenty of fluids during the day or two preceding Yom Kippur to minimize dehydration.
  • Eat reasonably well. Don’t overeat, but do be sure to eat normal meals and get sufficient protein and carbohydrate foods the day before.
  • Decrease salty and spicy foods, which would only increase your thirst later while fasting. Obviously salty foods include salted pretzels, crackers, and chips; pickles, olives, and other salty condiments; regular canned foods; and prepared soups and stews. (It’s hard to entirely avoid salt unless you cook from scratch, but you may be able to decrease it enough to be helpful.)
  • Decrease caffeine from coffee, tea, soda, and other sources during the week preceding Yom Kippur. Otherwise, caffeine “withdrawal” can produce a headache that will make fasting more difficult. (Some religious authorities allow use of caffeine in pill form, but this may be less desirable solution.)

During the fast:

  • Bring light layers of clothing to help you adjust to the ambient temperature and not feel too warm or too cold.
  • Walk around and get fresh air as possible, but avoid any strenuous activity. You may actually feel better if you move around rather than lie down.
  • Sniffing spices is allowed on Yom Kippur and can be restorative!

After the fast:

  • Break your fast by first drinking fluids, which will be absorbed quickly on an empty stomach and rehydrate you.
  • Progress to regular foods, but try not to eat too rapidly.
  • Remember what you did that helped you through the fast, in order to recall those strategies next time!

If you cannot fast:

  • Medical conditions and medications prevent some people from fasting safely. Please discuss any concerns or questions with your medical provider and/or rabbi.
  • A meditation for one who cannot fast, by Rabbi S.Y. Weintraub, can be found at the Ritualwell website.