Preparing For and Breaking a Fast

by in Healthy Holidays, Healthy Tips, September 11, 2009

With both Ramadan and Yom Kippur this month, many of you may be fasting to honor those events. Check out what you should eat before and after a fast to maintain strength, regain energy and avoid an upset tummy.

Special Days
In the Jewish religion, Yom Kippur is a holiday focused on atonement and forgiveness. To honor it, followers don’t eat food or drink for about 25 hours. Ramadan, a Islamic holiday that began in late August, is a time for reflection and devotion. Those practicing a Ramadan fast don’t eat during the daylight hours for a whole month. Whether you’re following a religious fast or considering a cleanse, picking the right things to eat before and afterward is essential.

Before the Fast
Leading up to your fast, be sure not to skip meals (there’s no need to “practice”) and eat well so you can be in tip-top shape while you fast. My family observes a Yom Kippur fast; just before that 25-hour period begins, I eat a dinner that’s high in fiber, has lots of nutrients and tons of fluids. I also stick to bland foods and avoid anything I know will upset my stomach.

A typical pre-fast meal would include brown rice, baked chicken, a cooked veggie like carrots or broccoli, a tossed salad and fresh fruits for dessert. Those fruits, veggies and brown rice provide fiber to help me feel fuller a little longer and, of course, offer tons of vitamins and minerals. Drinking water and hydrating yourself before a fast is important. If you’re serving a family meal before a fast begins, keep a pitcher or two of water on the table so you don’t forget to drink.

With Ramadan, you are allowed to eat meals after sunset and before sunrise. You may have to shift your usual dining hours and get up earlier for a proper breakfast — be sure to do it, if you can. A good before-fast meal might be a bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh fruit, a scrambled egg on the side and a glass of milk.

A Few Words of Warning
If you’re used to downing several cups of coffee a day, be aware that you’ll probably feel tired or headache-y because of caffeine withdrawal during your fast. To help prep, try slowly cutting down on caffeine for about a week before the fast.

Fasting isn’t for everyone. Pregnant or nursing women, people who are sick and kids should skip it. If you have a medical condition or take certain medications, definitely check with a registered dietitian and doctor to make sure fasting won’t put your health at risk or affect your medicines.

Can I Exercise?
Gym bunnies should take it easy during fasting. If you’re doing the 25-hour Yom Kippur fast, forgo the exercise that day. For shorter, ongoing fasts like during Ramadan, stick to light activity; try taking a long walk with the family or the dog to keep your energy up. If you have the urge to exercise, do it in the early morning. Eating a well-balanced meal afterward (the before-fast breakfast) is also essential. You can exercise in the evening, but do it a few hours after your post-sunset meal.

After the Fast
So now you’re starving, right? Well, the last thing you want to do is stuff your face after you finish your fast. You will get a bad (and I mean BAD) stomach ache. It’s important to eat slowly, especially after longer fasts. I like to break fast with a hot cup of tea with a teaspoon of sugar. I’ll then move onto something low in fiber, which is easier on the stomach, like a half bagel with tuna fish or a hard-boiled egg. I’ll wait about 30 minutes and continue by eating some fruits, veggies or the other half of the bagel. Another suggestion is warm chicken followed by small portions of turkey breast with mashed potatoes and string beans.

TELL US: Do you fast? What are your secrets for getting through it?

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