Cut down on caffeine for a more fabulous fast

  • Howard Feldman 2018
I have never fasted well. From a young age, the mere thought that I would have to do so filled me with anxiety and stress. It was even more frustrating for me that my experience wasn’t the same as others, who regard a day without food as a mere inconvenience.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Sep 26, 2019

I dealt with this in my column in the SA Jewish Report a few weeks ago. The response I received was surprising, as I hadn’t realised how many others struggle through a fast day. In fact, for weeks after I wrote the piece, people came up to me to discuss their fasting experience.

In my column, I also mentioned that I had engaged a “fasting coach”, and many people asked me to share his advice. I need to make it clear that the advice contained below is advice that I have been given, and that anyone wishing to follow it does so in the full knowledge that it’s not medical advice given to them specifically. Further, anyone with a medical condition should rather speak to their medical practitioner.

Dr Anton Meyberg is a close friend who also happens to be a specialist physician pulmonologist. He doesn’t have “fasting coach” on the door to his office, but has guided me over the past few years. With his permission, here are some of his thoughts about improving the fasting experience.

Some basics about fasting: sugar is our primary energy source which we get in the form of carbohydrates. The liver and muscle store the glucose, and release it into the bloodstream when the body requires it.

According to Meyberg, “During a fasting period, after about eight to 10 hours, the liver uses the last of its glucose reserve – this is when a process known as gluconeogenesis develops. This is basically the generation of glucose from non-carbohydrate stores in the body such as fat and skeletal muscle. Gluconeogenesis then increases the calories that body burns/uses.” This is why one needs to be prepared for 25 hours of fasting.

For a week before the fast: reduce caffeine. Dependency on caffeine can have a significant impact on the fast day. Withdrawal can lead to headaches, migraines, and nausea. Reduce your coffee or Coke intake each day (I generally cut back on one cup a day) so that at least 48 hours before the fast is caffeine free. A word of caution is that so called “decaf” coffee as well as many other drinks contain some level of caffeine. So too does green tea, and most non-herbal teas.

The day leading up to the fast: drink at least 10 glasses of water. Eat a banana in the morning, and another later on in the day. Eat healthy carbs like rice and potato. Start the fast with protein and carbohydrates, and make sure that the food you eat during the day prior to it isn’t too salty. That means no biltong or other foods with a high-sodium content.

Breaking the fast: Meyberg recommends rehydrate products for people who find fasting difficult. He also suggests having a small meal initially, and an hour or so after breaking the fast, seeing what your body can handle. A “sugar dump” can cause real discomfort. It’s a good idea to try and avoid this.

He reiterates that fasting should ideally be individualised. Each person is different. “If someone has specific medical issues such as diabetes, kidney problems, or is on multiple medications, this will most certainly not be the correct advice. Rather, consult your doctor about what’s best for your needs.”

One of the difficulties with struggling to fast is that it dominates every aspect of a day like Yom Kippur. It becomes difficult to focus on the other aspects of the day. Perhaps if we are all better prepared this year, those of us who do battle can enjoy some respite, and be able to use the time for introspection and prayer. May we all be blessed with a shana tovah.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Sandra 26 Sep
    Brilliant advice from your Doctor 
    I too will follow 
    Thank you for sharing 


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