The notorious day of Tisha B’Av is is the day when our Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, among other calamities. This year, it falls on Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at sundown. It lasts until 35 minutes after sundown on Thursday, July 27, 2023.
The Year’s Most Challenging Fast
Since Tisha B’Av is a very warm-weather 25-hour fast, it’s the most challenging of all our fast days. As opposed to Yom Kippur, which is a day of joy, Tisha B’Av is our national day of lamentation and mourning. So emotionally, it’s far more difficult than Yom Kippur.
On Tisha B’Av, a person could be especially susceptible to headaches, extreme weakness, dehydration and hypoglycemia. That’s when blood-sugar levels fall dangerously low. With a few precautions and proper preparation for the fast, we can avoid the dangers. That way, the fast can actually be safe and healthy. Here’s the practical advice you need for a meaningful Tisha B’Av fast, without any bodily suffering that might make the day even more difficult than it already is.
Before the fast:
- 24 hours before the beginning of the fast, begin drinking a glass of water during every hour that you’re awake.
- On Tuesday night, eat salty natural foods like olives, pickles and herring. These are all the foods that people with edema avoid, for they help retain fluid and therefore prevent dehydration. To avoid thirst, stop eating these foods 12 hours before the fast begins, namely all day until sundown.
- Avoid sugary and starchy foods in the meal before the fast, for they have a high glycemic index (GI) and therefore cause a deeper plunge in blood sugar levels shortly after eating.
- Eat plenty of good quality protein – eggs, fish and legumes. Have a salad also with lots of leafy veggies. Since they are high in fiber, they provide slow-release energy during the fast. As opposed to manufactured foods with their high contents of white flour and white sugar, natural food sources are complex food stuffs that require longer time to digest.
- Stay away from coffee and caffeine for 24 hours before the beginning of the fast. Drink herb tea instead and plenty of water.
- My favorite rule of thumb is to focus on eating foods that are as unprocessed as possible They not only make the coming fast easier and healthier but promote better blood sugar balance and better digestion, both of which lead to better weight control.
- Don’t gorge before the fast. It doesn’t make the fast easier and only creates discomfort and brain fog.
- An hour before the beginning of the fast, eat a portion of watermelon. Finish eating 30 minutes before the fast. 15 minutes before the fast, floss teeth and rinse your mouth, then drink a final glass of water.
After the fast:
Be careful, for after the fast, your blood sugar levels are at their lowest. The worst thing you can do is to dive into the soft drinks, fruit juices and pastries that many congregations serve the moment the fast is over. This drives blood sugar through the roof and creates a shock to the body that could actually trigger diabetes, Heaven forbid. What’s more, drastic rises and falls in blood sugar cause headaches, nausea and fatigue. In order to avoid this, takes the following precautions:
- Break your fast with a glass of ice-water and high-fiber foods such as celery sticks, homemade low-sugar oatmeal cookies or whole grain/bran crackers.
- A few minutes later, add to the above a portion of protein, such as cottage cheese or goat cheese, which will also slow the rise of your blood sugar level.
- Avoid all substances with added sugar. These include soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes and pastries.
- Drink at least 2 glasses of water an hour for the first 4 hours after the fast. This will replenish the body’s fluids and slow the increase of blood sugar levels.
- Don’t eat a heavier meal until at least an hour after breaking your fast in the above manner; preferably, do some light exercise like taking a 30-minute walk before having a heavier meal.
Consult Your Physician and Your Rabbi
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you take medication, ask your physician if you are able to fast. Then, consult your rabbi and give him the physician’s opinion. Fasting is not a mitzva for those who should not fast.
Our sages promise that those who mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem and Zion will live to see the rejoicing of Zion and Jerusalem (Bava Basra 60b).
Feel free to pass the above advice along to friends and family. Even better, send them this link so that they can subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We have no doubt that the above tips will not only make your fast more bearable, but safe and healthy as well! Every blessing, LB