Surely a fast day is the easiest day to diet? After all, a Jewish fast day means no eating or drinking at all!  I remember having a friend of a different religion at school telling me that she was fasting, but that meant she could eat like only fruits and vegetables. That in my book isn’t a fast!!!

Today is Taanis Esther, the Fast of Esther, which is usually the day before Purim, but because Purim is Sunday this year and we don’t fast on Shabbos, it gets moved to the Thursday before. Which is today.  Jewish fasts have two different lengths, from dusk to nightfall, about 25 hours (Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av) and from sunrise to nightfall, which varies according to the time of year and is all the other fast days, including today.

The real issue isn’t the fast itself, it is the before and after. The argument says, “hey, you’ll be fasting tomorrow, you need to fill up your reserves.” And then, “I’m so hungry, I haven eaten all day, I must eat the nearest food as quickly as possible and make sure I replenish myself from not having eaten all day.” It is not so difficult to find that between the before and after fast meals, a person can eat double the calories they would have eaten if they’d eaten normally that day.

My advice?

  1. Ensure that for the days leading up to the fast you are well hydrated. This doesn’t mean an hour before the fast begins chugging down 4 litres of water unto you feel sick. It means being fully hydrated over a longer period of time. 
  2. What you ready for the before fast meal just needs to be a regular normal meal, in terms of quantity. No need to gorge yourself, you’ll feel worse for it.
  3. If it is a short fast, have a drink with you to drink during the night and get up before the fast starts to have breakfast. Porridge is an excellent choice.
  4. Prepare something to eat after the fast either before it starts or early in the day when you aren’t feeling the ill effects of fasting. Then after the fast you can just eat whatever it is without thinking too hard. Use your slow cooker, or even just make a sandwich. The aim is to have something that as soon as you can eat is ready to eat. No need to do any more preparation other than make a brocha (blessing) and eat it.
  5. If you have children you are looking after, give them the easiest food you can, and have a liberal hand with treats (as recommended by Rebbetzin Heller, I think in this shiur). 

    And what about when you go into the fast not optimally? Let’s give a not so hypothetical situation that may have happened in a house not so far from where I am currently writing this. Let’s just imagine that one of your children is unwell in the night, or just to  shake up the mix, two. So you go into the fast sleep deprived, you didn’t get up to eat because you were too tired, and then you have the company of an exuberant 3 year old who despite having a high temperature and an upset stomach would still like to play all day.

    What do you do then?

    You do your best. Making something for after the fast is still a good idea. Something easy and quick. Not fancy. Thankfully, exuberant 3 year old did in fact fall asleep for a bit and I was able to both put on a pot of chicken soup (which takes just minutes to do) and also do some necessary baking and other food prep for Purim and shabbos.

    A fast day is actually a brilliant day to bake on because you simply won’t lick the bowl and beaters, you won’t secretly try the results. The temptation just isn’t there. When it is so black and white with eating, it is easy to not eat the wrong thing. If only when it is more grey I could be more principled.

    So what did I eat today at 6.36pm when the fast went out?

    Admittedly I did have one and a half hamantaschen, and half a cupcake, but then I had two slices of toast with a bowl of chicken soup with noodles (and then a few more noodles).   

    This added up to about 900 kcal.  It would have been so easy to eat another bowl of soup, some more bread, some fruit etc etc etc and eat 2000 kcal or more. But I’ve been writing this post on and off all day and I needed to practise what I preach.