By Mordechai Schmutter
Yom Kippur is, um, fast approaching (sorry!), and even though we all understand the importance of the day, for the most part our main concern is that we’re not going to be eating. So this week, I’m running some Tips to Make Your Fast Faster, but I’m going to do it in list form, so that it’s easier to digest on Yom Kippur.
1. Stay away from kids. This isn’t an option for everyone–especially people who have kids. I remember, back when I used to go to work every day, my wife, who somehow or other almost never fasts, would ask me, “Are you sure you don’t want to take a vacation day?” And I’d say, “Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll survive.” But in the meantime, I was specifically going to work, because whatever it was that I had to do in a nice, quiet office, it was not taking care of kids and feeding them, and peeling them off the walls because it’s a fast day and they’re not sure what else to do with themselves. (“Can we go to the park?” “I don’t know. It’s a fast day.” “Can we have fun?” “Not really.” “Well, what can we do?” “Well, you can eat.” “Okay. Can we have something to eat?”)
And the kids who come to shul are not always much better. Some parents, in an effort to keep their kids quiet, send them in with a bag of Froot Loops that is big enough to support them through a cross-country hike, and the only way the kids have any hope of finishing it all is if they don’t stop eating the entire day, which brings us to . . .
2. Don’t think about food. Part of what Yom Kippur is supposed to be is that you’re not supposed to think about certain things so that you can instead think about other things. But nowadays, all we can think about during a fast is the fact that we’re fasting. We fantasize about foods we don’t even like. (“Hey! Froot Loops!”)
This is mostly because nowadays we’re all spoiled, b’H. In the old days, people were pretty much fasting on most days anyway. There were days that you ate, and days that you didn’t, and Yom Kippur was just one of those days that you didn’t. On the days that they did eat, there was a lot of thinking about food. If you wanted a buttered piece of toast, for example, you had to milk the cows, churn the butter, pasteurize and homogenize it by hand, and then you had to harvest the wheat and somehow magically turn it into bread, which you would then have to toast on a pointy stick over a bonfire. And then you had to mine for salt. The whole thing was a pain in the neck, so most of the time it wasn’t even worth eating unless you were really starving.
Whereas nowadays, we get to eat every day–sometimes several times on the same day–and when we do eat, we don’t even think about it, which is why we can polish off an entire block of cheese while rooting through the refrigerator looking for something to nosh on, and then turn to our spouses and go, “There is nothing to eat in this house!” But on the days that we don’t eat, it’s all we can think about.
But know this: If you think about a food, your body prepares itself to receive that food. Your body is not the brightest bulb, if you don’t mind me saying.
3. Eat smart before the fast. One idea is to vary your meal schedule for a few days beforehand. That way, there is no one time that your body–which, as we mentioned before, is no rocket scientist–will go, “Hey, it’s mealtime down here! Twelve o’clock! Hello?” Also, don’t eat a huge meal right before the fast, because your body will be like, “Oh, we’re eating huge meals from now on? Great!” And don’t eat Chinese, because you’ll be hungry three hours later.
4. Taper off on addictive substances, such as coffee, sugar, chips, cookies, and chocolate. Suddenly denying yourself these things might give you a withdrawal headache, so experts say to start tapering off about a week before, which I guess would mean that you get a headache on Tzom Gedalyah.
Of course, if it were that easy to taper off six times a year, we wouldn’t be addicted to these substances in the first place.
5. Consider fasting pills. These are magical pills that you take before the fast, and they have a time-release mechanism that can take care of any headaches that you’d get, say, 12 hours in. I have to wonder why they were invented, though. Were they invented for fast days, or are there people out there who just generally say, “Well, I’m feeling fine now, but I’m going to have a headache later”? Maybe it’s for chaperoning your kids’ field trips. Also, on the topic of weird solutions that they didn’t have in the olden days . . .
6. “Caffeine pants” are two words that should not be that close together in a sentence, one would think. But this is an actual thing, made by a company called Lytess. The pants are infused with caffeine, which is supposedly absorbed through the skin, and the main purpose of the pants is to take inches off your waist, although personally, I would hike the pants up a little higher, because the extra inches I’m trying to lose are in my gut. Not that the pants really work anyway. If you read the fine print, it says that you lose inches, not pounds, and it only works if you wear it eight hours a day for three weeks, which means that in addition to losing inches, you might also find that you get more privacy than you used to. But I say, just because it doesn’t work to help you lose weight doesn’t mean it won’t work to give you caffeine.
And don’t worry, you wouldn’t be the only one wearing them. Look around your shul. Do you see what everyone’s wearing? Kittels. What do you think they’re wearing under their kittels?
7. Drink before the fast. And make sure to drink it little by little–not in one water-cooler-sized bottle dangled over your mouth ten minutes before it starts. Gatorade and Powerade are supposed to be the most effective; they basically taste like Kool-Aid, but without the flavor. The manufacturers put in just enough flavor to ruin the water. Either way, make sure to drink enough, even if you’re wearing caffeine pants.
8. Take a nap. The prevailing minhag is to take a nap during the break, so that, at least for that hour or so, you’re not thinking about food. Also, every time you wake up, your body, which I’m frankly surprised remembers to bring your head to shul, will think that it’s morning again–time for breakfast–and you never eat breakfast.
9. Smell some fruit. A lot of kids will come home from school with various fruits with cloves stuck in them, because this is what they’re doing with their healthy snacks. Or maybe it’s because there’s not much else the morah can make with them for Yom Kippur that doesn’t involve extremely fragile paper slippers that won’t make it to shul, especially if your child is also lugging a cooler full of food. The idea is that you should smell it if you feel like you’re going to faint, but most of the people who smell it are really just doing it out of curiosity.
10. Don’t gorge after the fast. Your body, after 25 hours, has finally caught up with the program and realized that it’s been fasting, and now it’s decided to prepare itself for whatever food you’re ever going to give it by slowing down your metabolism for whatever you eat next to make it stick with you longer. In other words, if you gorge, you will no longer be able to get the belt closed on your kittel. Hence caffeine pants. In fact, I would suggest wearing several pairs, and, if you’re really worried about caffeine headaches, wearing them on your head. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.