Content warning: this article discusses fasting.

Every year, Jews celebrate their holiest holiday, Yom Kippur. It’s a day for the Jewish community to reflect on their past year, sins they may have made, to forgive themselves and others, and start fresh again. That reflection takes hard work because during this day, many Jews fast from sunset to the next sunset, a full 25 hours of an empty stomach. Doesn’t sound very easy, right? Well, Jews do it each year in honor of forgiveness and commitment to change their behaviors into becoming a better person, and fasting is a key factor to the process. 

If you’re a Jewish college student who needs some tips on fasting this year, I got you covered. Long classes, studying for hours on end, and waiting to break the fast for what feels like eternity can make this day hard, to say the least. As a senior in college who practices Judaism, I wanted to speak with Jewish dietitians about how to prepare for fasting, how to manage your hunger throughout the day, and what to eat to satisfyingly break the fast. I talked with Jewish registered dietitians Micah Siva, a dietitian and chef based in San Francisco, Alex Raymond, an eating disorder dietitian, and Shira Hochstadter, a weight inclusive dietitian, and they gave us insightful tips to have a meaningful and successful fast.

Fuel your body the days prior

“If you are fasting for Yom Kippur, we recommend making sure to fuel enough the days prior to the holiday and after the holiday,” Raymond explained. “If you have symptoms that may signify that your health is in danger — lightheadedness, blurred vision, dizziness — even though you’re respecting your religion, still listen to your body.”

Siva suggests, if your body permits you to, to eat very abundantly the day and evening before. “If fasting is in your custom, and it is safe to do so, filling up on a protein and fiber rich meal the night before is advised to help keep your blood sugars as stable as possible, as well as getting a good night’s sleep, because ‘hunger’ and ‘fullness’ hormones are directly impacted by sleep,” she said. Sleeping well will set you up for a good day. 

Avoid restaurants and/or dining halls throughout your fast

My next tip is arguably the most important one yet. Don’t go places where food will be around. Not only will going to restaurants be hard as you are fasting, but you should spend this day with family, friends, and yourself, to reflect on yourself as best as you can. Going to a restaurant might be an unnecessary distraction during this holiday.

Always listen to your body

Now, even though you aren’t supposed to consume anything on this day, in college or if you work, it can be unrealistic to not fuel your body with something. If you want to cut yourself some slack, you can create personal rules for yourself like drinking some water or chewing gum. I’m not the most religious person, so for me, these rules are okay. I still observe the holiday the best I can and do what works for me. Stay true to yourself and your beliefs. 

“You can absolutely honor Yom Kippur without fasting by spending time with loved ones, attending services, and reflecting on the meaning of the holiday,” Siva said. So, if fasting just isn’t realistic for you this year, you can still honor the holiday in a way that works for you.

“Judaism puts the health of the person as the first priority. This means that one’s physician and care team should be involved in whether or not fasting is observed,” Siva continued. “Some find that eating smaller meals or snacks that day, in lieu of traditional meals, is a ‘happy medium’ for those who are not advised to fast.” Whatever your body needs, listen to it.

“It's important to keep in mind that if you think fasting is going to trigger eating disorder thoughts or physical side effects, you might want to consider finding other ways to honor the holiday,” Raymond said. “Fasting is just one way to focus on the theme of reflection that Yom Kippur brings.” 

Make a plan for your break-the-fast

Make a set plan for where and when you will break the fast. Most colleges have either a Hillel or a Chabad house on campus where you can go to services for holidays and celebrate together. It feels nice to be with a large group of people who also celebrate, and it’s the ultimate celebration. Having this dinner set up gives you something to look forward to throughout the day, a time you know you can eat, and makes it all worth it since you can all celebrate together. If you don’t have this option at your school, make dinner plans with friends. Breaking the fast is such a special moment — it’s a moment in which Jews can feel proud and reflective of their life. 

What to eat to break-the-fast

Now, onto the best part: the food. Each break-the-fast dinner has its own unique foods, but there are definitely some classics at most dinners. Whether you will be hosting a dinner party with friends, going to Temple or Jewish house on campus, or just eating with yourself for dinner, all of these foods are great ideas for what to eat once your fast has ended. First and foremost, bagels and lox. Getting to eat a dense bagel, fresh lox, capers, tomatoes, and onions is one of the best feelings in the world. 

Another classic is having Challah to devour once the sun has touched down. You might also see a noodle kugel dish or chocolate babka.

There isn’t a right or wrong food to break the fast with. You might have strategically planned how to successfully break your fast, but all that matters is that you reflect on your year, forgive, fast in the best way for you, and end the day with others you love and people who are ready to eat! 

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.