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Yom Kippur

How to Do Yom Kippur Without Fasting



I am not going to fast on Yom Kippur.

There, I’ve said it publicly and that means I have to do it.

I want to fast, however I haven’t been allowed to fast since 1998 when I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa. That year I remember eagerly awaiting Yom Kippur, because I knew I would be able to not eat anything for 24 hours and for once no one would give me a hard time about it. However, a few days before Yom Kippur, my friends helped me realize I had a problem with food, and once I entered treatment my doctors wouldn’t let me follow through on my plans to fast.

During the years I worked to recover from my eating disorder, I knew fasting was not an option–I was still in the eating disorder mindset, and the physical and emotional sensations of fasting could trigger dangerous thoughts and behaviors that would last well beyond the shofar blast.

Today, over 15 years have passed and I honestly feel that my mindset has changed. It’s much harder for me to justify not fasting at this point, as I might now actually be able to fast without triggering those unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. I really do want to try. However, when I consider the risks involved in even the remote possibility of bringing those thoughts and behaviors back, plus the concern of my husband, parents and friends if they knew I was fasting, I must accept that fasting is not in the cards for me.

How does one observe Yom Kippur without fasting? I’ve found several ways over the years.

First, I consider that one purpose of fasting is to prevent distraction on this day of inner focus. Therefore, I plan my meals in advance, even prepare them in advance when possible, so that there’s no thought or effort involved on the day. I know exactly what I’m going to eat and when. I plan simple meals–nothing fancy or extravagant, just what is needed to provide me the right nutrition and keep me on track.

Second, I eat round things on Yom Kippur to symbolize the cyclical year–for example, cheerios with an apple for breakfast, an English muffin sandwich and grapes for lunch. I then join my family for a late dinner at break fast.

Finally, I try and find other ways to practice self-denial and increase my focus. I am not normally shomer Shabbat (observant of the laws of Sabbath), but I try and avoid the computer or television on Yom Kippur.

My children just turned 3 years old, and I realize that these are also ways I can help them observe Yom Kippur. They are much too young to fast, but we can eat round things together (they love finding circles!) and turn off the TV to focus on each other.

I wish for everyone to find a way to observe Yom Kippur that is both healthy and meaningful. G’mar chatima tova.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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