Breaking the fast and staying in control on Yom Kippur

Breaking the fast and staying in control on Yom Kippur

Lox, bagels and cream cheese are standard fare at break fasts, but stay in control while eating.
Lox, bagels and cream cheese are standard fare at break fasts, but stay in control while eating.

PHILADELPHIA — Eating reasonably during Yom Kippur break fast can be challenging.  Many people think it’s reasonable to eat whatever they want, in whatever quantity they want.  But they can easily take in two days’ worth of calories (or even more) during that one meal.   And, when people overeat during the break fast, it can be difficult for them to regain control of their eating once the day has passed.

To avoid these problems, people need a plan for how they’ll handle their eating.  Why? Because “winging it” invariably leads to overeating.  When people are hesitant or unmotivated to devise an eating plan for the break fast, it’s important that they ask themselves, “When has winging it ever helped me to stay in control?”

Here are some potential components of a Breaking the Fast Plan:  

1. Prepare an Advantages List.  Before it’s time to break the fast, it’s helpful for people to make a list of exactly why it’s worth it to them to stay in control of their eating. They might list items such as, “If I don’t gain weight during the High Holidays, I’ll be so proud of myself when they’re over; I’ll be able to continue fitting into all my clothes; I won’t have to feel guilty about my eating; I’ll be able to focus more on the meaning of the Holidays and less on how uncomfortably full I feel.”  It’s essential for people to read their list right before they break the fast so that they’ll be able to remember exactly why it’s worth it to them to stay the course.

2. Eat everything sitting down, slowly, and mindfully. Practicing these good eating habits are critical because they help people better self-regulate their eating, stop from picking at food they don’t need, and really focus on and enjoy what they do eat.  It’s tempting for people to eat too quickly when they’re hungry and to be distracted when eating with others – both of which inhibit their ability to fully notice what they are eating.  Eating everything sitting down, slowly, and enjoying every bite can help diminish overeating.

3. Have (at least a general) food plan.  It’s important for people to take time to think about what foods they want to enjoy and what they’ll pass up.  It’s reasonable for people to plan to eat extra when they’re breaking the fast, but if they want to maintain their weight, they can’t eat a significantly increased amount of food.  Having a plan, even one that includes extra food, will enable people to maintain control over their eating and ensure that they don’t take in too many calories.  It’s also helpful for people to make a plan for what they’re going to eat the day after Yom Kippur.  This way, even if they get off track while breaking the fast, they’re less likely to continue eating off track for days to come.

4. Respond to sabotaging thinking.  When people think, “I’ve fasted all day, so I can eat whatever I want during the break fast,” they need to remind themselves, “I’ll gain weight if I eat more than a day’s worth of calories.  I can’t eat everything I want with complete abandon.”  When people think, “If I can’t eat everything I want then I won’t be able to enjoy myself,” it’s helpful for them to say to themselves, “It’s not all-or-nothing. I can eat some food that I want and still receive the benefits of not gaining weight.”  When they think, “I can’t say no to this food that my host is offering me,” they can tell themselves, “I’m entitled to do what I need to do to maintain my weight.  Even if my host is disappointed, he or she will likely get over it quickly and I will feel so much more disappointed if I give in and gain weight.”

8. Remember that staying in control feels great, and eating off track does not. It’s so important for people to remember that staying in control of their eating will feel good. They won’t have to waste time feeling overly full and bad about themselves and risk another day, week or month of being out of control.   

It’s also helpful for people to keep imagining how they want to feel when the holidays are over, make a plan that will enable them to reach their goal, and respond to their sabotaging thinking that could get in the way of achieving it.  

(Deborah Beck Busis is the diet program coordinator at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania.)