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The Baha’i Fast falls during the month of Ala–the last month of the Baha’i calendar. During these 19 days, Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
We’re a few days into the Baha’i Fast and as always for me, the first days are kind of hard! These early days are when your body is adjusting to its new routine and regime, and here in the southern hemisphere it’s also when the daylight hours are the longest.
While the Fast is ultimately spiritual, and this is a time of prayer and reflection, I find it helps to put some thought into the material aspects of Fasting. Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different ideas for what to eat and drink, and how to go about the days. I have come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to be moderate, consistent and embrace the Fast.
Here are my personal tips for a healthier, happier fast. What are your tips? What works for you? Add them in the comments!
1. Eat a Slow-to-Digest Breakfast
Not all breakfasts are equal! When it comes to tasty breakfasts I love waffles and maple syrup, but although you’ll get a big sugar spike, the reality is a breakfast like that won’t sustain you very long. Nowadays I look for slower to digest foods with complex carbohydrates and protein rather than white carbohydrates and sugary breakfasts. My current favourite is a scrambled egg, wholegrain toast, some basil and tomato!
There’s no breakfast that is so slow to digest that it will keep you full the whole day – trust me I’ve tried them all – but better choices will at least last a little longer and avoid a post-sugar dip.
2. Drink Water Steadily Through the Night
It’s really important to be hydrated and that means water ingested regularly post-sunset. By nature I tend to wake up a couple of times a night and will keep water nearby to drink. I figure that in normal life I would drink during the day and not when I sleep, so flipping this over means my body will remain properly hydrated.
Dehydration on the other hand leads to headaches, dizziness and lots of unpleasantness. Aside from anything else, it’s very hard to feel spiritually connected when you have a migraine!
3. Don’t overeat in the evenings
When you haven’t eaten all day, it’s awfully tempting to stuff your face the moment the sun sets. Moreover it’s tempting to keep eating through the evening. While I still end up doing both of these reasonably often, I’ve found it’s much better to eat a moderate meal at sunset, and then a light and nutritious snack a couple of hours later, but avoid getting overfull at any point.
You definitely want to avoid too much salt since it will dehydrate you. Getting overfull is just generally an unpleasant feeling. And eating too much right before bed means you have far more chance of indigestion, heartburn, a poor night’s rest, and most importantly a lessened appetite in the morning.
Overeating in the evening is also the main reason you hear of people gaining weight during the Fast. Personally, I always think if I’m going to be hungry all month, I’d like to shed some pounds from it!
4. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It’s all too easy to go to bed late when fasting, after all the evening is the time you have lots of energy and food! But if you want to wake up in time for breakfast, that means you’re likely to not get a lot of sleep. Do that over and over again for nineteen days and you can really wear yourself down. During the fast there are no Saturday morning sleep-ins, at least not if you want to have a meal to start the day!
Waking up to have breakfast is not only good health advice, it’s also a part of Fasting. You aren’t just giving up food and water, but also sleep, so you can rise, eat, drink and pray. There was one year where I skipped breakfast pretty much every day and just slept in, but at the end of the Fast I felt like I’d missed the point completely!
Of course when you haven’t had enough sleep, there’s a great temptation to go back to sleep after a nice big breakfast. I’m not sure about everyone else, but I feel awful if I do this. Eating and then immediately going back to sleep not only increases the likelihood of indigestion and heartburn, but it’s convinces your body to store all those calories as fat instead of burning them doing stuff. A nap in the afternoon is a much sounder alternative – if you can get away with it!
5. Live in Helsinki!
OK this one is said in jest, but did you know that the daylight hours in Finland are approximately 10.75 hours? Down here in Melbourne, Australia we clock in at just under 13 hours at the beginning of the Fast – though it gets shorter and shorter as the days progress, which is kind of nice! My sister says this means we get extra spiritual nourishment. At 7pm though, I’m inclined to want a little more regular old nourishment!
Hi I’m Collis! I live in Darwin, in the Northern Territory. I’m a Baha’i, designer, entrepreneur, climate tech angel investor, and engaged in philanthropy to support First Nations young people in Australia. I've been working on Baha'i Blog since its inception in 2011!