Even though we had one extra month this winter, Pesach is on the doorstep yet again. It seems to have become a very stressful experience to prepare for what is supposed to be a holiday of great simcha. How stressed do people get? Starting two weeks before Purim several of my clients began asking about what we are going to do about keeping our weight in check over Pesach. I presume if people are already inquiring about that, they are already stressed about their cleaning and kashering preparations as well. And then there are the guest lists and sleeping accommodations and figuring out Chol HaMoed plans. And everything becomes exacerbated because of the stress that we allow to permeate our lives. If there is one word that it would be good to internalize, it is “PLAN!”
Yes, there are stressful situations in our lives. There are situations that we don’t create and are not under our control and best not to try to control them. But much of the stress we feel is related to solvable problems; we just can’t see a solution. Often, we exacerbate different situations by not seeing the circumstance for the way it really is. We tend to magnify small problems into big ones. With good planning in all areas, small issues will stay small. And remember that exercise and activity can help your stress melt away.
Cleaning and Erev Pesach
First and foremost, consult with your rabbi on what Pesach cleaning and kashering entails and there is no need, at a time when we are under enough pressure, to create more work. There is enough to do in our preparations that taking on tasks above and beyond what we need to do can cause problems. Spring cleaning chores can be done another time if need be. Make a schedule and involve your spouse and your children in the plans. Make sure everyone knows what the goals are and keep them specific and time related. If you do this, you can also put a day off in your schedule for your whole family to go do something fun and get away. This can even be used as a reward and incentive for accomplishing everything by a certain time. But we also need to make sure we have small breaks inserted into out days.
We should first take a look at the weeks leading up to Pesach, which in many ways can be more challenging than Pesach itself. One of the great difficulties of Erev Pesach, usually starting about two weeks prior to the holiday, is that we are in the Nisht a Hin and Nisht a Her zone. We have worked hard to run our supply of Chometz down to practically zero, but we aren’t necessarily kashered for Pesach yet. So preparing well-rounded and nutritious meals can be a challenge. Many of us begin eating out or using take-out food daily and that certainly has its problems in terms of fat, overall calorie consumption and the nutritional makeup of the meals we are eating. In addition, with the many tasks to be done in terms of cleaning, kashering, shopping and baking matzo, time becomes an issue, so exercise can easily fall by the wayside.
This is a time where we truly need to be creative. If you can, set up a small corner in your house where you are still eating Chametz and even though you can’t cook, make the best of the situation. Use whole grain crackers and bread for sandwiches. Keep plenty of fruit and vegetables in the house (no Chametz problem there). Drink plenty of water. Decide ahead of time exactly when the pizza, falafel, and burgers are happening and keep it to an absolute minimum.
As far as exercising and activity goes—you may not be able to keep to your regular routine but the most important thing to remember is that it isn’t all or nothing. Whatever opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. A 10 minute walk here and 15 minutes there all add up. It only takes about 90 seconds to do some pushups and 2 minutes to get through an ab routine. That isn’t a lot of time—don’t be fooled by the perception that you have no time at all.
There are essentially three areas where we all tend to get into trouble: one – the amounts of food we consume sitting at our tables for our festive meals; two – the types of foods we eat; and three – the general lack of activity and exercise during Pesach.
Let’s first look at the portion control issue. It seems that during the holiday where we celebrate going from enslavement to freedom, we manage to enslave ourselves to many unnecessary calories, none of which do much to improve our health. There is a mitzvah to eat certain foods during Yom Tov, such as matzah. There is no mitzvah, however, to consume mass quantities of anything. In order to keep a handle on the over-eating problem, try this. Take a reasonable portion on your plate, and if you are truly still hungry after you eat what’s on your plate, take seconds of a cooked or raw vegetable or fruit. Remember that drinking water may also make you feel full. So, drink up before you start your meal. And for all you matzah lovers out there… Remember that although we are commanded to eat matzah on Pesach, we are not commanded to eat mass quantities of it for the entire length of the chag!
As for the kinds of food we eat… Everyone can make some subtle but significant adjustments in this area as well. Even though meat and chicken dishes are more popular at this time of year, you can trim the fat from your meat and order lean cuts to begin with. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey, preferably before cooking, and keep in mind that the white meat is much leaner than the dark meat. Also, keep the emphasis on vegetables and try to use whole grain matzah. For dessert, go for fresh fruit salads, melons and sorbets instead of cake and cookies, which are loaded with sugar and fat. Also, keep in mind that most pareve ice creams contain chemicals and trans fat based whips.
Item number three… lack of activity! Don’t sit around after meals. Nice long, brisk walks, particularly after your meals, are a great idea. There is nothing worse than throwing yourself into metabolic rigor mortis by falling asleep immediately after a meal. When you are finished with the walk, stretch a little and then you can take your nap.
Most of you will end up putting on a little weight over Pesach, just start back into healthy habits Isru Chag (this year, Sunday) morning. Weight that goes on quickly can come off quickly if you stay vigilant with your eating and exercise. This is a time of year to be joyful and happy, and to celebrate together with our families. We need not create more stress in our lives than we already have. Instead of saying “After Pesach”, resolve to get started with good and healthful habits right now. Watching serving sizes, eating healthful choices, and staying as active as possible over the Pesach holiday are all ways to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.