Pesach is upon us… by now you have it all down to a good routine–which rooms get cleaned first, who is in charge of what, and when to kasher the kitchen. There is the grocery shopping, meat and poultry shopping, and close to Yom Tov, the fresh produce. How many guests are coming to the Seder(s) this year and how many for the last days? What are the Chol HaMoed plans? But this year, let’s add something to our Pesach plans—let’s have great Simchas Yom Tov and truly enjoy our Pesach while including our health in the whole equation. After all, if we want the Simcha and Oneg of Yom Tov to carry over into the rest of the year, than we shouldn’t do things to damage our health. The opposite—if we take care of our health, then our Simchas HaChaim will greatly be enhanced.
Although I am not sure what the reason is, there is a definite tendency to get carried away over Pesach with both the purchasing of excess food and the over-consumption of calories. The lead up to Pesach is at least several weeks long and it is a time when regular and normal eating can be difficult. But we need to be realistic in order to succeed. This is not a time to try to be perfect but it is a time when staying in control and being aware can make a big difference regarding how much weight we might gain and more importantly, in our overall health. By putting a few tips and ideas into practice you can really make a big difference in your post Pesach outcome. (See part 2 of this article)
Setting reasonable goals
There is no one best way for everyone to navigate weight control over Pesach. Goals are important and you should decide how you want to approach your after Pesach weight. Are you currently losing and would you like that to continue? Maybe you just want to hold steady over the Pesach period and then continue your weight loss afterwards. Perhaps you want to plan a 1-1.5 kilo gain because you know that from Isru Chag, you will be back to your good eating and exercise habits and will take it off in a week or two. But a plan should be in place. Here are some examples of some of my clients who succeeded with their Pesach goals.
Leibel was now spending his 11th year at a Pesach hotel. For him, the planning only involved Pesach itself. I encouraged him to do a full workout before he left town for the hotel, which he did. We created strategies for dealing with buffets in terms of which choices to take, what size portions to take and how NOT to keep going back to the buffet for more. The hotel had a nice grounds for walks, a pool for swimming and a workout room. So, we planned how to use those also. Last year, Lewis only gained 1.5 kilo over Pesach and felt very good about his accomplishment. He felt especially pleased that a week after Pesach was over, his weight was exactly where it was before Pesach without any extra effort—he was simply back on his regular food and exercise program.
Rhoda had an amazing result over Pesach—SHE LOST 2 POUNDS! She was so nervous about gaining and actually became over-focused on her eating. She took all of my advice about staying as active as possible even though it was truly impossible to do her regular routine. But something is always a lot better than nothing and she got an amazing result.
Leah did what she did every year and when you are as disciplined as she is and you really stick to your program all the time, you can get away with a small planned weight gain whether it be Pesach or just on any vacation. As mindful as she is about her good eating, she was as mindful about her treating herself. She made sure to thoroughly enjoy her normally-forbidden foods eating them slowly and savoring each bite, and was mindful to have a little more than she is used to having without going crazy.
Moshe made sure to check in with me via email every few days during the time leading up to Pesach right until Isru Chag. Although he was out of his routine, we kept his excesses under control. Yes, over that period of time he did gain a little bit which made him unhappy as he had lost continually for 10 months. However, unlike the previous year, where he put on 6.5 kilo during the month of Nissan, he had enough control to only gain 3 kilo this time around.
Erev Pesach can be more challenging than Pesach itself. It’s a difficult time simply because we are now at a point where the amount of chometz in the house is limited and getting less daily, and we aren’t yet really Kashered for Pesach, so preparing balanced and nutritious meals becomes problematic. Here is where a lot of the trouble starts.
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, koshering, 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 adds 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.
In part 2 of this article, we will talk about different ways to handle Pesach itself and about the amounts we eat, the kind of foods we eat and how to keep some activity and exercise in our lives over Pesach. We will include 8 practical tips you can implement in order to keep your health intact over Pesach and add “add hours to her days, days to her years, and years to her life.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.