(In part 1 of this article we mentioned different reasonable and attainable weight loss goals for Pesach and how to handle our health during the erev Pesach preparations. In part 2, we will look at Pesach itself and give you 8 practical tips on how to keep your health in a good place over the holiday)
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 high-fat based whips.
Item number three… lack of activity… Take nice long, brisk walks, particularly after your meals, are a great idea. There is nothing worse than falling asleep immediately after a meal. When you are finished with the walk, stretch a little and then you can take your nap.
Tips for getting through Pesach with your health intact
- Don’t skip meals – especially right before the Seder. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and a lunch before the Seder since you won’t get to Shulchan Orech until very late at night.
- Plan a healthy Pesach meal with YOU in mind. Just like on Shabbos, make sure there are healthy alternatives of your favorite dishes. There are a lot of healthy Pesach foods.
- You might be spending a lot of time in the kitchen starting a couple days before Pesach. Tasting and grazing ads up to a lot of extra calories. Eating requires being seated at a table and having a real meal or snack. Don’t graze!
- Avoid the “All or Nothing” approach to eating. If you overate at a meal or ate too much of an unhealthy food, move on and start making healthy, balanced choices again. Every small step helps.
- Use walnut oil instead of palm oil, which is high in saturated fat. Your health is worth paying a little bit more.
- Make sure to have healthy snack foods handy. Overeating or eating too much of an unhealthy food often occurs because you are too hungry to make wise decisions, or there are no healthy alternatives. Keep cut up veggies, nuts, and low-fat cheese available for snacking.
- PLANNING IS EVERYTHING! Just as you are planning the Seder and your Pesach cleaning in advance, you can also plan your meals so that you are not left overly hungry. Plan you daily menus, shopping and snacks so that you have plenty of healthy options and you don’t skip meals.
- How much matzah can you eat? One square of matzah is equal to 2 servings of carbohydrates (breads), and 1 round matzah is equal to 3 servings of carbohydrates (breads). Try to buy whole wheat or spelt matzah. The fiber in that matzah will help you feel fuller, and may help counteract its other unpleasant effects.
- Potatoes are a very starchy vegetable. They contain more carbs and more calories than other veggies. Over-consumption isn’t good. On the other hand, having some baked potatoes here and there isn’t going to be harmful, especially if you can work activity and exercise into your day.
After it’s all over
How many times do we hear about starting new things “after the holidays?” Now is the time to make plans and take action. After Pesach the weather usually begins to warm up and you can plan now to start walking more—but be specific! How many times per week and what time each day? How long should your walk be and what course will you be following? If you prefer the gym, take out the membership now and plan now on which days you will be going and what time of the day.
It probably pays to see a health and wellness professional to get a good idea of what you should be doing in terms of exercise and what changes are practical for you to make in the eating department that will help you lose weight in a healthful manner and improve your health. Taking a personal trainer or finding an exercise partner are good ways to ensure that you will indeed stick to you plan. Accountability is important and make sure that you take on a program that you can really adhere to.
Good planning is always the key to success
Planning is the key! Plan your Erev Pesach, plan your Pesach and plan now for after Pesach. This is a time of year in which 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. So, 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.