It’s that time of the year again – the holiday season. Perhaps nothing is more challenging than getting from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) to Simchat Torah (holiday celebrating the end and beginning of the cycle of weekly Torah readings) with your health and weight intact (okay, maybe Pesach). As daunting and challenging as this may seem, a few little tricks and bit of self-discipline can get you through virtually unscathed.
As we’ve seen before, 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 the chagim, holidays.
Now, the kinds of food we eat can also be problematic. Everyone can make some subtle adjustments in this area as well. Meat and chicken dishes are more popular at this time of year, so you can trim the fat from your meat and order lean cuts to begin with. Skin the chicken and turkey, preferably before cooking, and keep in mind that the white meat is much less fatty than the dark.
Also, keep the emphasis on vegetable and grain dishes. For dessert, go for fresh fruit salads, melons, and sorbets instead of cake and cookies that are laden with sugar and fat. Keep in mind that most pareve ice creams use chemicals and high-fat-based whips.
Item number three: lack of activity. No, don’t go out for a job on yom tov (the holiday). But, don’t sit around either. 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 eating. When you are done with the walk, stretch a little and then you can take your nap.
The chagim are a time to be especially joyful and happy, and to celebrate together with our families. We need not create more stress in our lives than we already have, especially now. So, instead of saying, “After the holidays…” resolve to get started with good and healthful habits right now.
Although this space is normally used for my weekly columns on health, fitness, and weight loss, I will allow myself the liberty once a year to share a personal message.
Hashem granted us the gift of a healthy body and expects us to do our best to take care of it. This requires healthful eating, exercise, the proper amount of sleep and an active lifestyle. We are all capable of helping ourselves.
When we don’t take care of ourselves and our health, the end result is illness and incapacitation – which makes us unable to perform the will of the Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the world. When we are sick, we can’t do chessed (acts of kindness), learn, daven (pray) or take care of our own families. Our nefesh, our soul, functions best when our guf, our body, is at its best.
Many years ago, I was not a fitness trainer; I was anything but fit and healthy. I led a sedentary life style, ate whatever I wanted in whatever amounts I wanted and was overweight with high blood pressure. As a former musician playing the wedding circuit in the Greater New York area, eating at the smorgasbord at weddings was an activity I greatly looked forward to every evening.
A few years after I relocated to Eretz Yisrael, Israel, I was fortunate to meet someone who changed my life around. I went from being sedentary with a poor diet to being active and healthy. I began eating right, walking, doing weights and stretching and after a short while, I became a runner/jogger. My blood pressure went down, my old clothes fit again and I felt like a new person. I can personally attest to the fact that this is something very doable.
As a personal trainer here in Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, for the past 17 years, I have been privileged to witness many people who have turned their health around. Even people in desperate straits and with all types of health issues have achieved tremendous success. Many no longer require medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression. Their weight is normal, and not only has their physical health improved, but they feel so much better about themselves.
Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New year) is a time for thanking HaKadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, blessed is He) for giving us life and health over the past year. It is also the time for praying that He will give us good health and long life for the upcoming year.
At the same time, we must do our hishtadlut, our effort, in the area of health. New Year’s resolutions have become a bit of a joke, promises that we expect to inevitably be broken. But we do teshuva. We work hard to actualize real change. And if there is ever a time we can change, it is now.
A little over a year and a half ago, I began writing a health and lifestyle column for Shabbat Shalom and ou.org along with other publications both online and print. I never dreamed I would get the responses I have gotten from all over the world and the amount of inquiries and questions about health topics have been abundant. Baruch Hashem, thank G-d, these columns have been able to help and motivate many people to achieve good health and please G-d will continue to do so for a long time.
A k’tiva v’chatima tova—a happy and healthy New Year to all of you.
Get tips from a certified nutritionist on how to keep your Shabbat eating under control.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. certified personal trainer and a lifestyle fitness coach with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at email@example.com.