Our Succahs are down and the Yomim Tovim are now behind us. Hopefully, we had a lot of Simcha and quality time with our families. Undoubtedly, we also took liberties with the amount and type of food we consumed. And we did this at a time when we are less active than usual. Obviously, that isn’t a good combination. Greater intake of calories and less expenditure means weight gain. Maybe you feel your pants or skirts are tight and you’ve had to let your belt out a notch. You might have stepped on your scale the day after Yom Tov and you still can’t believe how much weight one can gain in the three weeks from Rosh Hashanah until the end of Succos. The two busiest times of the year for new clients signing up for our weight loss programs are after Succos and after Pesach when people obviously don’t feel good about their weight, their health and their appearance. But now, the choice is yours. You can look back and keep thinking to yourself, “How did I let myself go—how could I do this to myself”, or you can start taking positive steps on the path to good health.
This is the time of year when we want to “start over.” We are, after all, at the parsha of B’reishis. So what better time to start making real changes that will have a positive effect on our health?
Wallowing in mistakes isn’t productive. Taking a look back in order to learn something from faults and errors we might have made is a good thing to do, if you can take that forward. But we can tackle the issue of eating under control on Shabbos and Yom Tov another time. What is important for now, is taking the steps needed to turn around the situation and repair the damage. But where do I start, how do I get to my goals and how do I make the coming year better than last in regard to my health habits?
You’ve heard this from me before—here is what NOT to do. Don’t go on a diet. If you do, you will be doomed to long-term failure. It is amazing to me that people all over the world are still trying a method that is a proven failure. But what do we do to get started?
The choices are many and they all have to do with behavioral change. So ask yourselves what one thing can I do on the food front and what one thing on the activity or exercise front can I take on? Is it something doable for me? All goals should be specific in nature (I am going to not eat after 8:15 PM or I am going to start walking to shule in the morning instead of taking the car). They also need to be attainable goals. (I don’t want to start saying I am going to run 10 kilometers 5 times a week when I barely can walk 5 kilometers 4 times a week right now). Finally, be sure the changes you enact are manageable. (If I am busy with working and learning that take up 10 hours a day and I have family obligations, it might not be a good idea to take on a commitment of 2 hours in the gym daily).
So in terms of nutrition, there are many changes we can make that will lead to weight loss and just as important, good health. You might want to make a list but only implement the new behaviors one at a time. Here are some suggestions that have helped many people. Pick your first one and when you feel you have engrained that habit, move on to the next one:
- Drink 7-9 cups of water per day.
- Don’t eat after 8 PM.
- Try to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables (variety) and 3 fruits daily.
- Cut your portion sizes by 10-15% (you still won’t be hungry).
- Switch your carbohydrates to unrefined only.
- Eat three meals starting with breakfast and 2 snacks every day.
- Write down what you eat on a food tracker every day.
- Cut down on processed foods that you buy off the shelf or from the freezer case.
- Include some lean protein at all meals. Remember that most of your food should be plant based.
- Brown bag it! Take your food to work or Yeshiva and only eat out occasionally.
With exercise and activity, pick one from this list and then when you have that under your belt, move on with the next one:
- Start walking from place to place instead of driving or using public transportation.
- Use stairs instead of elevators. If that is too difficult, start with a few flights at least.
- Schedule a daily 30 minute brisk walk or two 15 minutes brisk walks.
- Get off public transportation a stop or 2 before your destination.
- Park your car a few blocks away from where you want to end up.
- Use a fitness tracker or pedometer to see how many steps you are getting a day.
- Add a quick muscle building circuit 3 days a week. It’s amazing what 6-7 minutes can do.
- Sign up for a fun exercise class at your local gym-and actually go there!
- Go on a family hike once a week.
- Go out with family or friends and throw a Frisbee or ball around.
You might not be aware, but the human body can improve itself well into our 80’s. The old adage of “I’m too old to change my habits”, or “Health and fitness is for young people” just isn’t true. Anyone at almost any age can start making changes that reap great benefits. It’s not just about weight loss either. Making positive changes not only helps prevent disease, but it will bring a sense of well-being. You will function better in your day to day tasks and have far more energy to get more done. Just as important is that you will simply feel better.
The weather has finally cooled down. It is ideal for walking and other outdoor activities. This is the season where citrus fruits, apples and the green leafy vegetables all start tasting great. Include them in your daily food plan. As the weather cools down, a big pot of vegetable or lentil soup can last almost a whole week. Work on getting 7 hour of sleep per night and drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Throw in some green herbal tea too.
This is indeed the season of new beginnings. It’s never too late to start taking care of your health. You might even be able to stay out of the doctor’s office this winter! Take the opportunity to make your well-being and health the priority it needs to be so that you can “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.