The 23 day period from Rosh HaShanah until Simchas Torah is now behind us. It is a time period that interrupts routine and it is difficult to take care of your health during the Yom Tov season. Although incentive exists to start taking better care of our health and to lose weight (your clothes may be tight, you feel sluggish), it is very difficult to make the switch to healthy habits. If you have a good exercise routine and generally eat well, now is the time to get back to healthy habits. But if you haven’t been an exerciser in the past and your eating is typically western (unhealthy) this is an opportune time to start taking care of your health and fitness. The weather is going to still be warm enough, so getting outdoors is still possible and the extra bit of appetite from the cold winter won’t be a factor for a while. So, let’s take a look at how we can accomplish this.
The first thing is to look at what NOT to do. Don’t go on a fad diet. The statistics speak for themselves. DIETS ARE FAILURES! About 95% of people that diet gain it all back or more within a few years. When you go on one of these types of diets or eating plans, are you omitting certain foods that you need as major nutrients such as dietary fiber and unrefined carbohydrates as well as selected vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals? Is your diet balanced, prescribing a daily dietary intake that has just enough lean protein and healthy fats but is high enough in unrefined carbs? Is the weight that you are losing fat weight or water and muscle weight (unhealthy weight)? The entire connotation of a diet is a temporary fix. Diets are something you go on, and then go off. It isn’t a way of eating for life. And it is at this time of the year we see ads for detox diets—NO SUCH THING! Your body has a built in detoxification system. You take care of it and it will take care of you—every single day. So if not a diet, what should I do? The three best options that have proven to be beneficial to your health, balanced, and tasty are either to get a food plan made for you from a registered dietician or use what is known as the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet.
Good food programs like these, or what your dietician may create for you are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods; includes meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds and beans; and are limited in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, red meat (especially processed meat), and added fats. The Mediterranean plan also includes abundant olive oil. Even if you choose one of these programs, you still have to have portion control. And even with these healthy ways of eating, we still have to commit to them. And that can be the most difficult part.
But as important as being sure to eat enough of the right foods, there are also foods to avoid or limit. Trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup and sucrose should be avoided. Artificial sweeteners should be severely limited just as much as sugar. Foods high in sodium as well as all processed foods should also be limited.
How can I be successful “this time” and not fall off my plan yet again? We are all human. We all have to make choices daily and sometimes we all make mistakes—ALL OF US! So how do we handle mistakes? Don’t be like my client Sheina used to be. Every time she would lose some weight, she would make one tiny mistake and say “Oh, forget this!” Perfectionists, like Sheina bring unattainable demands on themselves and end up as unhappy people because they can rarely reach the levels they have laid out for themselves. Are mistakes something which will cause us to lose perspective and go off the deep end or is a mistake something to learn from, put behind us, and get back on track?
Unsuccessful dieters don’t get back on track, they do exactly the opposite. They lose perspective and then they make poor decisions. According to Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist Dr. Judith Beck, they often tell themselves, This is terrible! I’m so weak! I lost control I can’t believe I did that! I might as well give up and eat whatever I want for the rest of the day, because starting tomorrow, I’ll have to cut my calories way back and deprive myself! What is interesting is that people trying to lose weight can be very rational and reasonable in other areas of their lives, but when they go off of their food program, they may end up compounding the first mistake with another and another.
Dr. Beck writes that in order to lose weight successfully, one must learn how to stop yourself at the first mistake, put it in perspective, and recommit yourself right away (Sheina learned how to do that and for the first time, was able to lose more than 15 pounds without turning back). It is, after all, a mistake, and that is all it is, so keep it in proportion. So when the inevitable happens and you’ve eaten an entire box of cookies and you have missed consecutive days of even minimal exercise, just write yourself a note that says “Get Back on Track”—read it a few times and hang it up in a place where you will see it when you wake up the next morning and you just simply get back on your program.
There is always a temptation to do something radical after you’ve gone off. Not eating the next half day, going on a juice fast, taking off of work or Kollel and running for 5 hours, or going on a “detox” diet—DON’T! If you eat healthfully and normally, that is the best thing for your body. Just be on a good food and exercise program—the scale may take a day, or two or three to begin to reverse, but it will and you will be back to good eating and exercise and that is always what works the best for slow, sustained and permanent weight loss. Remember that we have mentioned many times that only 5% of the population really keep off their weight but if you seek help from a professional, stay mindful and attentive to what you are doing (write down your food and exercise), make your changes gradually and stay realistic (we all make mistakes—learn from them and move on, then you will succeed. Just make sure you have patience!
As we mentioned earlier, there is no better time of the year to start a good exercise and healthy eating program. Walking is always a great way to start and at least twice a week, do some muscle building exercises. You don’t have to join a gym. Learn how to do a proper muscle building routine and walk briskly to get the best results. Exercise will help you feel renewed after the long Yom Tov haul. See a qualified registered dietician for a comprehensive food plan individualized for you. There is nothing to interfere with your success from now until Chanukah so we can start counting down the kilos, which will bring all of us better health. So no matter how many programs you’ve been on and how many times you’ve made mistakes in the past GET BACK ON TRACK now! Getting back on track or starting a new routine will “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.