It’s that time of the year again…the holiday season. Perhaps nothing is more challenging than going through Pesach with your health and weight intact. As daunting and difficult as this may seem, a few little tricks and a touch of self-discipline can get you through virtually unscathed.
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. There is a mitzvah to eat certain foods during the chagim, such as matzah. There is no mitzvah, however, to consume mass quantities of anything.
In order to get a handle on the overeating 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. (If you are permitted to eat legumes, take a brown rice dish.) 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. 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. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey, preferably before cooking, and bear 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. And keep in mind that most pareve ice creams contain chemicals and high-fat based whips.
Item number three: lack of activity. No – don’t leave the table for an exercise session during the Seder! But don’t sit around the whole chag 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 a meal. When you are finished with the walk, stretch a little, and then you can take your nap.
Lose It! Registered Dietician Jennifer Racz offers an easily incorporated set of tips to help you stay on track. First and foremost, “Don’t skip meals – especially right before the Seder. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and a light meal before the Seder. Remember: you will not eat your Pesach meal until late, and if you are very hungry, you may overeat at the Seder meal and/or nibble on too much matzah.” (See Tips Below.)
Additionally, it is always important to count your calories, and Pesach is no exception. Here are some basic exchanges between chametz items and Pesach staples, courtesy of Lose It! Certified Nutritionist Elisheva Rosenberg.
- 1 square matzo = 2 breads
- 1 round matzo = 3 breads
- 2 tablespoons of matzo cake meal = 3 breads
- 2 tablespoons matzo meal = 3 breads
- 5 oz. of wine = 125 calories
Acharei HaChagim, after the holidays…. How many times do we hear that phrase during the year? If you want to plan something for after the chagim, set up an appointment for a lifestyle, health and fitness assessment. Make an appointment now for after Pesach with a trainer at your local gym. No more excuses! Plan now so that after Pesach, you are committed and ready to take on a program that can change your health and change your life!
This is a time of year 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.
Tips for Getting through Pesach
(Cut out and Post!)
- Don’t skip meals – especially right before the Seder. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and a light meal before the Seder. Remember: you will not eat your Pesach meal until late, and if you are very hungry, you may overeat at the Seder meal and/or nibble on too much matzah
- 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 recipes on the Internet.
- When cooking, make sure to eat sitting down to avoid over-tasting. Put a piece of gum or a mint leaf in your mouth. The extra second it takes for you to remove the gum will give you time to think twice!
- 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. Remember: a tzaddik falls seven times and gets up.
- If you don’t use canola oil because of kitniyot, chose 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 cheese available for snacking and….
- PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! 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 hungry or to noshing unconsciously. 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, and 1 round matzah is equal to 3 servings of carbohydrates. Try to buy whole wheat or spelt matzah. The fiber in the matzah will help you feel more full and may help counteract its other unpleasant effects.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 16 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175 (USA Line 1-516-568-5027), or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.