A New Year with the Same Problems

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Sneakers on Treadmill

It’s the New Year of 5778 Habah Aleinu L’Tovah. We have just finished a very hectic three weeks where a lot of eating and sedentary life style have been the rule.  This was very challenging and difficult to navigate when it came to managing our health.  But while we look forward to the coming year, we see it isn’t just this time of the year that requires good preparation and planning if we want to stay healthy.  Indeed there will be challenges throughout the coming year, and more often than you might anticipate.

Harold has been working with me for weight loss for a while. It took a while for Harold to understand that all of the yearly events and personal events cannot be an excuse for poor health.  As his health was beginning to take a turn for the worse, Harold’s doctor encouraged him to lose weight and to try to form good health habits.  When he arrived, we went over his blood tests together and discussed his weight.  He was a 33 BMI and at age 52, this was bringing on prediabetes, borderline high blood pressure and worst of all for him, his knees and lower back were bothering him.  Harold clearly wanted to make whatever changes would help him feel better and lose weight. 

We put together a food plan for Harold and gradually we build a moderate intensity exercise and activity program.  He began walking 10 minutes twice a day but as time moved on, he was able to accomplish 30 minutes without too much discomfort and began some resistance training and flexibility training as well.  Harold was definitely being compliant both with his eating plan and exercise plan more that 80% of the time and he was getting good results.  The little aches and pains were mostly gone.  His weight loss was proceeding well on a consistent basis.  His weight was gradually going down and he was feeling the difference and people he knew were starting to see the difference.  In short, Harold was putting in the time and effort and getting results.  His program was working well until we got to the month of Tishrei. 

Like we do with all of our program participants, we spent a lot of time with Harold on how to handle two days of Rosh HaShanah followed by Shabbos.  We also coached him on preparing for the fasts of Tzom Gedalia and Yom Kippur as well as how to break those fasts without overdoing it.  We got him to make the best of the situation with Succos.  And perhaps most important, we set different but practical and reasonable goals for this period of time.  We decided that in the time period from Rosh HaShanah until Simchas Torah even a small weight gain of 2-3 pounds was okay as long as on Isru Chag, he got right back on the program and resumed losing weight. He was all in, but in the end, this whole 3 week period ended up being much more difficult than he had imagined. 

We are all creatures of habit and somehow, Harold lost his mindfulness and reverted back to old habits.  He over-ate and found excuses not to do exercise.  Particularly over Succos, his sleeping habits were less than desirable and that ended up with eating late at night also at various Simchas Beis HaShoevas.  When the week after Succos finally hit, Harold came to the office, got on the scale and was pretty distraught.  He turned to me and asked me how he could have let this happen.  I assured him that his behaviors, although damaging, were typical.  We talked about how much more planning and awareness one needs during certain times of the year as well as how important it is, in this case to get back on track and leave the past–in the past for now. 

We, Baruch HaShem, have a lot of Simcha in our lives.  Some of it is built in—that is, every year we have the Rosh Hashana through Succos period.  We have a Kiddush to handle on Parshas Noach, Rosh Chodesh can involve more food.  Chanuka and Purim are both celebrated with food and I don’t think I have to explain the difficulties starting a few days before Pesach and through the entire Yom Tov.  Shavous has both Fleishigs and Milchig high calorie foods and with Hashem’s help, one day very soon Tisha B’av will be a holiday as well.  Now let’s couple this with the fact that we all look forward to the next wedding, Sheva Brachos, Bar Mitzvah, Bris, Pidyon HaBen or Siyum.  Food, food, and more food.  This presents challenges to us all year long.  Sometimes, we get a few weeks in a row without an occasion to celebrate, but not often.  This is a beautiful thing, but it is also a potential danger when trying to look after our health. 

Our Simchas, whether the collective ones all of Klal Yisrael celebrates together or our family occasions have to be dealt with just as we have to deal with each and every Shabbos.  You see, Harold was able to handle his program and be compliant as long as nothing disrupted his routine.  But nothing in life is without exceptions. And learning how to adjust to these exceptions is really the key to success.  Here are a few tips for enjoying all the Simchas we have all the time without damaging our health:

  1. Nothing is more important that planning.  You know when Yom Tov, Shabbos, or a family occasion is coming.  Write down what you are going to eat ahead of time and navigate the situation the best you can.  It will never be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.  Allow occasional treats—but the type, amount and timing also needs to be planned.
  2. Don’t skip meals – especially Erev Yom Tov and Erev Shabbos. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and a light meal on those days. Remember: you will not eat your evening meals until late, and if you are very hungry, you may overeat at the Yom Tov meal and/or nibble on too much Challah. 
  3. Plan a healthy Yom Tov 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 choices-use fruits or sorbets that are low sugar instead of cakes and cookies at every meal.
  4. 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 about tasting again and again!
  5. 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.
  6. Use olive or canola oil, which is high in monounsaturated fat. Your health is worth paying a little bit more.  Trans-fats are a big no-no.
  7. 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 fruits available for snacking.
  8. Portions matter—even on healthy foods.  You are sitting at the table for a long time.  Be careful!

It took us a while to get Harold to understand how to navigate the Jewish year.  Eventually, he realized that he could fulfill the idea of V’samachta B’Chagecha without overdoing it.  He learned that he can still enjoy each and every Simcha and eat plenty without damaging his health, as long as he plans carefully and remembers the positive and negative ramifications of his actions.  Ultimately, he was happy with just getting through certain times of the year without losing weight but also without gaining much either.  When we can accomplish that, we “add hours to our day, days to your year and years to our life”.

Alan Freishtat is a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Wellness Coach and Behavioral Change Specialist.  He is the creator and director of the 10-Weeks to Health Program for weight loss. He sees clients in his Jerusalem office as well as by Skype and Telephone

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.