As we approach Pesach, the number “4” starts taking prominence. As we prepare for Seder night, we think about what we are going to say about 4 cups of wine, 4 questions, and 4 sons. But I am also reminded that also four weeks from Purim until Seder night and those are hectic and stressful weeks. On Pesach itself, we eat differently, tend to be sedentary and who hasn’t gained weight over that time period? This time of year has the potential to have a negative impact on our health. We must be vigilant! Here is another four. 4 clients, all of whom handled the time leading up to Pesach and the Yom Tov itself very differently than they had beforehand with very different results.
Lewis, 49 years old, has been going away for Pesach every year to the same hotel for 10 years. He has relatively little stress leading up to Pesach other than making sure his family is packed up for a 9 day journey and that his flights are booked to his destination. It seems that half of his challenge, the time leading up to Pesach, has been eliminated. Nevertheless, Lewis is exposed to very large amounts of food over his stay at the hotel and has not only gained a whopping 12-13 pounds over 9 days each year, but he leaves to come home feeling unwell.
Rosa, 42 years old, is a woman who joined my weight loss program in the winter and just as we like to see, was exercising, eating right and losing weight slowly, steadily and consistently. She was very nervous about Pesach as in the past, from Rosh Chodesh Nissan through the end of the holiday, she felt out of control and she too, always had weight gain. After Pesach was over, she always felt down about herself because of her lack of ability to keep her weight and general health habits under control.
Linda was a client who was careful about her weight all year long. There are certain foods specific for Pesach that she really loves to eat. As Linda is very focused about her eating and exercise, she would pre-plan her weight gain. She would know that she would gain 5-6 pounds over Pesach and wouldn’t stress about it because she knew that day after Pesach was done, she was back on her program and that it would take a two weeks more or less to get rid of the extra weight.
Moshe was a young Avreich who came to us obese. After 10 months of very hard work, he had lost 52 pounds. Routine was very important to him and he had developed a great routine for exercise and was eating 3 meals and 2 snacks daily. He was also uptight about the fact that Nissan was coming and so was Bein HaZmanim and this “routine” was about to be greatly changed. Instead of learning in Yeshiva with his normal breaks, it was now going to be cleaning, shopping, Kashering and preparing for Seder night. How was Moshe going to handle change and be able to cope with keeping his weight off?
Here is another “4” for you. Four rules to get through Pesach with your health intact and still enjoying the Yom Tov as we should.
- PLAN EVERYTHING! Whether it is the time leading up to Pesach or the Chag itself. Every night before you go to sleep, look at the next day’s schedule and work out your eating and your exercise and activity. Be creative in fitting in your exercise. Even if you divide it up into smaller segments here and there, that is better than nothing. If you need to eat out or order takeout food, make the right choices and keep your portions under control even when eating food that isn’t the healthiest.
- On Pesach itself, cook healthy AND EXECUTE PORTION CONTROL! You control your menu and if you go to a hotel, there are lots of choices, so choose wisely. Fruits and vegetables can be part of every meal and you can use whole grain matzahs where available. Choose walnut oil over less healthy choices such as palm oil. There is no mitzvah to eat mass quantities of any food ever-not even chocolate.
- STAY ACTIVE! There are many busy days before Pesach as well as Yom Tov and Shabbos. Any exercise routine isn’t going to stay routine. Here’s something very helpful-after every Yom Tov or Shabbos meal, make sure you go for a short walk—even 15-20 minutes before you fall asleep. Use stairs instead of elevators and when on a Chol HaMoed outing, choose activities in parks that require moving around. Try to park your car far from your destination to get more activity in.
- Always get back on track! Some days will just go better than others and when things don’t go well, stay focused. The secret to not gaining a lot of weight on Pesach or any other time is to always tell yourself that one mistake isn’t the end of the world. When you wake up the next morning, you are back on track and regain focus. One bad day doesn’t have to be the end of good health!
Let’s get back to our four clients. Lewis was now spending his 11th year at a Pesach hotel. For him, the planning only involved Pesach itself. I encouraged him to do a full workout before he left town for the hotel which he did. We created strategies for dealing with buffets at many of the meals in terms of which choices to take, what size portions to take and how NOT to keep going back to the buffet for more. The hotel had a nice grounds for walks, a pool for swimming and a workout room. So, we planned how to use those also. Last year, Lewis only gained 3 pounds over Pesach and felt very good about his accomplishment. He felt especially pleased that a week after Pesach was over, his weight was exactly where it was before Pesach without any extra effort—he was simply back on his regular food and exercise program. Rosa had an amazing result over Pesach—SHE LOST 2 POUNDS! She was so nervous about gaining and actually became over-focused on her eating. She took all of my advice about staying as active as possible even though it was truly impossible to do her regular routine. But something is always a lot better than nothing and she got an amazing result. Linda did what she did every year and when you are as disciplined as she is and you really stick to your program all the time, you can get away with a small planned weight gain whether it be Pesach or just on any vacation. As mindful as she is about her good eating, she was as mindful about her treating herself. She made sure to thoroughly enjoy her normally-forbidden foods eating them slowly and savoring each bite, and was mindful to have a little more than she is used to having without going crazy. Moshe made sure to check in with me via email every few days during the time leading up to Pesach right until Isru Chag. Although he was out of his routine, we kept his excesses under control. Yes, over that period of time he did gain a little bit which made him unhappy as he had lost continually for 10 months. However, unlike the previous year, where he put on 17 pounds during the month of Nissan, he had enough control to only gain 4.5 pounds this time around.
This time of the year will always have many challenges and it is hard to change that, but how we handle them will determine our health outcomes during that time. But if we remember that our 4 rules for navigating the trials of Pesach and how these 4 clients succeeded, we will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”