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Date registered: September 29, 2012

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  1. Know Thyself (Including Thy Body Type) — July 1, 2014
  2. Exercise For Pregnancy: Could I? Should I? — June 26, 2014
  3. How To Lose 15lbs in One Week — June 15, 2014
  4. Parsha And Yoga… Seriously? — May 23, 2014
  5. The Facts About Weight Loss Pills — May 20, 2014

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Are ‘Carbs’ Bad For You?

The Truth Behind The Hype

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few decades, you must have heard about the “evil” that is carbohydrates (aka “carbs”). Made popular by, among others, Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1960’s, and the “South Beach Diet” in the early 2000’s, the basic premise of this “nutritional truth” is that the consumption of carbs promotes weight gain, and that, if one wants to lose weight, all one needs to do is eliminate carbs from one’s diet. But does a no/low-carb diet really work, and is it healthy for you?

 

As we discussed in the last issue, carbohydrates are molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, otherwise known as “sugars”, and comprise three types including simple sugars (such as fruits), starches or complex (such as potatoes and bread), and celluloses or fibrous (such as broccoli – yes, vegetables are carbs). Carbs are the preferred fuel for the body; i.e., they’re the premium gasoline to power your engine. What that means is that, by consuming carbs, one spares the breakdown of the other two macronutrients, i.e., protein and fat. So, the logic goes, if one eliminates carbs from one’s diet, the body has no choice but to burn protein and fat for fuel and voila… one will lose weight. Magic!

 

Or is it?

 

Generally speaking, reducing the amount of carbohydrates you consume would indeed likely result in you losing weight, but that’s probably more due to the fact that you’d be eating fewer calories too; and losing weight doesn’t always mean losing fat either. Increasing your protein consumption to compensate for the reduction in carbs is therefore recommended, and will probably better assure that your weight loss is more from a reduction of fat than from muscle. But is it healthy? 

 

If eating fewer carbs means that your body will extract its energy from your fat reserves, surely eating NO carbs at all would be even better, right? Wrong. This is another one of those times when that all-American maxim “if a little is good, a lot must be better” doesn’t apply.

 

It’s been said that “fats burn in a carbohydrate flame”; that is, to burn fats efficiently and completely, some carbohydrates are needed – this is called fat oxidation. Additionally, although much of your body can use different macronutrients for fuel (i.e., carbs, protein, or fat), your brain can only use carbs for energy, so it’s very typical for those on a low-carb diet to experience a decrease in general cognitive ability. Other fun side effects include reduced athletic performance and overall weakness; irritability; nausea; dizziness; constipation; gas; and bad breath. Not to mention the fact that your liver is exposed to extra stress as it’s forced to assist with manufacturing glucose from fats and proteins (instead of easier-to-use carbs); and potentially toxic amounts of ammonia are produced as proteins (instead of carbs) are converted into glucose. Finally, it should be noted that some of the lost weight will be “water weight”, and will likely come right back on as soon as you start eating a more balanced diet again.

 

All of this, of course, brings me back to my previous article. That is, it’s a really bad idea to totally eliminate a nutrient from your diet. While one can certainly experiment with reducing the amount of carbs from your diet for a short period, in general, a healthy diet requires the consumption of all six nutrients – proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and water – in adequate and healthy amounts.

 

No. Rather than setting all your hopes on the latest and greatest “super diet” touted by the all-knowing media, a better plan of attack to reduce fat (and to keep it off) is to maintain both a healthy balanced diet and an effective exercise regimen that is suited for your body. There is no other way. There is no magic bullet, no easy fix, and no short cuts. In this microwave generation – where instant gratification with minimal effort is the typical expectation – we sometimes need to be reminded that, for anything worth having, there is no substitution for hard work, dedication, and patience. 

 

Finally, while it’s true that not all carbs are created equal and that some are healthier for you than others (as will be discussed in my next article), for now, suffice it to say that carbs are generally not the big bad wolf the media would sometimes have you believe. We all need carbs to survive; it’s how Hashem designed us.

Why Not All Carbs Are Created Equal

Choose Your Carbs Wisely

 

In my previous two articles I discussed the six nutrients that we all need to consume as part of a healthy balanced diet – i.e., proteins, fats, carbohydrates (“carbs”), vitamins, minerals, and water – with the last article focusing specifically on carbs, and how, contrary to popular belief, they are not the “source of all evil” when it comes to weight gain.

 

However, while it’s true that carbs are the preferred fuel for our body, and that we should all eat them as part of our healthy diet, not all carbs are created equal. Now stick with me through the science bits, it’ll be worth it…

 

As previously discussed, there are three types of carbs: simple sugars (such as fruits), and polysaccharides which include starches or complex carbs (such as potatoes and bread) and celluloses or fibrous carbs (such as broccoli). At the end of the day, though, all our energy sources (no matter what they are) are broken down or converted into small sugar (glucose) molecules which are absorbed into the bloodstream (a.k.a., blood sugar), and, with the help of a hormone called insulin, are shuttled into the cells of the body where they can be used for energy. However, if you eat a lot of sugar when your body doesn’t need it, your insulin and blood sugar levels will spike and, instead of the sugar being used effectively in the body, it’ll be stored for later use, i.e., converted to fat.

 

Whoa! Does that mean you shouldn’t have anything that contains sugar ever again? For us sweet-toothed individuals, that pretty much covers anything that tastes good, right? What to do? 

 

There is good news. Of the three types of carbs, only simple sugars will spike your insulin levels because they provide the body with a surge of small sugar molecules that easily enter your bloodstream; and there are certainly times when you need that surge, such as before, during or immediately following a workout. Complex and fibrous carbs, however, contain long/complex sugar molecules that take a while to be broken down in the body and only enter your bloodstream slowly over time. This is one of the reasons why even a small amount of bread or potatoes will satiate your hunger and keep you going for hours afterwards better than a plate of candy would.

 

Complex and fibrous carbs (and even fruit to a degree) also provide fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients that candy typically doesn’t. Fiber is important because it helps you feel full and keeps your digestive system working properly (it can also help to slow the body’s absorption of sugar when eaten together with the sugar-containing food).

 

There is a handy measure of how quickly sugars from foods are absorbed into the bloodstream, and it’s called the Glycemic Index (GI). Be warned though – the index only tells you how quickly individual foods are absorbed; if a high GI food (i.e., a food with quickly-absorbed sugars) is eaten together with a low GI food (i.e., a food with slowly-absorbed sugars), the low GI food will slow down the absorption of the sugars in the high GI food.

 

In summary, then, unless you require a surge of blood sugar, such as before or after you exercise, your best bet is to minimize the amount of simple sugars you eat (such as candy and fruit) and obtain your energy primarily from slow-digesting carbs. Choose whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole grain oats instead of processed cereal; generally speaking, the more processed a food is, the less healthy it is for you (ironically enough, processed white bread is viewed by the Talmud as “food for the affluent”, while whole wheat bread was only consumed by the poorer masses).

 

You can even incorporate whole grain flour into cakes, cookies and challah. My wife makes amazing whole wheat challahs using 50% white whole wheat flour, as well as whole wheat cakes, cookies and muffins (believe me – food tastes better when it’s healthier for you). For other healthy recipes and to contribute your own, please visit www.FrumandFit.com.

 

Make no mistake – small healthier choices add up over time. Each bracha means so much more, and each bite feels more like a mitzva when it’s healthier for you. Eat intelligently. Eat meaningfully. Eat well.

 

Why Eating A Variety of Foods Can Help You Appreciate Your Neighbor

We All Need Each Other

“Why doesn’t he think like me?”; “How can she not see that she’s wrong?”; “How can they be happy living like that?” I’m sure you or someone you know may have had thoughts like these at one time or another. I’m sure it’s only natural. After all, we must all believe in our own actions if we are to be content within our own skin, but if our actions are the “right” actions, shouldn’t everyone think and act similarly, or, at the very least, understand your point of view? 

 

Closer to home, in our own communities, sentiments such as “they’ve totally misrepresented what Judaism is all about” or “we can’t associate with them because they’re [not frum enough/too stringent]” are, unfortunately, not unheard of. In my opinion, this mindset is an inbred disease that affects most Jewish communities around the world, to a lesser or greater degree. I also believe that this mentality, if left unchecked, will ultimately destroy us, tearing our religion apart from the inside out.

 

But enough of that. Let’s get back to talking about one of my favorite topics – food – and the title of this article. How on earth can your neighbor have anything to do with the food you eat? Perhaps more than you think…

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the terms bandied around – “carbs”, “fats”, “protein” – and the multitude of arguments and discussions regarding which ones you should consume more of and which ones you should try and reduce. But what exactly are they, and is “going low carb” or eating “reduced fat” foods really as healthy for you as the media and food companies might have you believe?

 

Some background. There are six classes of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.

 

CARBOHYDRATES (aka “carbs”) comprise molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, i.e., “sugars”. Specifically, there are three types of carbohydrates: simple sugars (such as fruits), starches (such as potatoes and bread), and celluloses or fibrous (such as lettuce – yes, vegetables are carbs). Carbs are the preferred fuel for the body.

 

PROTEINS are complex compounds that are made of different amino acids, which uniquely contain nitrogen, and are the building blocks of our body.

 

FATS, comprising molecules called triglycerides, are solid at room temperature (fats that are liquid at room temperature are called oils), and provide insulation from extreme temperatures, as well as carry nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins around the body (see below).

 

Carbs, proteins and fats are known as “macronutrients” because they comprise the classes of chemical compounds humans consume in the largest quantities and which provide bulk energy.  There are also “micronutrients” including VITAMINS (substances that help essential body reactions take place, and include water-soluble and fat-soluble varieties) and MINERALS (inorganic substances that are involved in water balance, nerve impulse stimulation, acid-base balance, and energy reactions).

 

Finally, WATER carries nutrients to cells and carries waste products away from cells. It also serves as a body lubricant and, through sweat (or “perspiration” if you’re more genteel), helps maintain body temperature.

 

Of course, these six nutrients do far more than the above brief outline, and each will be discussed more thoroughly in future articles, but the important concept to internalize here is that we all need each of these nutrients to survive; no one nutrient is more important than the other. Indeed, too much or too little of any single nutrient increases the risk of health and/or performance complications.

 

In short, any extreme is a bad extreme, and one should never totally eliminate any nutrient from your diet. The best strategy for maintaining a healthy nutrient balance is to eat a wide variety of foods, regularly consume fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid a monotonous intake of the same few foods day after day; this will ensure optimal nutrient exposure, and avoid potential nutrient toxicities that may result from an excess consumption of vitamins and/or minerals. Although a little of something may be good for you, it does not necessarily mean that more is better. No single food has all the nutrients a person needs to stay healthy, so consuming a plethora of foods covers all departments.

 

I think you can see where I’m going with this. Hashem could have just as easily created a single food that would supply us with all the nutrients we need, rather than have us scavenge around looking for many different types of food. Of course, while we were a fledgling nation in the desert, He did exactly that, in the form of manna. Alas, we all must leave the nest at some point in our development, as did the Bnei Yisrael. We all must come to realize that life is not about the singular answer, but about appreciating the amazing variety that Hashem has graciously provided us. This is true of both the foods we eat, and the people we meet. Every person, by mere virtue of their presence in this world, fulfils Hashem’s desire in some way, whether that reason is known to you or not. Perhaps, instead of denigrating these “others”, we should make a more concerted effort to try and understand them, and, conceivably, come to realize their importance in the world too.

 

Just as we should try and eat a variety of foods in moderation, eat with respect and consideration, and always eat with appreciation; so too should we treat our fellow human beings, prizing each of our differences instead of quelling them.

 

Food is so much more than something that merely sustains us, and society is so much more than something that merely retains us. Be a “light unto the nations” – illuminate them as well as ourselves. 

How Much Should I Exercise?

Working on the Whole of You

 

For some people, asking “how much should I exercise?” is the wrong question. In some cases, “should I exercise at all?” or “what exercise is best for me?” are more suitable questions. I will answer the first question by simply responding ‘yes’, and will address the second question by responding “exercises, plural”. Let me elaborate.

 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the general exercise recommendations for healthy adults include at least five days per week of moderate intensity aerobic (cardiovascular endurance) activities, weight-bearing exercise, and flexibility exercise (or at least three days per week if the exercise is vigorous); and two to three days per week of muscular strength and endurance (resistance), calisthenics, balance and agility exercise. This applies to most healthy adults, regardless of age or gender; this means, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, these should be your exercise goals. Quite a lot of exercise, right? But what defines “moderate” and “vigorous” exercise, and how are you meant to pack all of that into one week? Which exercise is best for you?

 

Well, unfortunately, no single exercise will best provide the physical challenges needed to enhance all aspects of your fitness. Weights/resistance training will improve your strength and musculature, but is not the best option for development of your cardio-respiratory system. Running is great for your heart, but will not improve your flexibility as much as yoga, Pilates or other similar stretching routines will.

 

It is a common misconception (particularly of women and older individuals) that weight training is “not for them” because they “don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger”. That performing resistance exercises will inevitably “bulk you up” is simply not true. Unless you train specifically to gain mass (including consuming the requisite large number of quality calories necessary to promote and sustain muscle growth), you will not develop huge muscles. Instead, you will become strong and toned. Similar to your teeth – you only have to brush those you’d like to keep – muscles work the same way: you only have to exercise those particular muscles you’d like to keep; if you don’t use them, they’ll likely deteriorate. After all, why should your body allocate its valuable resources and energy to a part that isn’t being used? Like any efficient company, departments are downsized if they’re not profitable. So, in short, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should incorporate resistance training into their weekly exercise regimen.

 

Another common misconception (particularly of men) is that flexibility training, such as yoga, is “only for girls”. This is also a fallacy. First of all, yoga is pretty tough, if performed correctly. More importantly, though, if one doesn’t train one’s body to extend through a full range of motion, muscles will stiffen and injury will ultimately occur when, inevitably on occasion, one has to perform a physical activity that necessitates a wide movement (picture reaching for something and feeling something “go”). Again, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should incorporate flexibility exercises into their weekly routine.

 

Finally, while some people (often men) strive to become more muscular, focusing primarily on [anaerobic] resistance training, one should not forget to train the cardio-vascular system as well. Yes, working with weights can improve your heart health, but it cannot completely negate the value of pure aerobic exercise. Once again, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should perform some aerobic exercise at least three times per week.

 

That being said, some workouts aim to satisfy several requirements of physical fitness development simultaneously, such as resistance circuit training (think of weight training without stopping for long breaks) or power yoga (intense isometric poses that push your muscles to the limit; definitely NOT sitting cross-legged and humming ‘um’). Be warned, however, while these more extreme training methods can save you time, they’re definitely more intense than a leisurely jog on the treadmill or a walk around the block.

 

Most of us are, baruch Hashem, reasonably healthy, and so have a wide array of exercises to choose from with which we can maintain and better our wellbeing. Others, though, may currently be unable to perform certain exercises due to poor health, rachmana litzlan. However, this typically does not preclude the performance of ALL exercise for these individuals. Though heavy resistance or high-intensity interval training may be contraindicated in certain instances, training with lighter weights to build muscular endurance, brisk walking to maintain a healthy heart, or gentle stretching to improve balance and flexibility is likely perfectly acceptable and should generally be encouraged. With a little creativity, there are always alternatives and options for those who want to maintain and improve their health.

 

Most importantly, however, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, whatever you end up choosing, the following two mindsets should always apply:

 

Progressive Development: always aim to improve, no matter what exercises you choose. If you perform resistance training, increase the weight you lift or the reps/sets you complete; if you stretch, try to increase your range of motion or the amount of time you can hold a difficult pose; if you run or perform another aerobic workout, try to increase the incline or the distance, or keep the incline and distance the same but aim to beat your last time, or try to gradually improve your heart rate response. Every moment you exercise is an opportunity to evolve, to be better today than you were yesterday, to test your limits and realize your true potential.

 

Prioritize: exercise should not be something you squeeze into your schedule. It should not be a chore to cross off your to do list. Exercise should be part of your healthy lifestyle, as much as eating meals or learning Torah. We exercise so that we can be strong and continue to serve Hashem with all our abilities. To not do so, I believe, is a repudiation of our true purpose as frum Jews; we must be strong and healthy physically, so that we can be strong and healthy spiritually.

 

Find exercises you can enjoy (either by yourself or with friends), and perform them as you would any other mitzvah – with love, energy, and passion. Every day is an opportunity to grow stronger, grow wiser, and grow closer to Hashem; don’t let your excuses shield you from your potential. If you haven’t found any exercises you enjoy, you haven’t finished looking.

Making Eating Meaningful

Appreciating Each Bite

 

I love eating cake. I love eating cookies. I love pizza and sweet potato fries too. Lest you be concerned that this personal trainer has totally lost his mind, I’ll also admit that I love eating apples and strawberries, grilled chicken, fresh salad, and guacamole. Why do I list some of the many foods I enjoy? Two reasons: 1) to simply make the point that being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean restricting what you eat, including those foods you love to eat but that you may view as “bad” for you; and 2) now you know my preferences if ever you were to extend me a Shabbat lunch invitation.

 

In truth, there is another reason why I’m talking about food. Last issue we discussed the importance of making exercise meaningful. We don’t just “go through the motions” of getting a decent sweat on; we value our health for what it is – a continual gift from Hashem that allows us to serve Him with all the potential with which we’ve been blessed. The other side of the health coin, of course, is adequate nutrition. If we understand that keeping fit strengthens the body that houses our precious neshama, so too should we similarly value and contemplate what goes into our mouths.

 

However, I don’t want to talk about what we should eat, when we should eat, or how much we should eat; these subjects will be examined in future articles. Today I’d like to discuss HOW we should eat.

 

“Wait a minute, Chemmie, I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one… something about putting the food into my mouth, right?” Yes, that’s true, but that’s only a superficial view of the big picture. As frum Jews, if exercise is so much more than repetitive movements with weights, or moving around until you keel over in a puddle of your own perspiration, then eating must also denote far more than simply shoving food into your mouth.

 

Of course, we recite a bracha before we consume anything, but what goes through your mind at that moment? Perhaps you focus on the words of the blessing? Perhaps you imagine how good the food will taste? Perhaps you consider how expensive the food was to purchase, or the last time you ate such a food? As you eat the food, though, can you truly admit that the experience is meaningful to you spiritually?

 

I suggest deliberating upon the following questions next time you put anything in your mouth:

 

1)    Where on the planet does this food/drink come from? How many steps in the production process did it take for the food/drink to get from where it originated to where it now sits in front of you? In this age of worldwide connectedness, walking into your local grocery can be quite a globetrotting experience. In addition to home-grown produce, you’re just as likely to find foods from numerous countries throughout the world. Wandering around Pathmark recently I noted honeydew melons from Honduras, pineapples from Costa Rica, tomatoes from Mexico, peaches from Chile, mangoes from Peru, and bananas from Guatemala, and that was just in the fruit and vegetable section! Take a moment to ponder what it took for that produce to end up in your shopping basket; envision the country of origin, the climate, the people, the language, the amazing biodiversity of this remarkable planet. Someone had to grow it, someone had to pick it, someone had to package it, transport it, unpack it, and display it. Quality control, administrative assistants, mechanics, drivers… the list goes on and on, all so you can enjoy that food for mere pennies. Even growing your own fruit or vegetables from your backyard makes you appreciate where our food comes from. Here in the States, as in many affluent countries throughout the developed world, we are truly blessed beyond our imagination.

 

2)    How many ingredients are included in this food? Not that I necessarily condone factory-produced foods, but one has to marvel at the scientific wizardry that goes into extended shelf lives and synthetic flavor explosions. Perhaps more appropriately, even foods prepared at home can be constructed with both finesse and creativity. Each individual component of a dish is truly a miracle; but, when orchestrated as one, they can cumulatively be awe-inspiring.

 

3)    How was the food prepared? How many separate steps went into the preparation of that meal you’re joyfully eating? Did the onions have to be sautéed first? Did the vegetables have to be sliced a certain way? Did the blended ingredients have to reach just the right consistency for the chemistry to work? Did the pasta need to be cooked for just the right amount of time at just the right temperature to be neither too hard nor too soft? Cooking is both an art and a science; one variable out of place, and the recipe might disintegrate.

 

4)    How long did it take to prepare the food and who prepared it? One might ask whether the food was prepared with a pan or a wok, a grater or a knife, an oven or a broiler. But perhaps a more meaningful question might be whether the food was prepared with love. Who prepared the food for you? Was she tired after having looked after the kids since they came home from school, and yet still somehow found the time and energy to rustle you up a nutritious home-cooked meal? Did he go to the store to pick up those ingredients for you, even though he was tired after working all day in the office and then learning for an hour or two at night? Never forget your chef. Never forget your delivery service.

 

5)    What physical coordination is required to navigate that food into your mouth? How many bodily processes need to occur to process that food correctly and give your body what it needs to survive? What bodily processes occur that allow you to gain pleasure from eating the food? One would need a library of books to adequately give the human body its due. Rambam commented how, to truly know the Artist, you must study His creations. This is true for every discipline of science. Each of us is a world unto ourselves. Each a breathtakingly complex organism, capable of feeding ourselves and separating the nutrients from the waste. We know when we’re hungry, we know when we’re full – some of us are even in control of our nourishment urges. If that wasn’t enough, Hashem beneficently gives us the ability to enjoy our food; we experience it with so many senses, our eyes and nose first, then our lips, our tongue, teeth, throat, and stomach. Each sense, a blessing; each facet of the food – its color, its flavor, its texture, and its aroma, all remarkable gifts.

 

Perhaps this explains how the righteous eats to satisfy his soul (Proverbs 13:25). Every bite should bring you closer towards Hashem. Every meal, every bracha, every ingredient that touches your tongue should fill your essence with a love for Hashem. True, we shouldn’t live to eat… but nor should we eat to live. Instead, we should eat to love; to love our own bodies, and to love a generous and merciful God who gives us the ability to worship Him in such a tasty and nutritious way on a daily basis.

 

Making Exercise Meaningful

Appreciating the Mitzva of Maintaining Your Health

 

“Running on the treadmill is tedious and boring”; “lifting weights up and down is tiring and repetitive”; “sweating and feeling uncomfortable is not fun or exhilarating”… the list goes on and on… all the many reasons why people don’t like exercising. I feel your pain. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, all things being equal, I’d prefer to sit on the couch and read a good book, rather than exerting myself every day in the wee hours of the morning, exercising and sweating while the rest of my family sleeps comfortably in their warm beds.

 

Unfortunately, all things are not equal.

 

Ever since Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, thereby blending nature’s disparities, it has been our mission to discern the true essence of our environment, extricating the pure from the impure, and the holy from the unholy. In particular, as Jews – as emissaries of Hashem’s holiness in this world – we claim as such during Havdalah, as we start each week anew, pledging to transcend a little higher every day, shedding the visceral drives with which we all battle daily.

 

By its very definition, though, isn’t exercise the very quintessence of bodily focus? If we place emphasis on the physical aspect of our being, do we not stand the risk of losing ourselves in the vanity of corporal pursuit? How, as frum Jews, can we instill the maintenance of our health with spiritual meaning and sanctity?

 

As is the Jewish way, permit me to answer the questions with some questions. With what do we build our Succah?  With what do we walk to shul? With what do we carry home our groceries in preparation for Shabbat?

 

Our body isn’t a mere vessel that houses our soul. No. It’s far more than that. It’s our tool, our only tool, that Hashem has graciously given us in this world, with which to perform mitzvot and live a Torah existence. Of course, we need our mind to study the Torah, but we need our bodies to perform that which our mind examines.

 

Without a healthy body, our soul is hampered, trapped inside a physical prison, unable to realize its potential; unable to serve Hashem with the love with which it was given.

 

As you know, we don’t eat or drink anything without first reciting a bracha. We are continually mindful of the gifts Hashem kindly bestows upon us. Moreover, by concentrating on a blessing prior to partaking of our food, we instill in that food a sacred purpose; an apple is so much more than an apple when the nutrition is provides powers the body that performs mitzvot and learns Torah. 

 

Well then, so too should our bodies be similarly energized. The arm that lifts that dumbbell will also lift the Arba Minim; the legs that run on the treadmill will also run to visit the sick; the back that struggles with a pull-up is the same back that must be strong enough to hold its children and grandchildren. Every repetition is a step towards a healthier and better version of you; every stride is a mitzva that moves you closer towards Hashem. The heart that exerts itself on the elliptical will be better prepared to endure, to survive another day, to be strong and bring kedusha into this world for many days and years to come.

 

By maintaining our health and striving for both spiritual and physical excellence, we can imbue our body, our soul’s amazing instrument, with a divine aura that is both sacred and organic?

 

In our own way and with our own strengths, each of us has been blessed with awe-inspiring godly potential; I urge you, with all my heart, not to waste yours.

The Successful Vacation: Coming Back Healthier

 

Going Away Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

 

As the temperature drops, and the snow falls, many of us dream of hibernating over the long cold winter, curling up in front of a cozy fire and beneath several warm blankets. Some lucky souls have other plans – to escape this perishing weather for warmer climates, if only for a few days.  While both options sound tempting, and as beneficial as it may be to “conserve” your energy, or  lap up much needed rays of sun and relax with friends and family, it’s also very likely that, in doing so, healthy eating and exercise regimens will be “put on hold”. After all, “I’m on vacation”, right? 

 

Wrong! Now, more than ever, we need to show resolve, and adhere to a healthy diet and exercise routine. But doing so while on vacation can sometimes be challenging. Food choices are often limited; access to a gym cannot be assumed; and space to exercise is often unavailable. So what’s a frum healthy Jew to do? Here are my 7 tips to coming back from your vacation more relaxed AND healthier than before you left:

 

1)    PLAN AHEAD: Don’t arrive at your vacation, only to use the “but I didn’t bring my sneakers” excuse. If you’re going to pack 10 pairs of shoes, make sure you can exercise in one of them. Bring at least one pair of shorts or jogging bottoms that can [also] be used to workout. Bring a stopwatch. Bring an mp3 player and headphones. Don’t leave your motivation at home.

 

2)    BRING EQUIPMENT: True, it’s difficult to pack your entire set of dumbbells in your suitcase, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bang out an invigorating resistance workout. Bring a sturdy bag with handles, such as a backpack, that you can fill with books, cans of food, bottles of water, or even bags of sand. Exercise bands (essentially over-sized rubber bands) are also another excellent tool that you should add to your training equipment arsenal; they’re light, easy to pack, and are exceedingly versatile.

 

3)    GET CREATIVE: Don’t have any equipment? No problem. Grab some furniture – improvise and be resourceful; all you need is a couple of chairs: work your chest and triceps with dips and incline pushups; work your shoulders by lifting each chair with mostly straight arms in different directions away from your body; work your back by resting a broomstick or something similar over the top of both chairs and hang down from it, using it to reverse row; work your legs by standing facing away from the chair, resting one foot on the chair seat behind you, and dip down with the front leg (making sure the front knee doesn’t track over the toes); work your abdominals by lying on your back in front of the chair and either resting your feet on top of the chair seat or hooking them underneath the chair to perform crunches. Two chairs, and you can work your entire body. Add a few books to adjust the angles of movement, and some water bottles to use as resistance weights, and the possibilities are endless. You can find everything you need in any hotel room or public park. You’re only limited by your imagination. Get creative.

 

4)    STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE: OK. You’ve been dropped off on a desert island or you’ve been incarcerated, and there isn’t anything to work with except the floor you’re standing on. What now? Well, notwithstanding the fact that being incarcerated isn’t really my idea of a vacation, it still shouldn’t be a problem to workout. Enter the biggest known secret in the health world: calisthenics. Although the fitness industry would have you believe you need to spend your hard-earned money on expensive gym memberships and fancy exercise equipment to be healthy and strong, it’s a total myth; all you need is your body. Pushups, pull-ups, air squats, jumping jacks, core exercises, and anything else that gets your heart pumping are all the moves you need. There’s never a time when you can’t exercise. There’s never a time when you can’t mix things up and create a fun workout with which to challenge yourself.

 

5)    FAMILY SANITY: You’re on vacation with your family and, assuming you’re like most families, it won’t take you too long before one or more of you start going stir crazy with all the “quality time” you’re spending with each other. Before someone says something they’ll regret later, work off the tension with a family run, or friendly competition to see who can do the most jumping jacks in two minutes. Get the blood pumping and keep the love flowing.

 

6)    MORNINGS MATTER: Don’t sleep too late and fritter away the day. Sure, you’re on vacation, so sleeping in a little can be beneficial, but waiting too long to rise will set a poor tone for the remainder of the day. One thing is for sure: gathering the strength and wherewithal to exercise at the end of a long day vacationing is highly unlikely; not to mention the fact that the temperatures and humidity in areas with subtropical climates, such as Florida, grow grizzlier as the day progresses. Instead, grab a quick workout in the morning, before you rush off (or not) to enjoy the rest of the day. Get your heart racing for at least 10-15 minutes, and your whole day will start on the right foot. You’ll also enjoy all those vacation meals more; you’ll have earned them.

 

7)    SNACKS: Going on vacation is often thought of as the perfect excuse to get away from not only your work or school, but also your healthy diet. Well, not by you or me. You should definitely treat yourself to good tasty food while you get away from things, but you should treat yourself similarly when you’re at home too. With a little careful planning, excuses such as “but there was nothing to eat apart from that bag of chips or that chocolate bar” will be moot. Instead of snacking on candy, take healthier food with you on day trips, such as a big bag of vegetables or fruit, or a small bag of nuts. If you’re going to graze, graze with style.

 

As frum Jews, we must become adept at surviving as Jews in the non-Jewish world. Maintaining our frumkite is, quite frankly, not overly challenging when we’re surrounded by our friends and family in our tight-knit orthodox communities. The true test is when we’re away from our familiar protective environment. This is true spiritually, and it’s true physically as well. Going on vacation doesn’t mean you stop davening or learning, and it doesn’t mean you stop exercising either. Rejuvenate your soul, rejuvenate your body, and come back stronger than before you left; invigorate and revitalize yourself inside and out to better serve Hashem.

 

Finally, don’t forget to bring back a little sunshine for the rest of us who’ll be stuck here with the snow and ice… sure, shoveling is also good exercise, but I’d much rather be keeping fit in 72’F weather.

 

Progressive Development: The Key To Realizing Your Potential

 

How To Be The Best You Can Be

 

In the last post I presented eight ideas to enhance your exercise experience, adding fun and inspiration to what, for many people, can feel like a chore at best, to something that should be avoided at all costs at worst.  In fact, viewing exercise negatively at all is, I would argue, tantamount to disdaining one of Hashem’s mitzvot.

 

Indeed, like many commandments we must perform, one can demonstrate differing levels of commitment and love.  If you exercise at all, do you do it halfheartedly and sporadically?  How important is being healthy to you?  Yes, something is better than nothing, and learning even a single pasuk a day is better than never opening up a sefer; but is that why Hashem created us?  To cruise through life, only aiming for a “C-grade”, setting our bar low enough to barely succeed, just so we can stroke our ego and kid ourselves into thinking we’re doing all we can?

 

Don’t treat your health as something you merely maintain; view it as something to improve.  Don’t grow older, don’t grow tired, just grow.  It’s a myth that we must all age, with progressive degeneration our only lot in life.  No!  Rather than “progressive degeneration”, let me impart to you the secret to achieving one’s potential: PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENT.

 

This simple idea allowed Alexander the Great to create one of the largest empires in the ancient world; it forged the very heart of the United States; and it’s the essence of humankind’s continual advancement.  Progressive development is simply the principle that one must always move forward, always strive to do better today than you did yesterday, with the ultimate goal of being better tomorrow than you are today, and one day, with Hashem’s grace, realizing your potential.

 

Progressive development is not a lofty philosophical aspiration; not only should you view it as absolutely attainable, but a chiyuv for each and every one of us.  A day you haven’t tried to improve yourself and/or your environment is a day wasted.

 

With regards to exercise, this could mean running just 10 seconds longer than you did yesterday; finishing one more rep than you pushed out during your last workout; or lifting a few more pounds on the barbell than you managed the previous week.  Whatever the improvement, always improve.  Never stay stationary; never be satisfied with simply repeating the same workout week after week, month after month.  Never let your workouts grow stale.  Never let your ambitions wither.  Never let your life fade before your eyes; just as we should evolve, one day at a time, so can we also falter, gradually, but very surely, one day at a time.

 

Last time we discussed setting short, medium, and long term goals to push us forward.  Losing 50 pounds might seem impossible, but losing 5 pounds is certainly doable.  Completing 20 pull-ups or 50 pushups in a row may seem like the stuff of legend when doing even 5 in a row can feel impossible, but surely performing just 1 or 2 reps is well within everyone’s reach.  The idea of running a marathon is likely totally preposterous to most people, but jogging around the block should not be something that scares you.  To butcher the famous quote of Lao-tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, “A journey of a thousand steps starts with one”.  We must all begin somewhere.

 

You CAN be that strong, you CAN run that distance, you CAN do anything you set your mind to.  It took you a while to get to where you are now, and it’ll take you a while to get to where you’re going, so be prepared for the long haul.  There’s no easy fix, there’s no magic bullet; just hard work, discipline, commitment, and the determination to take things one step at a time, one meal at a time, and one day at a time.  Small steps are easy and, just like the shaky steps of a toddler, even though you may fall down, you must resolve to get right up again, brush yourself off, and keep on moving.  All you can do is your best.  Each day, moving just a little more, growing just a little more, pushing your limits just a little more.

 

You are confined only by the walls you build yourself, and are constrained only by your imagination and emunahMitzrayim, the land from which we were redeemed, as we are currently reading, literally means “borders” or “boundaries”.  When Hashem gave us the freedom to escape Mitzrayim, he gave us the ability to break through our own boundaries; we shattered our shackles, and that’s why we survive.  Always push your limits.  If you don’t, you’ll never know how much you’re truly capable of.

 

Let me end with a poem I’ve always held dear to my heart, written by Donna Levine:

 

There is inside of you all of the potential to be whatever you want to be – all the energy to do whatever you want to do.  Imagine yourself as you would like to be, doing what you want to do, and each day take one step towards your dream.  And though at times it may be too difficult to continue, hold on to your dream.  One morning you will awake to find that you are the person you dreamed of – doing what you want to do – simply because you had the courage to believe in your potential and to hold on to your dream.

 

No More Excuses – Part III: “But I Hate Exercising…”

 

Making Workouts Feel Less Like Work

 

I’m going to let you into a little secret, one that you might find surprising, given the fact that I’m a personal trainer:  I don’t like exercising. In fact, I’d much rather curl up on the couch with a good book and a hot cup of tea.  So how do I find the will to get up at 4:30 every morning to work out?  How do I make exercising fun and enjoyable; something for which I want to get out of bed? Here are 8 ideas that will hopefully inspire you, and keep you moving during these short cold days:

 

1)    GOALS: Set small, medium, and long term attainable goals for yourself; if you’re unsure what goals are realistic and which are a little “overzealous”, do some research, or simply drop me a line. Rejoice in your successes, and reward yourself when you reach a goal (although preferably NOT with food). Buy yourself something nice after losing X lbs; take a day off after exercising consistently over a set period of time; go on a small vacation once you’ve dropped X inches around your hips or waist. Work hard and play hard.

 

2)    FRIENDSHIP: Some people prefer social interaction when they exercise and some people prefer solitude. If exercising with friends will spur you and keep you on track, there are many ways nowadays to find an exercise partner or group and keep each other motivated, both on- and off-line.  Working out with friends, or engaging in another physical pursuit or sport with your peers, is often enjoyable and enthusing. Each encourages the other; each inspires the other.

 

3)    MUSIC: Put a few playlists together, making sure the tempo is fast enough, and enjoy exercising to your favorite songs. Let the rhythm move you. When you think you can’t go on any more, your body willing to give up, just push yourself to the end of the next song.

 

4)    LEARN: Be twice as productive. Exercise while listening to a shiur. Better yet, set yourself a goal of completing a set of shiurim or even daf yomi, and nourish your neshamah as you exercise your guf. You can also watch or listen to lectures (check out www.thegreatcourses.com).

 

5)    PLAY: On the other hand, if you fancy something a little less “cerebral”, with the advent of Hulu.com and Netflix, as well as “old school” DVDs, you can put on your favorite show or a good movie and lose yourself for a while. If you don’t finish the movie or have more episodes to watch, there’s the added incentive to exercise again and finish what you were watching.

 

6)    VARIETY: Mix up your workout routines. Don’t repeat a workout so often that it gets stale. Try different exercises. Switch around your exercise order. Your options are only limited by your creativity and imagination.

 

7)    EXPERIENCE: Try different cardio options. There’s more to life than the treadmill. Try rowing, cycling, stair climbing, or the elliptical. Try interval training, yoga, Zumba, Pilates, kickboxing, hip hop classes (I did this one myself last year, it was great), or sports you can play inside such as basketball or 5-a-side soccer. Sign up for a “bootcamp” training session. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

 

8)    APPRECIATE: Finally, although winter is coming, start thinking about the spring now. Get out more. Try bike riding, hiking, running, sports, or even surfing; the list goes on and on. Aside from the exercise, the fresh air is healthy for you too. Take time to “smell the roses” and appreciate this amazing world Hashem has created for us.

 

Most importantly, remember, you’re exercising to be healthy; do it for yourself – turn off your cell phone, ask your spouse to look after the kids (or get up half an hour earlier before they wake up), and treat yourself to some “alone time”. You deserve it.

 

When you’re done, take an additional few minutes to care for your body and purify your soul’s wondrous instrument; no shower feels as good as the one that is earned.

Chanukah! Thanksgiving! The Calories Are Coming, The Calories Are Coming! Run For Your Lives!

Don’t Panic!

 

After discussing how to survive the constant barrage of unhealthy high-calorie foods that seem to incessantly invade our environment, we’re now faced with a double whammy: eight days of Chanukah AND Thanksgiving, all rolled into one! Classic! I think this would be a good opportunity, therefore, to discuss how best to handle the upcoming holidays vis-à-vis the expected caloric overload.

 

Let’s start with what will happen.  You are going to treat yourself to a donut (doughnut?) or latka, and perhaps even two; and you are going to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with friends and/or family. These are good things; this is how it should be. What you shouldn’t do is a) think that eating 2,000 or even 3,000 calories in a single sitting won’t affect you; b) think that you can work off the surplus calories the day after by running a marathon; or c) worry about overindulging to the point where your enjoyment of the festivities is compromised.

 

So, what to do, what do to? How to reconcile the inevitable onslaught?

 

I don’t believe it’s realistic to avoid or deny such temptations, nor do I think it’s healthy to do so. However, enjoying yourself doesn’t necessarily mean opening the floodgates either. Instead, it means ‘preparation beforehand’; ‘discipline, thought and enjoyment during’; and ‘control and appreciation afterwards’:

 

PREPARATION BEFOREHAND: Don’t come home from work to light the Chanukah candles, ravenous and willing to eat every donut or latka within arms’ reach the moment you finish singing Maoz Tzur. Instead, make sure you eat a snack in the late afternoon to ‘take the edge off’ before you come home. Feel free to have a Chanukah treat, but only after eating a healthy supper loaded with stomach-filling vegetables; you’ll eat less unhealthy food afterwards. Similarly, don’t start the Thanksgiving dinner on a totally empty stomach. I know its counter intuitive (why would you eat before you eat in order to eat less?), but even drinking a large glass of water before a meal will help keep your hunger at bay long enough for you to eat more mindfully. Which brings me to…

 

DISCIPLINE, THOUGHT AND ENJOYMENT DURING: Always eat mindfully. Know why you’re eating the food you’re eating, and have a sense of how much food you need. Eat for fuel, not for fun. Eat slowly, purposefully, and with kavanah. Make a bracha like you mean it, and appreciate every bite. If you’ve ever watched a small child enjoy a cookie, you’ll know what I mean; they don’t eat the cookie, they experience the cookie. Appreciate every mouthful in the moment, and stop thinking of the next bite before you’ve even finished chewing the last.

 

CONTROL AND APPRECIATION AFTERWARDS: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have dessert, but know that you’re eating dessert for enjoyment, not because you’re hungry; if you’re hungry, eat food that’s nutritious. Feel free to eat anything you like, but always in moderation. Finally, know when to say ‘enough’; animals don’t overeat in their natural environment, and nor should you. Gluttony is a sin, pure and simple.

 

 

Try 20-45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise (cardio intervals are excellent) within an hour before the big meal; this will increase your metabolism, minimizing the caloric surplus, and shuttle the nutrients in the food to where they’re needed, not to your waistline. You can also exercise after the meal, waiting 30-90 minutes to allow for digestion.

 

Finally, if you do find you’ve eaten more than you should have, try to eat less and exercise more the remainder of the day. If you accidently dropped your phone on the ground, you wouldn’t think of jumping up and down on it just because you slipped up once – we all make bad decisions from time to time, don’t throw good money after bad, don’t pick at the wound…dress it, and move on with your life.

 

Prepare beforehand; enjoy in moderation and with appreciation; and always thank Hashem for the amazing gifts of good food and good health. What better time to do so then now, during Chanukah and Thanksgiving?

 

No More Excuses – Part II: Surrounded By Nosh

More Reasons Not To Give Up

 

Last post I discussed that having a lack of time and a lack of support can be two reasons why it’s sometimes difficult to reach our health and fitness goals. This week, I’d like to examine another common excuse, and see if we can’t, instead, use it as a tool to help us achieve our objectives.

 

SURROUNDED BY NOSH AT HOME/WORK: Pizza day at work? Your co-worker decides to treat the whole office to the leftovers from their weekend birthday party? Your spouse believes that always keeping packets of cookies on hand in the house is vital, just in case there’s a blackout? Here in the affluent west, we’re all surrounded by a continual barrage of alluring unhealthy indulgences. It’s so easy to make unwise choices, especially when everyone around us makes those same poor choices. So how can we fight the tide? How can we muster the self-control and discipline to “choose life”?

 

First of all, once you’ve made the healthy decision to make healthier decisions, and have stocked up on more nutritious alternatives, make a clean sweep of your kitchen and pantry (and anywhere else you may have a ‘stash’). All you need to do after that is stop walking down the cookie aisle in the supermarket. Does that mean you’ll never eat another cookie or piece of cake again? No, of course not, nor should it be, and we’ll discuss more about that in a subsequent issue, but for now, simply know that it’s far more challenging to make better food choices when familiar temptations continue to be so readily available.

 

One of the biggest excuses I hear regarding people’s ‘questionable’ food choices is “there was nothing else to eat”, especially if you’re in unfamiliar surroundings; well that’s easy enough to change: Think ahead. Always think ahead, always have healthful foods with you, or at the very least, healthier alternatives to the more deleterious enticements we’re all inevitably faced with from time to time. Don’t wait until you’re hungry before wondering what there is to eat; inevitably, the only foods that are easily obtainable in those pivotal instances are not ideal, to say the least. Instead, plan ahead and prevent the ‘surprise’ of ‘having’ to have an unhealthy snack. I suggest preparing your meals in advance, several at a time in separate containers that you can grab from the fridge whenever you need them. Before you go out, even if you’re not hungry at that moment, grab an apple or a handful of nuts for later, just in case there aren’t any healthy alternatives at your destination. 

 

Finally, learn to say ‘no’; don’t give in to social or familial pressure. Admittedly, we’re all affected by foods differently; so ultimately, you must make the right choices for your own body. For some people, though, sugar and fat can feel just as addictive as drugs; a fact that is sometimes difficult to comprehend by those people who don’t share those same intense cravings.

 

At the end of the day, then, only you can control what goes into your mouth; it is only your own reflection with which you must contend. You are stronger than that piece of cake.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

This is a good article that explains why not all calories are created equal.  How can two foods with the same number of calories affect your body so differently?  Read this. 

http://www.ou.org/life/food/a-calorie-is-a-calorie-is-a-calorie-or-is-it/#.UfcE5uDenGl

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