Category Archive: Nutrition

Guard Your Neshama, Fortify Your Body

A Rant From A Frum Personal Trainer

 

Week after week, I continually find myself in awe of our beloved Rabbanim who give so much of their time and selves to serve their respective communities, preparing presentation after presentation to invigorate us all. Sitting attentively in shul, I generally find the words of our leaders inspiring and motivating, instilling in me a sense of purpose; moving me to be a better person, a better Jew, a better husband, a better father, and a better son. As I look around my own community, and those orthodox communities throughout Bergen County, and further afield, I would postulate we’re generally heading in the right direction; improving, growing, developing, and evolving. Their precious words are having an impact. 

 

However, as I proudly look around the shuls, I also notice something else, something concerning, something saddening… people’s ever expanding waistlines and neglected bodies. In a country where more than a third of adults and approximately 17% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese, it appears the trend has not escaped our own Jewish communities. In this extended article, I don’t intend to examine the obesity epidemic in the US. Rather, I would like to discuss our own role as frum Jews in adding our own numbers to these sobering statistics. I would also stress that the comments herein are not directed towards any particular shul or community; rather, these issues appear to me to be endemic.

 

Many years ago, it was explained to me, half in jest, that the root of Jewish festivals can be summarized as follows: “We won, we eat; we lost, we fast”. While we all know there’s a lot more to our holidays than that, it does highlight what is, as is true in many other cultures, so important to our religion and way of life: food. 

 

From celebratory kiddushim, to the seuda ha’mafseket; from seudot mitzvah, to the seudat ha’vraah; from doughnuts and latkes on Chanukah, to matza and wine on Pesach; and from cheesecake on Shavuot, to honey on Rosh Hashanah. Food is nourishing, food is symbolic, food is comforting, food is emblematic of our role as spiritual beings living on a physical plane; we must do as our bodies do – learn to distinguish the good from the bad; imbibing the positive from the world around us, and expelling the negative. 

 

But we also have a mitzvah to guard our souls (Venishmartem Meod Lenafshoteichem [Devarim 4:15]), to maintain our bodies, to respect the vessel in which our holy essence resides. How important is this task to us? Do we place even a fraction of the value of a healthy diet and exercise against the eternal merit and virtue of a moment of Torah study? How long can we expect to serve Hashem in a decrepit and ailing body?

 

Unfortunately, I think we’re failing, both as individuals and as communities, to adequately address and safeguard this important mitzvah.

 

Our shuls have become, in large part, meeting places to socialize and eat, with the weekly Shabbat kiddush increasingly becoming the focal point of our gatherings. Being able to celebrate a joyous occasion with the community with good food and merriment is a wonderful blessing from Hashem; hedonistic abandon and disregard of the mitzvah to be healthy, however, is not what I would contend our smachot should portray. Nosh and often alcohol is plentiful, to be sure, but can we not have a more nutritious balance? (and cholent hardly counts). Let us provide ourselves and our families with a thoughtful array of treats that offer both soulful enjoyment and physical benefit. When we celebrate together, and the only foods presented are those that are deleterious to our health, what message do we give our children? 

 

Moreover, it seems to me that the nature of the infamous shul “Candy Man” has changed somewhat from when I was younger. The relationship between the older and younger generation, the former inspiring the latter with a single piece of candy and a friendly smile, has now morphed into a relationship between our children and the candy itself. Don’t misunderstand me – there is value to sweetening the shul experience for our youngsters, giving them an incentive and some physical enjoyment when they’re in shul – but handing out candy with no strings attached, or even worse, letting them take as much as they like, is not something, in my opinion, that should be commended. It should be expected that each child say “Good Shabbos” and “please” before being allowed a piece of candy, and I mean a single piece, to be then followed by a “thank you”. We may only be able to hope for appreciation from our children, but we should always expect respect from them. In all instances, our children should understand that candy is a treat to be eaten in moderation, not a right they have to claim in abundance, nor a reward for good behavior. This is not a criticism of our children; it’s a castigation of us adults – we should know better! 

 

The place for candy and junk food in all our lives should be questioned; consuming anything in considered moderation is good and proper, but unfettered access and expectation of physical pleasure cannot be good for either us or our children.  

 

We can’t send our children mixed messages; they’re too smart for that. We can’t preach a healthy diet in our schools, but then allow them to sell only junk food for their graduation trip fundraiser.  We can’t expect them to respect their bodies, when we as parents hardly exercise and show little restraint regarding what enters our mouths.

 

Our focus on food is compounded by our lack of focus on exercise. Throughout all my many years of schooling and spiritual education, yeshiva and shul attendance, I’ve attended thousands of lessons, lectures, drashas, sermons, and shiurim with themes as varied as halacha, hashkafa, mussar, textual analysis, history and philosophy. I’ve been enjoined, time and time again, to learn more Torah, give more charity, support more community programs, and raise a Jewish family. Unfortunately, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been instructed to look after my body, to exercise, to strive to be healthier. Why? Why don’t our Rabbis, our parents, and our peers stress the importance of maintaining our physical health in addition to our spiritual health? We encourage so much learning in our communities, and that’s highly commendable, but we hardly promote maintaining a healthy body. Sporadic single-gender fitness classes in shul social halls are a good start, but in our communities there should be just as many exercise classes as there are shiurim. If we don’t maintain our bodies, how can we expect to develop our neshamot?

 

The kashrut of a food should not concern us more than whether we should be eating it at all.

 

I urge each and every one of us to examine our spiritual relationship with our own bodies, and to reassess the importance and priority of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as orthodox Jews.

No More Excuses – How to Circumvent Your Yetzer Hara

The Art of Discipline

 

By now, Rosh Hashana and Succot may seem like a distant memory. Alas, however, as you look down, perhaps some added girth may remind you otherwise; perhaps your frame feels weak and unhealthy?  It’s now time to do something about it. Last post we started thinking about what we’d like to achieve physically; we listed the reasons we’ve been unable to get there thus far, and the motivations for setting our goals.

 

We’d all like to live longer and live better; after all, the healthier we are, the better we can serve Hashem. So what’s stopping us? Simply put… our attitudes. Our attitudes dictate our priorities, and out of our priorities flow our excuses. Excuses plague our lives; they stop us from doing what we really want to do, what we should be doing, what we must be doing. 

 

Changing one’s attitude, however, is harder than you’d think. There’s a reason 70% of people who begin a workout regimen quit soon after starting. Their attitudes are built on flimsy foundations. Instead, then, we’re going to reverse engineer the solution. We’re going to target our excuses, and rearrange our priorities. Once we’ve done that, our attitudes will follow.

 

How do we crush our excuses? We must learn to outsmart ourselves, which, ironically, is increasingly harder the more intelligent you are. Just like the concept of muktza, though, once we learn to plan ahead and put up fences around our demons, self-control and self-mastery follow. If we prevent our excuses from ever showing up, they’ll be unable to stop the party.

 

Let’s take a look at two of the more common excuses, with some of my suggestions to thwart them:

 

DON’T HAVE TIME: Try getting up half an hour earlier and workout before the day even begins; it’ll start your whole day on a positive note, and working out on an empty stomach burns more calories from fat. Don’t have half an hour to spare? Do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. Try going for a brisk walk during your lunch break. If you have half an hour to surf the web, watch TV, talk with friends, or any of the other myriad “very important” activities we all do to relax and ‘unwind’, consider, for a moment, the reasons you’d like to be healthier in the first place; then revisit just how important that ‘relaxation’ really is …

 

NO SUPPORT FROM FRIENDS/FAMILY: Insert yourself into a healthy environment by surrounding yourself with a support system; search for a pre-existing group, or make yourself the center of your inspiration. Try an on-line group. Get together with friends and start your own group. I recently heard of a family (including parents, children, grandparents, and siblings) who’ve started their own “Biggest Loser” competition, each putting in $100 to the ‘pot’, with gift cards every week for the person who loses the most weight that week, followed by a grand weigh-in just before Chanuka for the remainder of the money. Sometimes, your inspiration must come from within. Always ask yourself why you want to be healthier; at the end of the day, with all the support in the world, the battle is always your own.

 

In future articles, we’ll discuss other familiar hurdles we all encounter, and offer ideas to not leap over them, but to find ways to avoid them all together. We’ll talk about what to do if you continually find yourself surrounded by nosh at home or work; finding ways to enjoy exercise when just the thought of getting off the couch makes you cringe; and learning that it’s ok to continue enjoying the foods you love to eat.  If you have any other suggested topics or questions you’d like discussed, feel free to e-mail me.

 

We all have obstacles that often appear overwhelming. You’re not alone. I can almost guarantee others have shared your pain. Together, and with Hashem’s good grace, we can pierce the barriers that hold us back, preventing us from reaching our true potential, and flourish to be the best we can be. You CAN succeed. You CAN accomplish your goals. Is the choice anyone else’s?

All You Ever Wanted To Know About How To Make A Smoothie

Mix fruit, ice, milk/water, and some protein powder in a blender; simplest way to make a smoothie.  Want to be a little more adventurous?  Try this…

Click here for full article.

Weather getting cold? Hot Comforting Soup Anyone?

Weather getting cold? Time to get creative with a nice hot bowl of comforting nutritious soup.  Make it inviting.  Warm your soul.  You can pack a lot of goodness in a single bowl of soup.

Click here for full article and some good ideas.

15-Point Plan To Reduce Your Calories Though Portion Control

Here’s a 15-point plan developed by Mathew Caddy, MS, RD, for cutting our calories though portion-size reduction.  Some very useful tips and ideas, particularly for Shabbat, Yom Tov, smachot, and other occasions when we’re faced with the “challenge” of eating large meals, often in social occasions.

Click here for full article.

Part I of the article can be found here.

Do G-d & Good Nutrition Improve Mental Health

A psychotherapist offers his opinion that belief in a higher power, and maintaining good nutrition are both necessary to imrove one’s mental health.  Asking questions about and forming a relationship with Hashem, combined with an intelligent approach to diet and nutrition, seems to exponentially improve healing time, heal anger and fear, and relieve adverse mental symptoms far quicker than traditional talk therapy and medication alone.

Click here for full article.

Healthy Kugel?

Healthy Kugel?  Yes, it is possible, or at least, this author seems to think so.  You be the judge.

Click here for full article.

The Ultimate Roast Chicken

 

Friday night dinner wouldn’t be the same without this Jewish staple.  The author claims that this recipe is the tastiest you’ll find.  You be the judge.

Click here for full article.

Where’s The Beef?

One man’s journey to being an Orthodox vegan.

Click here for full article.

My Child is Fat, Part I

Some very helpful tips and advice for raising healthy children.

Click here for full article.

Sweets to the Sweet

This is a series of letters and replies concerning giving candy and junk food to our children.  We should all take note of the harm we’re doing to our children.  Candy in moderation is a treat that should be appreciated as a rarity.

Click here, here, and here for full articles.

Bringing Mindfulness to the Break Fast Table

Interesting article about how we break our fasts; includes useful tips to not overdo it.  

Click here for full article.

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