Category Archive: Nutrition Q&A

Eat Fat To Get Fit

The Myth Busted


It always amazes me how many people think they’ll get fat if they eat fat. I don’t know why this amazes me so much, though; after all, doesn’t it make sense? If you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat fat, right? Wrong, and here’s why:


You see, it’s the terminology that confuses people. The fat you eat is not necessarily the fat that ends up around your waist or hips, but people throw these different ‘fats’ into the same catchall “fat” category – hence, the misunderstanding.


What is dietary fat?


First, a little chemistry. Fat molecules are constructed of a carboxylic acid with 1 to 3 glyceride “tails”. The most common fats are triglycerides with, you’ve guess it, three tails. These tails have varying numbers of hydrogen atoms attached to them – they can either be totally crammed packed with hydrogen atoms (i.e., saturated fat) or only partially full of hydrogen atoms (i.e., polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats). 


Fats, as opposed to oils, are solid at room temperature and usually contain a high proportion of saturated tails; oils are liquid at room temperature and typically (there are notable exceptions) contain a high proportion of unsaturated tails.


What are fats used for in the body?


Now, a little biology. As discussed in previous articles, fats are one of the six nutrients that we all need to consume as part of a healthy balanced diet (the other necessary nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water).


Fat is a source of energy, and, at 9 calories per gram, provides more than twice the energy of a comparable amount of carbohydrate or protein. This can be good if you’re starving, but if you’re not, it means it doesn’t take a lot of fat to tip you over your daily caloric requirement. Fat also carries essential nutrients (such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K) into and around the body; gives food flavor; and, because it takes longer to digest, stays in the stomach longer than other energy-providing nutrients, making us feel fuller for longer. Fat in and on your body also provides insulation from extreme temperatures, and cushions against concussive forces such as a fall.


Polyunsaturated fats have a tendency to lower blood cholesterol levels, and monounsaturated fats, in addition to also having a tendency to lower blood cholesterol levels, maintain high-density lipoprotein (”good”) cholesterol. So try and get your dietary fat from these healthier monounsaturated sources.


Saturated fats are, supposedly, the “bad” fats that tend to increase serum cholesterol; I write “supposedly” because new research is casting doubt on that claim. For the time being, though, until a strong scientific consensus has been reached, try to not overdo your consumption of saturated fats.


What foods should I eat that contain “healthy” fat?


The healthiest sources of fat include nuts, avocado, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and canola oil. Other healthy sources include fatty fish such as salmon. Meat and dairy products (unless reduced in fat) tend to contain a higher percentage of saturated fats and should therefore be eaten in moderation.


How much fat should I eat?


Fats should provide between 20% and 35% of your total daily caloric intake. Having said that, however, it doesn’t take a lot to consume more fat than you need. For example, an ounce of almonds (a small handful, or around 24 nuts) packs a punch of 164 calories; a mere 12 nuts more (or a slightly larger handful, around 1.5 ounces) will add another 82 calories – that could equate to as much as 4-5% of your daily caloric requirement for most women (less for most men). So be warned; go easy on the peanut butter and salad dressing.


So if eating fat is so good for me, what’s all this excess baggage hanging around my stomach/hips?


Put simply, when you consume more calories than you burn, the body has to do something with that extra energy, and so it converts it to an easily stored form of power – fat. Think of the excess fat around your body as a battery, there to be used in the future should you ever run out of food. The problem, of course, is that in our affluent society, running out of food is seldom a problem, and so the fat doesn’t go anywhere.


How do I get rid of this excess fat?


If you’re hoping I can tell you the secrets of fat loss in a sentence or two, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Using more energy than you consume sounds easy enough… so why is it so difficult to shed the pounds? That…will have to wait for a future article.


Is it all bad?


Before you panic that you’re slowly turning into a giant Duracell battery, please know that having some fat on your body is a good thing; it’s how Hashem created you, and it needs to be there for you to be healthy. The problems arise when having too much fat becomes detrimental to your health; when your quality of life deteriorates. At that point, it’s time to take charge and make some healthier decisions. 


In summary


To sum this all up, if you eat a balanced diet, perform regular exercise, and don’t eat more than your body needs, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about putting on excessive weight. While it’s true that I’ve simplified a lot of very complicated processes in this article, and that sometimes it’s not always that straightforward, as is true for most things in life, it all comes down to control and discipline; being able to say ‘no’ to that extra portion of dessert, and making wise choices that care for your body. If you respect your body, your body will respect you, allowing you to serve Hashem with all the potential with which you’ve been blessed.

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.

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?