Here we are in the midst of the month of Elul, the last year in the Jewish calendar. It’s a time of reflection and it is also a time of preparation. We are all focusing now on introspection and planning for Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment, and the ten days of tshuva leading to Yom Kippur. It’s a time of planning on many fronts. We are trying to mend our ways and we are working on our actions and increasing our charity. It’s also a time when our davening has to be at our best. In short, we are all planning for the big days in many ways. We are even thinking about our lulav and esrog and putting up our Succahs. The ladies are already planning their menus and figuring out who the guests will be and how many will be eating at each meal. The shopping has probably already started also. What all of us are doing is planning, and part of that planning has to be how we are going to keep our health intact over the holiday period.
This can be the most meaningful and enjoyable time of the year but at the same time it can be the most dangerous time in regards to our health. Here we are all looking forward to davening, hearing the Shofar, enjoying special foods and enjoying being together with family and friends. But if we are going to go completely sedentary and eat whatever we want in unlimited amounts and then as a result feel unwell and possibly cause ourselves serious damage, then what have we gained? Keeping things under control will help us enjoy Yom Tov more.
As we said, it’s a time of the year where we do a lot of planning, so let’s plan our health as well.
There are essentially three areas where we all tend to get into trouble. One – the amounts of food we consume sitting at our tables for our festive meals, two – the types of food we eat, and three – the general lack of activity and exercise during the chagim.
Let’s first look at the portions and amounts we eat. There is a mitzvah to eat certain foods during the Chagim. There is no mitzvah however, to consume mass quantities of anything. In order to keep a handle on the over-eating problem, try this: Take a reasonable portion on your plate, and if you are truly still hungry after you eat what’s on your plate, take seconds from a cooked or raw vegetable or whole grain dish. Remember that drinking water may also make you feel full. So, drink up before you start your meal.
As far as the second item – the kinds of food we eat. Everyone can make some subtle adjustments in this area as well. Even though meat and chicken dishes are more popular at this time of year, you can trim the fat from your meat and order lean cuts to begin with. Skin the chicken and turkey, preferably before cooking, and keep in mind that the white meat is much less fatty than the dark. Also, keep the emphasis on vegetable and grain dishes. For dessert, go for fresh fruit salads, melons, and sorbets instead of cake and cookies that are laden with sugar and fat. Keep in mind that most pareve ice creams use chemicals and high-fat based whips.
Item number three is lack of activity. No, don’t go out and do an exercise session on yom tov! But, don’t sit around either. Nice long, brisk walks, particularly after your meals, are a great idea. There is nothing worse than throwing yourself into metabolic rigor mortis by falling asleep immediately after a meal. When you are done with the walk, stretch a little and then you can take your nap.
Here are some practical tips for getting through this period of time:
1. Don’t skip meals – especially Erev Yom Tov and Erev Shabbos. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and a light meal on those days. Remember: you will not eat your evening meals until late, and if you are very hungry, you may overeat at the Yom Tov meal and/or nibble on too much Challah.
2. Plan a healthy Yom Tov meal with YOU in mind. Just like on Shabbos, make sure there are healthy alternatives of your favorite dishes. There are a lot of healthy choices.
3. When cooking, make sure to eat sitting down to avoid over-tasting. Put a piece of gum or a mint leaf in your mouth. The extra second it takes for you to remove the gum will give you time to think twice about tasting again and again!
4. Avoid the “All or Nothing” approach to eating. If you overate at a meal or ate too much of an unhealthy food, move on and start making healthy, balanced choices again. Every small step helps.
5. Use olive or canola oil, which is high in monounsaturated fat. Your health is worth paying a little bit more.
6. Make sure to have healthy snack foods handy. Overeating or eating too much of an unhealthy food often occurs because you are too hungry to make wise decisions, or there are no healthy alternatives. Keep cut up veggies, nuts, and fruits available for snacking.
Most of all, PLAN PLAN PLAN!! Just as you are planning the Chagim and your menus and guest lists in advance, you can also plan your meals so that you are not left overly hungry. Plan your daily menus, shopping and snacks so that you have plenty of healthy options and you don’t skip meals.
The Chagim are a time to be especially joyful and happy, and to celebrate together with our families. We don’t need to create more stress in our lives than we already have. So, instead of saying “After the holidays”, resolve to get started with good and healthful habits right now. Watching your serving sizes, eating healthful choices and staying as active as possible over the Chagim are all ways to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”