We are now mired in the heart of summer and the days are approaching their peak length of the year. Six days a week there is certainly a great advantage to having longer daylight hours. There are more hours for outdoor activities and trips. We even have more time on Friday to prepare for Shabbos without the rush that we have in the winter time. But when it comes to Shabbos itself, we can run into all kinds of problems that can affect our health. When Mindy and Gershon came to speak with me, this was exactly the issue that was preventing both of them from succeeding in their weight loss program.
Gershon and Mindy live with their 4 children in an apartment on the fifth floor of their building. They both needed to lose weight and began doing so a few months ago. At the beginning, their weight loss went pretty steadily, but since a week or so before Pesach, they have not been as consistent and although some weeks there has been some weight loss, many weeks they just haven’t gone down. Both of them are good about writing down their food and both try to do exercise most days of the week. When our dietician and I went over their food and exercise logs, we didn’t find any good reason why they should not have been steadily dropping weight. So we took a closer look at what was going on during Shabbos and sure enough, ever since the days got longer, there has been a problem of over consumption and very little activity and that sometimes extends for 36 hours until Sunday morning.
We saw that although Friday was not a “regular” day, they both found time to exercise and they were still careful about when to eat and how much to eat. The problems started on Friday night. With Shabbos starting so late, they started eating a full Shabbos meal very late. By the time they finished eating and cleaning up, it was very late and they were usually exhausted, so they would fall asleep pretty quickly after the meal. This is not a good thing for your metabolic rate as all that food stays put all night while you are sleeping with only minimal calorie burn. But their main issues had to do with the daytime.
Gershon would get up and go to shul at 8 in the morning. He would get home about 10:30 and the family would sit down to eat their Shabbos meal at 11 in the morning. They would finish at about 1:00 in the afternoon and many times, would head straight out to daven the first Mincha. After Mincha, Gershon would often take a nap and sometimes that could be as much as 2.5 hours. Mindy would generally interact more with her kids and lay down for an hour a little bit later in the day. From the time they woke up, there was still a lot of time until they would eat Seuda Shlishit and that is where the trouble would begin. They had put out a “Shabbos Party” for the children which consisted of candies, chocolates, cookies and nuts. Both of them would start nibbling on what was left and while they were learning or reading, there was always something heading into their mouth. By the time it was time to wash and eat the third meal, they had already eaten their day’s calories. In short, the reason they were gaining so much on Shabbos were 1) Over-consumption at each meal, 2) Too many extra calories nibbled all afternoon and 3) Almost no activity.
We all know that food is an integral part of Oneg Shabbos, but there is a fine line between enjoying special foods for Shabbos, and ending up feeling overfull and unwell after Shabbos. My staff dieticians have come up with reasonable ways to be able to eat well on Shabbos, while keeping your food intake under control. Here are some of their recommendations:
- Plan your meals…all of them! Decide before you sit down to each meal what you are going to eat and how much.
- Make sure you have plenty of nutritious side dishes, along with a healthy and lean main course.
- Use fresh fruit and sorbets as opposed to cakes and cookies. .
- Watch your challah intake and try to use whole grains. Consider making/buying smaller challahs and/or individual rolls, and move the challah basket to the middle of the table—out of your reach.
- If you eat out, consider eating lightly beforehand or having healthy food available to eat when you come home.
- Exercise before and/or after Shabbos to help yourself both physically and mentally–going for a walk after each meal on Shabbos is very helpful for digestion. Falling asleep on a full stomach in not a good idea!
- Emphasize other aspects of Shabbos rather than just the food.
- Don’t let a beautiful gift like Shabbos ruin your health goals
Mindy and Gershon started to implement some changes. First of all, we decided together that some weeks, they would bring in Shabbos early so they wouldn’t have to fall asleep on a full stomach. They were able to go for a small walk after the meal before they went to sleep. On the weeks that they were taking in Shabbos at regular time, we adjusted their menu so there was less food. They eliminated the first course and also one side dish. We also decided that in the last afternoon, as the temperature outside cooled down, they would take a family walk. They would go out for about 45 minutes and by doing that, they weren’t inside noshing on high calorie junk food. Gershon had given up on the early Mincha and was now going to a minyan further away so he got a little extra walking in. In addition, we built in a snack for when they woke up from their nap—a fruit and 12 nuts. This kept them full without over-eating until the third meal. I also suggested that they try to be sure to go for a 35 minute fast walk sometime after Shabbos was over. After 3 weeks of making these changes, their weight began dropping again on a steady basis. For the remainder of the summer, they will keep this plan in place. When we revert back to a winter time clock, we will redo the Shabbos plan.
Enjoy Shabbos, feel well during and after Shabbos, and don’t make Shabbos the day that undoes your health. Keeping your food under control, even on Shabbos is another way to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”