This article was originally published as an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post (27 March 2023): https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-735491
I was shocked to read that people in Israel can gain as much as 6-7 kilograms (13-15 pounds) over the Passover holiday. What bothered me more, however, was seeing statistics about the amount of cardiac calls that Magen David Adom deals with before and during Passover. The most of any two-week period in any given year. None of this has to be! There is NO mutual exclusivity here. One can observe Pesach fully with all of its laws and customs and not damage one’s health. As a matter of fact, you can even use this wonderful period of family time to enhance your health. One of the aspects of lifestyle medicine integral to health is social integration (as well as relaxation and de-stressing).
By now you have it all down to a good routine–which rooms get cleaned first, who is in charge of what, and when to kasher the kitchen. There’s the grocery shopping, butcher order, and the fresh produce. How many guests are coming to the Seder(s) this year? How many for the last days? What are the Chol HaMoed plans?
Keep health in the picture
Our health is just as important as anything else. With all the joy and celebrations throughout the holiday, having a good time doesn’t mean mortgaging away our health. Actually, when we take care of our health, our enjoyment of life is greatly enhanced. Let’s have great happiness throughout the holiday while including our health in the whole equation.
The lead up to Pesach is several weeks long and it is a time when regular, normal eating can be difficult. We need to be realistic in order to succeed. This is not a time to try to be perfect. Staying in control and being aware can make a big difference in how much weight we might gain and, more importantly, in our overall health.
By putting a few tips and ideas into practice we can really make a big difference in our post-Pesach outcome.
Setting reasonable goals
There is no one best way to navigate weight control over Pesach. Goals are important and you should decide how you want to approach your after Pesach weight. Are you currently losing and would like that to continue? Maybe you just want to hold steady over Pesach and continue your weight loss afterwards. Perhaps you want to plan a 1-1.5 kilo gain, knowing that after Pesach you will be back to your good eating and exercise habits and the weight will come off in a week or two. Whatever you goals and strategies are, a plan should be in place!
Remember that when someone gains excessive amounts of weight, this also indicates that other health parameters are being harmed. So while we are focusing on weight gain, it is with keeping other health considerations in mind, too.
Here are some examples of some of my clients who succeeded with their Pesach goals.
Larry was now spending his 11th year at a Pesach hotel. For him, the planning only involved Pesach itself. I encouraged him to do a full workout before he left town for the hotel, which he did. We created strategies for dealing with buffets and portion sizes. While going back for more plant-based choices or vegetables, isn’t so bad, seconds on meat, chicken, fish, dairy or eggs should be avoided.
The hotel had nice grounds for walks, a pool, and a workout room. We planned how to use those also. Larry only gained 1.5 kilo over Pesach and felt very good about his accomplishment. He felt especially pleased that a week after Pesach was over, his weight was exactly where it was before Pesach. Without any extra effort, he simply went back on his regular food and exercise program.
Rose had an amazing result over Pesach—SHE LOST 2 POUNDS! She was nervous about gaining and actually became over-focused on her eating. Rose took all of my advice about staying as active as possible. It was impossible to do her regular exercise routine over the holiday. However, she learned that something is always a lot better than nothing!
Leah did what she does every year. As mindful as she is about her good eating, she was mindful about her treating herself, too. Leah made sure to thoroughly enjoy her normally-forbidden foods small amounts, eating them slowly and savoring each bite. She was mindful that when she had a little more than she is used to having of any foods, it was still controlled. When you are as disciplined as Leah all the time, you can get away with a small planned weight gain whether it be Pesach or just on any vacation. 10 days after the holiday was over, her weight was back to ideal levels
Moshe made sure to check in with me via email every few days during the time leading up to Pesach right until after the holiday. Although he was out of his routine, we kept his excesses under control. Moshe did gain a little bit which made him unhappy, as he had lost continually for 10 months. However, unlike the previous year, where he put on 5.5 kilo (12 pounds) during the month of Pesach, he had enough control to only gain 2.5 kilo this time around.
What’s the common denominator? The minute Pesach ended, these clients were back to plant-predominant, regular eating and familiar exercise routines.
The days before Pesach: Food and Exercise
The few days before Pesach can be more challenging than Pesach itself. The amount of chametz in the house is limited and getting less daily, but we aren’t yet all kosher for Pesach. Preparing balanced and nutritious meals becomes challenging. Here is where a lot of the trouble starts.
Here are some tips for success:
Many of us begin eating take-out food daily. This certainly has its problems in terms of fat, overall calorie consumption, and the nutritional makeup of the meals we are eating. In addition, with the many tasks to be done in terms of cleaning and shopping time becomes an issue. Exercise can easily fall by the wayside. This is a time where we truly need to be creative.
If you can, set up a small area where you are still eating chametz. Even though you can’t cook, make the best of the situation. Use whole grain crackers or bread for sandwiches. (Peanut butter and almond butter in moderate amounts are good choices.) Keep plenty of fruit and vegetables in the house (no chametz problem there). Drink plenty of water. Decide ahead of time exactly when the pizza, falafel, and burgers are happening and keep it to an absolute minimum. Keep in mind, it is the quality of your food more than the quantity that will make the biggest difference in your health.
As far as exercising and activity goes—you may not be able to keep to your regular routine, but the most important thing to remember is that it isn’t all or nothing. Whatever opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. A 10 minute walk here and 15 minutes there all adds up. It only takes about 90 seconds to do some pushups and 2 minutes to get through an ab routine. That isn’t a lot of time—don’t be fooled by the perception that you have no time at all.
In part 2 of this article, we will talk about different ways to handle Pesach itself, the amounts we eat, the kind of foods, and how to keep some activity and exercise in our lives over Pesach. We will include some practical tips you can implement in order to keep your health intact over Pesach and add “add hours to her days, days to her years, and years to her life.”
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