Not the Yeast Infection that was Expected

Passover @ Marilyn's 2007

This Shabbat is the last Shabbat Hagadol–the last Sabbath before Passover. The weekly Torah portion is Tzav, the second portion in the Book of Leviticus.

There is an interesting connection between Passover and the Tzav. Last week we were introduced to a number of offerings and sacrifices that were to be brought to the Tabernacle (and later to the Temples) for various occasions. That theme continues into this week’s Torah reading.

One of the offerings discussed is an offering of unleavened bread–matzoh! This is, of course, what we eat for the 8 days of Passover (7 in Israel) since we cannot eat anything with leavening in it. Lev. 6:10 notes that this offering for the priests is “most holy.” What makes it so holy?

A commentator, Kle Yekar, notes that matzoh is symbolic. In the rabbinic mindset, yeast is equated with sin and transgression. If you have ever used yeast, you know that when you put it in warm water to activate it, it begins to bubble. This is just like sin. It takes just the right mix of circumstances and it begins to bubble up too. Matzoh is, in a way, “sinless” bread and therefore most holy…and a symbol to the priests.

Kle Yekar explains that a truly righteous person is one who has never experienced sin; there are not a whole lot of people like this. Our tradition teaches that such individuals are actually at a lower level than those who have transgressed and then atoned. The act of atonement–of cleansing one’s self and reaching a higher level–brings one greater holiness and merit. This is reassuring to those of us who have faltered over the years.

Typically, we eat bread. The priests also used bread as part of the rites performed in ancient times. This matzoh offering, though, represents that the yeast has been removed. It has been “cleansed” in a way and that is what makes it most holy.

This idea also has parallels in the fitness world. It is always impressive when we strive to be physically fit. Some people are active in sports and exercise since youth; that is awesome! They are like bread. Many others, like myself, only came to it later in life after being out of shape; we are like matzoh…we have gotten rid of the leavening of bad habits, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition. Our accomplishments are all the more impressive.

As we approach Passover and get rid of the literal leavening in our lives, we should be inspired to remove the spiritual “yeast infection” too. We should never think that it is too late or that there is too much inertia working against us. On the contrary, the more spiritual yeast we remove, the greater the reward!

How is Quarantining Helping You Grow?

Weight Gurus black bathroom scale on wood floor

OK. So this was not really the kind of growth I was looking forward to. I will admit that I have learned a lot about myself and those around me during the current COVID-19 unpleasantness. It has come at some cost to my fitness for sure as my waistline is growing too.

A few posts back I mentioned that I was going to give Intermittent Fasting a shot…and I did. I tried it for one week, but found it untenable. Most folks doing this choose to eat only from 11 am – 7 pm, while the rest of the time they only drink liquids. I teach a daily workout online (search Facebook for Kosher-Fitness) at 10 am and I’ve got to fuel up before that. We also usually sit down to dinner between 6:30 and 7:00 pm which doesn’t fit the schedule either. The real proof was (you should pardon the expression) in the pudding; I was continuing to put on weight.

This is totally to be expected since most of us are way less active now than we usually are. Typically at work as a personal trainer I am doing a lot of walking around with clients, demonstrating exercises, and sometimes even doing certain things right along with the person. Ironically, the workouts that I teach online are more strenuous than my typical exercise regimen. Even so, I’m still at a deficit when it comes to burning calories.

I’ve decided to follow the advice I give to my own clients. I am counting calories now. It’s not as bad as it seems; I’m using the My Fitness Pal app–which I have used on and off over the last year. I find that it benefits me in two ways at least. First, it makes me aware of just how many calories I am consuming–which is usually more than my ballpark guesstimates. Second, I’m too lazy to keep going to the app, so I simply decide not to have that little snack so that I don’t have to go through the trouble. It’s like keeping kosher–observing the Jewish dietary laws; I make myself much more aware of what I am consuming.

I will keep you posted on my progress. How are you all doing? Are you finding that you are growing in unexpected ways too? No one knows how long this will go on, but if we put on a pound a week for a couple of months, it will be a challenge to get back to where we were.

Finally, remember that weight is only one aspect of health and fitness. Don’t forget about maintaining strength and cardio-vascular health. Remember to be kind to yourself and care for your emotional self too. Staying healthy is a multi-level endeavor; don’t ignore any of those parts and pieces.

Know Your Numbers and…

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Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear a registered dietitian, Robin Rood, give a presentation about diets at the Mandel JCC to our Big Weight Loss Challenge participants. I was curious as to the content of the presentation since I had not been one of the organizers of the event, and discussing diets can be a tricky thing.

Robin went over a number of different diets, explaining what they are, the science behind them, as well as the pros and cons. This was informative for most of the crowd. There is a lot of talk out there about various diets and it is difficult to know what they are and which is the best.

What Robin emphasized to us from the beginning was that not every diet is right for everyone. It is important for us to know our numbers. By that she meant not just our weight, but our blood pressure and blood sugar. Knowing where there are imbalances in our systems should guide us to the diet that is most appropriate if we seek to trim our body fat percentage.

Numbers aren’t the only thing we need to consider. She cautioned us to also be aware of family medical history. If there is a history of diabetes or coronary disease, that will have bearing on which diets are even safe to try. Certain diets are risky for those with a history of eating disorders (like intermittent fasting). Having the history and the numbers can narrow down the choices quite a bit.

The overall message was that the most effective way to find a healthy way to eat is to know ourselves first. We need to know our numbers, our health history, and even our own emotions and shortcomings. We know what we are capable of doing and what will be too difficult.

Of course, diet is only part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Robin shared with us as well the importance of exercise, getting enough rest/sleep, and finding ways to de-stress.

Choosing a diet isn’t as easy as selecting what a certain celebrity is doing, or what you’ve heard about on the news, or even seen in a magazine. It is a personal decision….and how you choose will determine your success and your overall health too.

Water…water…

Desert, Jordan

The Weight Loss Challenge where I work is now in full swing. Last night was the first group fitness class offered by one of the other coaches. It was a big group and notable that many had not brought water with them. This is not a formula for success.

We hear a lot about keeping hydrated. We are not like camels who are able to store water for long periods and long distances. We use water to nourish our bodies and we lose water through sweating which helps to keep us cool. We must continually replenish. So what are the rules for water consumption with exercise?

Generall speaking the following guidelines apply:

  • 2-3 cups of fluid 2 hours BEFORE the start of exercise
  • 1 cup of fluid every 10-20 minutes DURING exercise
  • 2-3 cups of fluid for every pound of body weight lost AFTER exercise

You’ll notice that I put “fluid” instead of “water.” Water is always excellent, but there are sports drinks that work as well. It is also better to drink something cool that something hot; this improves the speed of absorption. We also know that there are some liquids that actually accelerate dehydration: coffee and alcohol are two prime examples. This is not to say that you cannot have a glass of wine at dinner after exercising; just remember that this cannot be your primary form of hydration.

Dehydration is not pretty. It can lead to dizziness, loss of conscience, nausea and headaches. Bring a water bottle to the gym or to your class; this will help ensure that you are drinking enough.

Get your exercise on, but remember to get your hydration on as well!

How To Keep Your Fitness Resolution

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It is that time of the year. At gyms across the country, the “resolutionaries” are making their presence known…for the next few weeks anyhow.

If this is the year when you really want to work on a “new you,” remember that there is no such thing as a “new you.” At best, we can only hope for a better version of ourselves. Total transformations are rare; incremental long-term change is more realistic.

How can we best keep our resolutions? As I have blogged in the past, we should focus less on a weight we want to get to or a size we want to fit into. The emphasis should be on building a healthy lifestyle. When we focus on lifestyle, we are more likely to make a sustained change than simply starting a diet…and falling off of it in a week.

Another way to stick to the resolution to get healthier is to surround oneself with others who can give us positive encouragement or who are on the same journey as we are. That is why joining a gym is so popular…but it is important to take advantage of the professionals there to help build a program that is safe, effective and keeps us motivated. It is easy to give up if we feel we are in this alone.

Try to keep goals as specific as possible so that there is a way to measure success. “I will go to the gym” is not as effective as “I will go to the gym 3 times a week,” which is not as effective as “I will go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday before I go to work.” Create simple rules that are easy to stick by that are specific as well like: “no eating after dinner,” or “limit desserts to Friday and Saturday dinner only, ” etc. When we keep our goals fuzzy we have no way to really see if we are making headway. Even if we may not see the results in terms of weight loss, when we keep our gaols specific we will see that we are building a healthy lifestyle–which is the best for our health in the long run.

Finally, look back at past attempts to get healthy. Why did they fail? What were the obstacles? Take some time and strategize how to overcome them. If we realize that we are too tired to work out in the evening, figure out a better time to do it. If we always feel like we are in it by ourselves, find a friend or family member to engage in the journey too. We should not expect to do the same things that failed before over and over again and get different results. Plan ahead for success.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and fit 2020!

Weight Lifting on a Salad and a Piece of Cheese

Image result for dizziness gym

Twice today at the gym I had conversations with individuals that came back to questions of nutrition and fitness goals.

In the first case, it was someone who signed up for an indoor triathlon. He and I were discussing the best strategies to prepare for a race that is just over a month away. During our talk, he mentioned that he is trying to lose weight and that he is starting a diet in January that is basically all animal-based proteins, fruits and vegetables (and nothing else!). Under other circumstances, such a diet might be a great way to lose weight, but while training for a triathlon it may not be the best approach. It is essential to make sure that we are properly fueling our bodies for the intense training we are doing. By the way, most folks training for races find that the rigorous regimen causes them to lose weight in any case. I directed him toward resources about how to best train for the triathlon and what would be the best way to fuel his body. That diet may have to wait until after the race.

Just as I was about to leave the gym a person came to the trainer’s office and asked for a cup to get some water for her husband who was feeling dizzy. I went out onto the floor to find a young man lying on an incline bench looking pretty pale; he had been doing incline dumbbell presses. I adjusted the bench to put his head down and then we put his legs (knees up) on the bench as well. After some water, he began to feel better. I asked him what he had eaten that day. “Salad and some cheese. Oh, wait, I think a piece of fruit. Maybe a slice of bread.” Yikes! This was the early evening and that was his total consumption for the day. I understand that young men and women want to get that “cut” look and try to eat very lean, but again, we have to make sure our bodies are properly fueled for what we are asking them to do. Lifting weights on that few calories–and carb-free–was not a good idea.

I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but my education as a personal trainer does include the background science on how we digest foods, how we fuel our bodies and how we build muscle.

There are lots of resources on the web; before you embark on a serious exercise regimen or training for a race check those our or talk to a nutrition expert. This second young man was lucky that he was with someone else and that he wasn’t on a piece of equipment where he could have really hurt himself had he passed out.

Here are a couple of good articles on the topic:

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/food-as-fuel-before-during-and-after-workouts

https://www.self.com/story/signs-youre-not-eating-enough-before-a-workout

With the New Year approaching and lots of resolutions to consider–including weight loss–do not forget that we need to eat smart and make sure that our bodies get what they need.

Will We Fight the Evil Influences Around Us?

Menorah

Why is this Hanukkah different than all other Hanukkahs?

While many people around us think that Hanukkah is all about oil that should have only lasted for one day but lasted for eight, we know that there is much more to this holiday.  It is a celebration of the Maccabee’s defeat of the Syrians.  More than just a military victory, Hanukkah recognizes the miraculous efforts of our ancestors to keep Judaism alive in the face of growing Greek influence.  Hanukkah is really about the miracle of Jewish survival and thriving throughout the millennia.

We now live at a time when we face threats as individual Jews and as a community that are unprecedented in this country.  It seems that every day there is another news story about attacks on Jews or Jewish institutions; in the last few days we have seen a deadly shooting at a Kosher supermarket in New Jersey, an assault of a Jewish woman on a New York subway, vandalization of a synagogue in California, and the desecration of cemeteries and the American Jewish University.What should be our response?  Throughout the centuries Jews have always been ready to move, to head to the next place that would take us in after our adopted homelands became too dangerous.  Are we there yet?  Is it time for us to pick up and leave?  Or do we look to the Maccabees as an example and come together to battle the forces that would seek to destroy us?

We cannot wait any longer.  On this Hanukkah, as a community we must confront the very real threats that exist.  This year, it’s not just about the menorah, the latkes, and the jelly donuts; it is about what we will do to ensure a thriving Jewish future.  May the Maccabees inspire us to fight for what is right; our very lives depend on it.