“You had a bad day…” or two…or three…

.bad daY

As you may have noted in my previous posts, a lot of preparation went into the celebration of the Passover holiday (today is day 3 of 8). There is, of course, all the cooking and cleaning, but when you are concerned about your diet and fitness this holiday provides extra challenges.

First, many of the foods we typically eat during the year are off-limits because they have some kind of leavening in them. Most of them do not, but the marketing of foods for Passover often causes us to stock up on less healthy options that we would not think to purchase during the rest of the year. Second, the first two nights of Passover are marked with the Seder feasts; traditionally, there are certain foods we eat as part of the meal and the accompanying story that goes with it. Like Thanksgiving, however, there is an emphasis on large quantities of food.

I had the added complication this year of not being able to track my calorie intake or activity; this is because I do not use electronics on the Sabbath or the Holy Days of the Festival (last 2 and first 2 days). Since the holiday began on Saturday night, I went three days without recording as I usually do (Friday sunset through Monday sunset). Yes, meals were planned in advance, but it was difficult to control the serving sizes. Tracking has been an important tool for me as I work to keep myself at a healthy weight.

The news was not so good when I got on the scale after the Holy Days. So, I had a bad day. One of the lessons from Noom–which I have long shared as a personal trainer–is that a bad day (or two or three) is not a cause for feeling defeated. It sounds corny, but every day is a new day. This morning I got back on the program and started tracking everything again; it was not that hard. I did not lay any guilt on myself; on the contrary, I was kind to myself and reminded myself that I should not begrudge a little extra “celebration” on a festive holiday. A couple of days is okay; a week or a month would be a different story.

Here I am, back on track. This is a healthy approach to setbacks. As they say, “hop back on that horse.” Not bad advice as Passover continues for five more days and as many approach the Easter holiday with all its peeps, chocolate eggs, and family dinners.

Making Sacrifices for Better Health

Chumash printed and commented by S.L. Gordon

This week in the Jewish lectionary cycle, synagogues around the world begin reading the Book of Leviticus. The very first Torah portion is called Vayikra after the first word in the first verse in Hebrew; the reading describes five of the sacrifices/offerings that Israelites were to make in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple) on various occasions.

The Jewish view of sacrifices is different than what we often think about. In modern parlance, sacrifice is thought of as giving up something. Usually the sacrifice is made in order to accomplish something else–to appease a god, to give thanks, to request something from a god. The ultimate goal is to engage in the creation of holiness; this comes from the Latin root of the word sacrifice. In Judaism, the word used is Korban and, linguistically, it has nothing to do with holiness; rather it means to approach or come close. The goal of a sacrifice then is to come closer to God; this may better explain why Abraham was willing to offer up his son. The aim of a sacrifice is not transactional but rather to simply be in relationship with God.

In the world of fitness and health, we also talk about making sacrifices, but in a different way. Those who have ever tried to lose weight know that we have to “sacrifice” eating some of the foods we might like, or at least eat them in different quantities. Working out also requires setting aside time that might be spent watching TV, shopping, or doing other activities; belonging to a gym or hiring a personal trainer involves a financial commitment that may necessitate cutting something else out of the budget. There is only so much time in the day and only so many resources, and we have to make choices…or sacrifices.

A more positive way to look at these sacrifices is not as having to “give something up.” Rather, the Jewish view of sacrifice asks us to think about what our choices can do in order to “bring us closer.” Closer to what? Closer to our health and fitness goals. Closer to living the kind of life that we want. Closer to actions that reflect our values.

Over the last 6 weeks on my weight loss journey I have had to sacrifice a lot–mostly my beloved pastry! In the process, however, I have found that I am closer to who I want to be. I feel the way I want to feel. I look more like how I want to look. I find I have more energy and stamina. I am indeed “closer” to where I want to be…and I did it by making “sacrifices.”

As we reflect on the beginning of the Book of Leviticus, let us consider the sacrifices we are willing to make (and are not willing to make) in order to bring us closer to who we really should be.

Wishing all a great weekend and Shabbat Shalom!

Let My Diet Go? Planning for Passover

Olives, Matzoh, Radishes, Liver Pate, and Sweet Pickled Peppers

The holiday of Passover is about 10 days away and for most Jewish people across the globe, preparation is in full swing. Why is this Passover different than all other Passovers?

You might think the reason is because of the pandemic, but by Passover last year we were already in “lockdown” mode and most Seder meals were done with only a few people and/or virtually with family and friends. The real difference this year has to do with the changes that I have made in my diet over the last five weeks or so. As I have noted in previous posts, I have been tracking all my exercise and all my calorie consumption; as of this morning, not only have I taken off all my COVID weight, but I am also 2 pounds away from my goal weight. It is an amazing feeling; I like the way I feel and the way I look!

This year, my wife and I are approaching Passover in a different way when it comes to food. For those not familiar, during the 8 days (7 in Israel), we eat no leavened foods: no bread, no pasta, no cake, etc. Over the years, however, many substitutes have been produced so that now it is possible to make Passover “bagels,” brownies, noodles, etc. They use ingredients that are permitted on Passover, but from the standpoint of being healthy…well, let us just say, that maybe they should not be permitted. It is still a carb nightmare. We are planning ahead so as not to lose all the progress we have made since we began this journey.

Typically, we make lots of recipes that use Matzoh (unleavened bread); recipes call for using it in “lasagna,” desserts, and even (the ever-popular) Fried Matzoh. This year we mapped out EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. You read correctly. For the entire 8 days, we have charted out what we will eat, and it involve as little Matzoh as possible (which clocks in at 140 calories/piece). We are going heavy on vegetables and lean proteins (lots of fish since we do not eat meat or poultry). During the Seders, we are supposed to drink 4 cups of wine; we will not use such big cups this time around. Most years, Passover seems like a lost cause when it comes to eating healthy…and when it comes to the Passover Seders, think Thanksgiving-sized feasts two nights is a row. This year will be different from all other years. We have planned for it to be different.

Of course, it will not be easy. We are only shopping, though, for what we will eat (as listed on our menu) so that we do not have the temptation of lots of junk food to snack on. We are also going to drink LOTS of water to combat the famously constipating effects of many foods served on the holiday.

I will keep you posted on how it goes during the holiday, but I am actually looking forward to not feeling bloated and stuffed for much of the week. It will be worth the effort for that reason alone. Continuing to make progress toward my health goals will be icing on the (Kosher-for-Passover) cake!

How Logging My Meals is Working Out

Keat takes notes

Earlier in February, I blogged about the impact of logging meals and exercise on the success of weight loss efforts. At the time, I noted that this is an effective tool for many. Especially if you are using an app designed for this, it can help more accurately determine calories in food being consumed, how many calories are burned during exercise, and bring discipline (think avoid snacking because it is too much trouble to log a Hershey Kiss–26 calories!). Knowledge is power, and that power can lead to greater success in keeping healthier and fit.

I discovered another benefit. Now that I am more aware of how many calories are in certain foods, my grocery shopping and meal planning have changed. I am spending more time in the produce section and less time picking up processed foods. Fish is a great choice as it is low in calories (unless it is slathered in sauce) and has many health benefits. Vegetables are low in calories and can be filling and add color to the plate. Some foods (Thomas’ Whole Grain English Muffins and Dave’s Killer Breads) are not the evil carb monsters we believe them to be. This is not to say that I do not enjoy the occasional cookie or ice cream, but it is more in the context of an overall plan of eating healthier.

Usually when I am trying to lose weight, I find myself hungry quite a bit of the time. Logging has now given me the tools to plan meals that will be filling and still lower in calories. It is working. I am fueling my body in a more appropriate way rather than giving in to cravings (which seem less frequent now). Most importantly, I have lost 10 pounds in 4 weeks. I have been really disciplined and have managed to take off my COVID weight. Just a few more pounds to go and I will be at the ideal weight for my height. I feel great, my clothes are no longer tight, and I like what I see when I look in the mirror. Logging is a bit of a pain but it has paid off.

You know what they say: no pain, no gain. In this case: no logging, no losing. It does not work for everyone, but it sure seems to be giving me success.

No, I Wouldn’t Like Fries with That

french fries

Most of us know that eating fried foods is not the healthiest choice. A study published in the journal, Heart, on 1/18/2021, looked at existing research and concluded that even small amounts of fried foods can have a negative effect on our health.

According to an article on http://www.cnn.com: “Compared to those who ate the least, people who ate the most fried food per week had a 28% higher risk of major cardiovascular events, a 22% greater risk of coronary heart disease and a 37% heightened risk of heart failure….” Additionally, the article explained that: “Each additional weekly serving of 114 grams or 4 ounces (½ cup) of fried foods increased the risk for heart attack and stroke by 3%, heart disease by 2% and heart failure by 12%, the study found. A medium McDonald’s french fry serving, for example, is 117 grams.”

The risk is further increased because many fried foods contain trans fats–fats that have been hydrogenated in order to improve taste and increase shelf life–which is bad for cholesterol. The FDA has banned trans fats, but the ban is not fully in place and there are loopholes. Frying allows the food to absorb the fats thereby adding calories and increasing health risks.

Every once in a while, a little fried food would not be the end of the world. A plate of fries will not kill a person, but the research does indicate that over time there is a marked difference between the health outcomes of those who eat fried foods on a regular basis and in higher quantities than those who do not.

As we make our way into 2021 and many of us work on New Year’s Resolutions to be healthier, this research helps us to understand just how important our choices can be.

Here is the link for the article on CNN.com: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/18/health/fried-foods-heart-disease-study-wellness/index.html

Know Your Numbers and…

Image result for numbers

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.

You May Want to Put Down that French Fry

AFB067

I’m not sure if this is child abuse, but it certainly sounds like child neglect. Here is the first line of the article: “A British teenager who had been a ‘fussy eater’ since elementary school lost his vision and suffered significant hearing loss due to his yearslong diet of junk food, according to a case report published Monday.”

It goes on to describe how this “picky eater” began to suffer symptoms as a result of his diet at around age 14. By the time he was 17, he had hearing loss and was considered legally blind. Wow! I feel sorry for this kid–no really, I do.

First, I feel badly that he has to endure these health issues. Second, I feel badly that neither his parents/guardians/teachers/doctors had the cajones to do something about it. Children should not be making healthcare-related decisions–and I believe this is one; that is up to parents until a child turns 18.

The article explains that the child’s issue had to do with the texture of certain foods. This sounds like an autism spectrum issue, but that should not be an excuse for poor nutrition. To rely on fish & chips, processed ham slices and sausage, Pringles and white bread is simply not acceptable…and part of the blame has to go to those who cared for him. I have a son on the autism spectrum and while he certainly had his preferences about food–as did each of my kids–I made sure that he had well-balanced meals that he enjoyed.

As for the rest of us, this is a warning. It does matter what we eat. Our bodies need to be properly fueled. They will not function if certain nutrients are absent. While it is true that we can take supplements to make up the difference (I take Fish Oil, Vitamin D, and Multivitamin every day), there is no substitute for a healthy, mostly non-processed, balanced diet.

Are french fries evil? Will they blind our next generation? No and no. While not the healthiest choice, the occasional serving of french fries is OK…and depending on where you get them, they may even be good for your mental health! Just don’t overdo it.

Here is the link to the full article: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/blinded-junk-food-teen-loses-eyesight-years-long-bad-diet-n1049181

Fasting and Intermittent Fasting

empty plate

Today on the Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av; it is a 25-hour fast that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Ancient Jerusalem. Aside from Yom Kippur, it is the only full fast (others just go from sunrise to sunset)…and I’ve got about 6 hours to go.

The goal of the fast (which is the case on Yom Kippur too) is not to lose weight or to suffer greatly, but rather to focus less on the physical and more on the metaphysical. Tisha B’Av causes those who observe it to reflect on the history of the Jewish people: the enemies who have arisen against us from the outside, as well as the enemies from within. Not having to think about eating (which isn’t easy), allows the day to be mostly spiritual, and also gives us a small taste of the suffering of our ancestors.

Interestingly, fasting has been a hot trend in the diet/fitness world the last several years. In particular, a lot of attention has been paid to Intermittent Fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting? There are several versions. One way to do it is to restrict eating to only certain times of the day (generally an 8-hour period). Others fast one or two days out of the week. Others choose 1-3 days to eat a very restricted calorie count (say around 500 KCals) during the week, and eat normally the rest of the week. The science behind it is that during the fasting periods, the body is required to burn fat in order to maintain its regular functions; in particular, this kind of fasting seems to target belly fat. Other health benefits may include better control of insulin and cholesterol levels.

Why this is appealing to many is that you don’t have to think about calories or only eating certain kinds of food. The process is very simple: eat during certain times and not during others. This can also simplify the dieting process: no need for extensive reading of labels, less meals to plan , etc. Of course, one shouldn’t assume that during non-fasting times root beer floats, corned beef sandwiches and tubs of whipped topping should be the staples of the diet. As always, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and less-processed foods are recommended.

I started doing Intermittent Fasting many years ago not really knowing that it was a “thing.” I noticed that I grazed a LOT after dinner, and it added up to hundreds of calories. I made a rule for myself that I still follow pretty closely: after dinner, no eating! I can drink calorie-free liquids, but that is it. (I do make exceptions for special occasions but don’t go crazy). I found that it helps me control my weight and that my cravings for after-dinner snacks quickly subsided.

There is admittedly a big difference between the kind of religious fasting to which many of us are accustomed (Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc.), but there is a commonality as well. While one focuses on a physiological goal and the other on a more spiritual goal, both require self-control and self-sacrifice. Both also are means to an end: either greater physical health or greater spiritual awareness.

Readers, I would be interested to know how many of you have tried Intermittent Fasting, or if you currently practice it now. What are the challenges and what are the advantages? What are the results you have seen?

I am a believer–as long as it is done in moderation. Before jumping into Intermittent Fasting, though, do some research and talk to your physician. Be safe and be healthy.

There are many articles on the topic on-line, but a good introduction is: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide .

Wishing those observing Tisha B’Av a meaningful fast.

More News on Dementia and Lifestyle

Image result for factors to prevent dementia

Well, it’s not really “news” since it is simply reconfirming what we already have seen in recent research.

There are studies recently shared at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference last week that show that there are five factors that have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life.

Both studies pointed to:

  1. A healthy diet
  2. At least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity
  3. Light to moderate drinking (alcohol)
  4. No smoking
  5. Engaging in mentally stimulating activity

Engaging in all five decreased risk of Alzheimer’s by 60% compared to those who only had one healthy behavior. Those who added only one of the habits above saw their risk lowered by 22%!

It is becoming more and more clear every day that the decisions we make about our lifestyles at every point in our lives have implications downstream. There is no point at which we are “too late” to add healthy behaviors, and when we do add them the impact is noticeable.

For the full article in http://www.cnn.com, click here: https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/14/health/dementia-risk-lifestyle-study/index.html

Judaism teaches us that we are to pursue life. This means we cannot simply wait around and see what is in store for us health-wise. We must at every moment, make healthy decisions; not only will we sense the difference now, but in the years ahead as well.

Just how Evil is Bread?

Bread!

Several years ago I made the switch from white bread to whole wheat bread, and eventually to whole grain bread. When I was raising a family, bread was a thing…sandwiches at lunchtime for sure!

I never thought my kids would go for anything other than plain white bread, but when I switched things up they surprised me. In particular, we have become fans of Dave’s Breads, http://www.daveskillerbread.com/ . They make several kinds of bread and to me it tastes almost like eating cake. Filled with fiber, seeds and just delicious. And it’s certified kosher!

But, wait! What!?! Bread??? How can that be part of a healthy diet. Well, (literally) not all breads are baked equal. We have been taught that too many carbs and the wrong kind are not good for us. Even so, carbohydrates do play a role in our diet and how we fuel our bodies. There is a huge spectrum between what is actually OK and what is just turning into gunk in your insides.

An article published on http://www.medicalnewstoday.com has a good, brief discussion about the differences between breads and their nutritional value. Here is a link to the article: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325351.php

Sometimes you feel like a sandwich or toast; now you have a little more info about the choices you can make. No need to just go for the national brand white breads; try the Ezekiel bread and multi-grain and you might just be surprised!