Redemption

This coming weekend is an important one for each of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Jews begin the celebration of the eight-day Festival of Passover on Friday at sundown; most Christians mark Easter on Sunday, April 17; Muslims are in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan.

Although each of these religious traditions is distinct and these holidays are unique, there is a common theme among them: redemption. Redemption is generally described as the action of saving from sin, error, evil, or danger. In Judaism, Passover is the case of redemption par excellence. The Hebrews were saved from slavery in Egypt and brought out into freedom; once they had escaped they received the Torah and were able to worship God properly. In Christianity, Easter celebrates Jesus’ resurrection three days after his death; this represents Jesus’ victory over death and hints at the possibility of eternal life through acceptance of him as Messiah. Jesus is seen as a redeemer oforthose who believe in him. Ramadan is a month of fasting that honors the month in which Islamic scripture, Quran, was first revealed to the prophet, Muhammed. This revelation serves as a proper guide for Muslims of how to live their lives and avoid sin and evil. Redemption is a central theme in each holiday–all being observed at the same time this year!

How is this related to fitness? Many people despair of being able to stay or become physically fit–at any age, but more keenly as we grow older. This is where redemption comes in. The concept means that where we are today (physically, emotionally, spiritually) is not where we need to be forever; we are capable of overcoming obstacles and hardship and rising to a higher level. This is true in fitness at any age. For example, just because a person has problem with balance or walking does not mean that it will always be like that; of course, if no changes are made in behavior the problem will persist, but exercise, proper diet, and sufficient rest can make a huge impact. Focusing on our physical fitness can affect other areas as well. Working out releases hormones that elevate our mood. Additionally, if we are working out with a trainer or in a group setting, we are building relationship. The benefits of keeping physically active are numerous and have been mentioned throughout my blog. Exercise can truly grant us a kind of redemption. Not only that, keeping ourselves fit and healthy better allows us to do what it is that we were put on earth to do. We cannot serve God and humanity if we are too weak, frail, or sick to do so.

Best wishes to everyone for a redemptive season of the year. Chag Peseach Sameach! Happy Easter! Ramadan Kareem!

Passover’s Almost Here; What’s the Plan?

Everyone has a time of the year that is most challenging in terms of keeping up with their fitness routine and good nutrition. For me, it is my favorite holiday on the Jewish calendar: Passover! This holiday presents a double-whammy (if not triple-whammy) in this regard. First, out of the 8 days that the holidays is observed, half of them (days 1, 2, 7, and 8) are festival days when certain kinds of activities are prohibited; many people who observe the holiday include exercise in that category. Second, the entire food scheme is turned upside-down; many foods we are used to eating are forbidden for the 8 days, and many that are permitted are heavy in carbohydrates–like Matzoh.

Passover (and Easter, which is also right around the corner) is filled with pitfalls and many months of hard work can be erased in week. How do prevent that from happening? Planning.

For my family this means setting the menu for the entire holiday in advance. By planning out each of the meals, we know that we have balanced, healthy food options for the week. This actually presents a great opportunity since fruits and vegetables are exempted from the Passover prohibitions (consult your rabbi regarding legumes) and can be increased in quantity during the week; this also helps to regulate the digestive system.

The other key is ensuring that on the non-festival days, time is set aside for exercise; set those times in advance and it will be even easier to stay on track. On the festival days, we are permitted to walk. If the weather is nice, use this as an opportunity to get outside and keep moving; along the way, visit friends and family.

This is really not that difficult. The problem is that many of us have convinced ourselves that because the first two nights of Seder feasts are just that–feasts!–the entire holiday is a lost cause in terms of healthy eating. Two “challenging” meals are followed by 6 days during which we can eat more carefully with the intention to keep portions smaller and include fruits and vegetables. We should not beat ourselves up because we “fell off the diet wagon” for two days, but rather we should get right back on the path of good nutrition. This is also true after a day of heavy eating, chocolate eggs, etc., for those who celebrate Easter.

Holidays need not be a reason for anxiety–at least around food. There are times when it is natural to overindulge. The main thing is not to stress over it; accept it, get over it, and move forward.

Wishing everyone who observes a happy and healthy holiday!

“You had a bad day…” or two…or three…

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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.

Passover/Easter Nutrition Tips

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There are several times during the year when we know that whatever good nutritional habits we have built up are going to be challenged. July 4, Thanksgiving, New Years, Super Bowl, etc., are all times when the rituals are accompanied by food…and lots of it.

Passover and Easter fall into that same category, but Passover has its own challenges. The Seder feast is two nights, not one, and the holiday itself goes on for a total of 8 days (7 in Israel). Typically during the rest of the year, I find that whatever progress I make during the week gets dented by Friday night; our typical Shabbat dinner is several courses of delectable food with delicious wines. If I “backslide” each Shabbat, how can I succeed at being healthy when the Seder meal goes on for hours and has lots of ceremonial foods that accompany the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt? And then there are the four mandatory cups of wine (or grape juice). What strategy is there to not overdo it?

As always, a little planning goes a long way. It makes sense to go easy during the day leading up to the big meals. Don’t fast, though, or you’ll come to the table famished and overeat. Rather, eat light meals and plenty of water.

At the actual meal, set some simple rules for yourself. At the Seder, it might be to drink four cups, but have them be small cups, or fill the plate once but don’t go back for seconds, or choose one dessert. This year, with social distancing we may actually get a break; there will be less food on the table since most families are celebrating in small groups. We may also get through the Haggadah (the book that contains the Seder ritual in the correct order) a little more quickly. Even so, we will still need to plan ahead so that we do not overdo it–especially two nights in a row.

During the week of Passover, there is a tendency to eat lots of carbs. Remember that much of what we eat during the rest of the year is fair game: fruits, vegetables, legumes (if you eat those on Passover), lean meats, poultry, and fish. No one says you have to eat tons of matzoh; as a matter of fact, according to Jewish law, we are only required to eat it at the Seder. Our psyche, however, tells us that we are being deprived of certain foods so we may snack a little more to make up for it. Don’t fall into the trap of grazing; those Jell Rings, Tam Tams and dried fruits add up.

Finally, if the week is not as successful as you had hoped, don’t get discouraged. Instead, hop right back on the good nutrition path. There are always occasions that are difficult when it comes to eating right. It is a part of life. Plan ahead, do the best you can, stick to it…and stay at home!

Happy Passover and Easter…or whatever you may or may not celebrate!