Eating Differently in a Pandemic

April 13, 2018

The most recent issue of AARP Magazine (August/September 2020) featured an article by Ruth Reichl entitled “The Changing American Table.” In it she discusses how food tastes, the taste of food, shopping habits, and eating habits have changed over the last 50 years. It is a fascinating look at the major events and trends that helped to define American cuisine. Here is the link: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/changing-food-trends.html.

What was most intriguing was her take on the effect that the COVID-19 Pandemic has had in the last 6 months. The pandemic disrupted (and still does) our food chain. Packing plants became COVID-19 hot spots, restaurants shut down (some temporarily, others permanently), some food went to waste, and other food simply wasn’t produced. For many Americans, it was the first time that we actually began to fathom all the steps that take place from the farm or sea to our tables.

Americans (you should pardon the expression) are a little late coming to the table on this one. Judaism has always emphasized an appreciation of food–what we may or may not eat, how it is prepared, and how it must be sanctified through blessings before and after the meal. An observant Jew at each meal is reminded through all these steps exactly where the food came from…and the many miracles that accompany its journey to our stomachs.

Reichl noted that during this pandemic many people turned their attention back to the sources. People planted gardens and grew vegetables. Others began cooking and baking from scratch. Many in rural areas did what the norm was a half century ago and went straight to the farm to purchase produce and meat. If there may be one silver lining to COVID-19, it is that it reconnected us to an awareness of the sources of our food…and to the fragility of the system.

Personally, I have been a cook and bake from scratch kind of guy (although not exclusively) for a long time. There are still a lot of processed foods in my diet. Even so, during the last several months, I have found myself trying to go back to the basics. We even planted some basil, tomatoes, peppers, parsley and cilantro!

Whether COVID-19 will have a long term impact on how we view the food we eat is unknown. Certainly there are encouraging signs that we will think more about where our food comes from. On the other hand, we know that many of us have put on a few pounds, simply because we are sitting at home more surrounded by food and because our gyms and other ways in which we are active are not as accessible.

My hope is that our society will learn from the Jewish approach to food. It is a blessing and it is to be enjoyed–but always in the right context and as a way to fuel the human body (not destroy it). A good lesson for a pandemic…and afterwards too!

Falling Apart?

Broken Robot

They say that aging is not for the faint of heart.

Each year, it seems, my body surprises me with something else. Last year I had an emergency appendectomy–not fun at all and with a harder recovery than I expected. Three months later, I finally took care of a long-standing issue with Plantar Fasciitis that led to another surgery–also not the least bit enjoyable with an even harder recovery.

In the midst of COVID-29–which, thank God, I have avoided thus far–I have had a skin cancer with surgery (about which I blogged earlier). I will be having shoulder surgery in the not-too-distant future to resolve bicep tendonosis. And did I mention that some of my labs came back “funky” and I’ll need some more evaluations?

Definitely not for the faint of heart.

There are times when I do feel like I’m falling apart, like I am a broken robot whose circuits and switches are malfunctioning. The weird thing, though, is that I am still running (thanks to the surgery on my foot last year), am still working as a personal trainer, go for long bike rides a couple of times each week, can hike, and do the other activities that I enjoy. It is all relative. I sometimes see pictures of others my age and think that I’m actually doing pretty well, if not excellent. Others who see me tell me how great I look and ask how I keep in such good shape. And yet, there are days where I feel like I’m simply holding on with toothpicks and glue.

My attitude has evolved into the following. My father lived until he was 85. He had a lot of health issues including diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s, and did not always take the best care of himself. If I manage to make it to 85 that means I have another 28 years to go (God willing). I plan to do all the maintenance and repairs so that my body will help me to do all the things I want to do as I age. It is kind of like taking care of a car; as long as we are faithful with the upkeep, the car should last a good long while…and may even become a classic!

I know that this is not the end of the surprises. I am sure that other parts will fail me every now and again. I am fortunate that I have access to health insurance and can deal with my issues in a planned way rather than at the ER when the situation becomes critical. I do worry about so many others who do not have the same privileges that I do. This too is part of the social protest movements that are going on.

The main thing is to listen to our bodies, to care for them, to keep them well-nourished, well-exercised and well-rested. We cannot control everything that will happen, but we can keep ourselves as strong as possible so that when parts fail, we are better able to address the issue.

That is my strategy as I make my way into territory that is not for the faint of heart.

Boosting our Immunity

Here is a great post from FitAmbitiousBlond. Something to consider as we make our way through this pandemic. We are not just sitting ducks. Aside from wearing masks, staying home, washing hands, etc., there are things we can do to keep ourselves healthy that help to boost our immune system at the same time.

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/145951722/posts/2136

Passover/Easter Nutrition Tips

Seder2012_2.JPG

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!

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.

An Intermittent Fasting Success Story

Stopwatch

Here is a story from http://www.cnn.com that talks about this nutrition trend. I like that it also focuses on their exercise journey.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/26/health/intermittent-fasting-jared-sklar-wellness-live-longer/index.html


I don’t know if I could be that strict–only eating between noon and 8 pm–but it seems to work for some people.

It’s not just we’re eating, but what we’re not eating.

This global study of diet shows that we are at risk not from eating unhealthy foods alone. It is that at the same time we are not eating healthy foods. The reasons are numerous, and this article explains the global and regional implications.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/03/health/diet-global-deaths-study/index.html

Proteins in a Plant-Based Diet

Many folks who try to cut out animal-based are worried that they won’t get the protein that they need–especially if they like to work out or participate in active sports.

I have been a pescatarian for the last dozen or so years; a pescatarian does not eat meat or poultry, but still eats fish (in my case this excludes shellfish and other crustaceans). When I made the change, I knew that I could not feed my children and myself pasta every night; I had to plan in advance. Putting together a week’s meal plan at one time helped me to make sure there was variety in what we ate, sufficient protein and greens, and prevented me from having to run to the supermarket every day. The biggest challenge was definitely what to do about protein; I am ovo/lacto so cheeses and eggs helped out a lot. Even if you are vegan, though, there are lots of options out there. Here is an article–complete with some recipes–that addresses the issue. It also talks about some of the concerns that have come up in the past around tofu.

Here is the link from NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/ask-nutritionist-what-are-best-sources-plant-based-protein-ncna982496.

As the article states near the beginning, we don’t have to jump into a completely plant-based diet all at once; even little baby steps make a difference and have health and wellness implications.

Bon Appetit! Voulez-vous de veggies?

Why Kosher Fitness?

I am a Rabbi at a small congregation in the Cleveland, Ohio area. I am also an ACE Certified Personal Trainer.

The old joke says that a Jew believes the only thing his body is for is holding up his/her head. While our tradition does emphasize learning, we are ultimately judged for what we do and how we act.

If we are not able to do because we have not maintained our bodies (which are gifts from God), we cannot hope to fulfill what it is that God wants us to do on earth.

Follow this blog for tips on fitness, nutrition, wellness as well Kosher recipes and words of Torah. Bruchim Haba’im to Kosher Fitness!