Gratitude and your Health

universal thank you note

Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving and this promises to be different than any one in the long history of the holiday. The pandemic has changed almost everyone’s plans. For most people, the big feast will be curtailed–not only in the number of people attending, but also in the amount of food being served. It just doesn’t make sense to make a huge turkey, 5 side dishes and 8 desserts for 2 or 3 people.

Perhaps–as I blogged about in a post at the beginning of November–we can try to make this holiday a little healthier, rather than a total lost cause.

When we think about improving our health, Thanksgiving does actually provide us an opportunity to take steps in the right direction. The holiday is all about recognizing the many blessings we have and giving thanks for them–to whomever or whatever you believe/don’t believe made it possible. At the heart of this holiday is a reminder of the importance of gratitude.

We usually think of gratitude as being more of a manners thing or a religion thing. It is, for example, polite to send a thank you note for a gift or simply thank someone for opening a door, helping out with a project, etc. Many religions stress gratitude as a key component to achieving holiness. In Judaism, we traditionally recite blessings before and after eating in order to thank God for the food. Those who pray on a regular basis the Amida prayer also thank God for: health, wisdom, justice, redemption, hearing our prayers, and peace. Judaism even has a prayer to thank God after using the bathroom!

Did you know that developing an “attitude of gratitude” has physical health benefits as well? Do an internet search of “gratitude and health” and the articles and research confirming this come from such illustrious institutions as Harvard, UC-Berkeley and USC. Gratitude has been shown to have the following positive effects on our health:

–Improved quality of sleep;

–Lowering Blood Pressure in those with hypertension;

–Increased levels of energy;

–Reducing stress and symptoms of Depression;

–and actually raising our life expectancey.

Don’t take it from me! The research shows that living with a greater sense of appreciation can make you healthier! Thanksgiving is a reminder to us of our history, but it can also be a catalyst to better–more grateful–attitudes and behaviors in the future.

While being thankful can make us feel better in the long-term, I wish I could say the same about the stuffing, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole….

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday.

Thinking Ahead to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Turkey [327/366]

Last year I wrote a post before the holiday with tips for how to get through Thanksgiving without hating yourself afterwards for overeating. Here is the link: https://kosher-fitness.com/2019/11/27/how-to-eat-healthy-at-thanksgiving-dinner/.

The advice still holds, but this year there is an added wrinkle to take into account. Most years we are accustomed to having a large crowd, which calls for a large turkey, large casseroles, large stuffing, large, large, large…. In the pandemic, most of us are finding ourselves dining within our “COVID-19 Bubbles.” Generally, this will mean much smaller crowds. What to do?

I learned the lesson the hard way at Rosh Hashanah when we prepared large meals for just the two of us. It was not a pretty picture (although a delicious one)! We ate more than we should have–not a good idea during a time in the Jewish Year when we are aware of our transgressions!

As always, the key is to plan ahead. We’ve got several weeks to plan to downsize the festivities or commit to a plan with what to do with the leftovers.

Here are some suggestions:

–Do not purchase an entire turkey, but rather a turkey breast instead.

–Take out the family recipes now and start halving or quartering the amounts to fit the number of diners at your meal.

–Investigate now places to donate meals for Thanksgiving. There is a good chance that a neighbor or relative or friend may be eating alone this year; how about giving a small part of your meal to them (put together a few plates). Remember to be especially cautious about following hygiene standards.

–Get some freezer-friendly storage containers. If you can only prepare large, right after making everything, divvy it up and put it in the freezer, leaving only enough for the Thanksgiving meal. The leftovers can be used for future meals.

Hopefully this gets the wheels turning and gives you some ideas for how to stay on track. An early Happy Thanksgiving!

Jacob and Esau at Thanksgiving Dinner

I always read Parashat Toldot with extra interest since I am a twin.  The story of the rocky relationship between Isaac and Rebecca’s sons, Jacob and Esau, begins in our Torah portion.  From the very beginning, we are told that Isaac favored Esau and Rebecca favored Jacob.  We are told that this is because of the different lives they led.  As we know from the rest of the story, “playing favorites” did not really work out for the family.

As a child, my parents always made sure that they supported whatever my sister and I did.  They never dressed us alike; they wanted us to have our own identities.  They also made sure that we understood that we could follow whatever path we wanted in life and we would be loved and encouraged.  To this day, my sister and I (and our older brother) have a close and loving relationship.

Just yesterday, many of sat down to a festive Thanksgiving Dinner with our families; it may have been wonderful or perhaps less than wonderful.  Often, the discomfort comes from events that happened years ago.  Sometimes we can repair, but other times–as was the case with Esau and Jacob–we understand that it may not be possible.

All the more reason for us to think carefully about how our actions today can affect the connections we hope to build and maintain in the future.Shabbat Shalom!

How to Eat Healthy at Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner @ Boston Oak Room

Reality Check: For most of us, this won’t be happening. Those trying to watch their weight or just not overdo it will find that Thanksgiving Dinner is a huge challenge.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

–Stick to healthier appetizers like raw vegetables. If we fill up on those, we are less likely to eat the richer stuff that are part of the entree.

–Drink lots of water; water makes us feel more full and can prevent us from eating too much. Plus, it’s always good to hydrate.

–Fill your plate once…and then don’t refill it. Pile it as much as you want the first time, but then stop. A good way to do this is to remove your plate from the table.

–Eat until you feel about 3/4 full. Our sense of being full is slower than our mouths; if we stop eating at 3/4 (or earlier) we can avoid the overstuffed feeling.

–Choose one or two desserts and then ask for a small serving. Don’t deprive yourself of pumpkin pie or other treats; rather, enjoy with a small portion.

–Don’t fall for the idea of going to the gym and working out like crazy so that you can eat more at dinner. Unless we are running a marathon on Thursday morning (and some of us might be) we’ll never burn enough calories to make up for what we’re about to eat. More likely, we will be hungry from our workout and eat even more. Avoid this trap!

Finally, if all else fails:

If you get on the scale on Friday and the news isn’t good, be kind to yourself and realize that Thanksiving day is one-of-a kind. Don’t get down on yourself for “being weak.” Accept that we all have days when we eat healthier than others. Commit to getting back on the program.

It probably won’t take too long to undo the damage…before Hanukkah and Christmas come in four weeks! Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Would You Rather Be Happy or Live Longer?

Hour Glass

If you had to choose between long life and happiness, what would be your choice?

Guess what? You don’t have to choose. Happy people live longer. At least that is what research is showing. Studies about the connection have been going on for years, but all point to the fact that that happier we are, the longer we live.

Of course, what defines happiness for one person doesn’t necessarily define it for someone else. There are research questions that helped to identify the components that make up happiness. Five main areas are: 1. Having satisfying social connections, 2. Looking on the bright side, 3. Meaning and purpose in one’s life, 4. Spirituality, 5. and what Martin Seligman (co-founder of the Positive Psychology movement) calls flourishing with PERMA (Positive emotion, engagement, relationship, meaning, and accomplishment). For a full explanation of all of these, go to the article from http://www.cnn.com: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/30/health/happiness-live-longer-wellness/index.html

On this blog, I talk about nutrition, exercise and spirituality and how they can help to improve our health–physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is noteworthy that research now shows a strong link between happiness and long life.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It is a time for recognizing the blessings in our lives. That sense of gratitude helps to bring happiness our way. This is not an exercise just for the end of November; Jewish tradition’s mussar movement encourages us regularly to practice gratitude. Rather than focusing on the negative, we should be grateful for all the positives. The research shows: we will be happier…and for longer too!