Monday, May 19, 2014

How My New Eating Patterns Are Also Lessons in Spirituality: on Kveller

Photo courtesy of Kveller.
This piece is pretty personal but I've chosen to share it for two reasons: one, to demonstrate that taking care of your body and taking care of your soul aren't mutually exclusive. Two, perhaps it will inspire someone else to make a fresh start and confront something in his or her life that really needs confronting.

So hop on over to Kveller and check it out.


  1. This is great. I always had to be aware of what I eat, and in recent years I gradually upped the discipline involved. There is such satisfaction, and the lessons learned spread into other areas in life.

    1. Thanks! I always enjoy your posts about food discipline.

  2. Should be workingMay 20, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    Wow, 11 lbs in 3 months is amazing, esp. for someone who is only looking to lose about 20ish lbs.

    So you really did this with calorie counting and measuring exercise? Details, please! Do you plan each day's food in advance? Do you suffer at all from feeling hungry given the reduction in consumption? Have you just casually reduced your consumption and increased exercise, or do you have a pretty strict plan and routine? What kinds of things sabotage you along the way and how do you deal with them?

    I have a feeling you wanted to talk more about spirituality and committing to good things with this, but I am quite fascinated by the practical details here, if you wish to share.

    1. It's ok - I don't need to talk about spirituality all day, every day. Happy to talk practical details :)

      So I have two approaches to eating within my calorie limit - which is pretty low - 1400/day. And my goal (I wear a Fitbit) is to burn around 2000. I don't stick to both every day, but it's a good general guide.

      Approach #1: eat when I'm hungry, till I'm full, while choosing the biggest nutritive bang for my calorie buck. This almost always involves fiber. So, bananas, yogurt (no fiber but low calories and delicious), Cheerios, whole wheat sandwich with low-calorie jelly, any fruit like strawberries, pineapple, oranges, apples. When I feel full I log what I've eaten.

      Approach #2: eat 200 calories every two hours. So I get 200 calories (or thereabouts) at 8 am, 10 am, etc till and including 8 pm. Often I'll skip the 4 pm so I can eat a bigger dinner. This is good because I don't really get hungry throughout the day since I'm "grazing." 200 calories is:

      *Banana and a yogurt
      *Typical bowl of cereal with skim milk (again, I'll choose a high-fiber variety to be full)
      *Protein or granola bar
      *Jelly sandwich
      *Two cups fruit
      *Two huge plates of salad

      These are obviously my best choices. I've also been known to use my 200 calories like this:

      *1/2 cup ice cream
      *3 cookies
      *2/3 cheese danish


      As far as exercise, I go to the gym twice a week for an hour long class (Tuesdays is weights and Fridays is cardio kickboxing) and I try to walk as much as I can on the other days. Wearing a Fitbit has been HUGE in motivating me to walk. I love walking and am happy to walk in any weather. I used to think of it as wimpy exercise but now, with education, I see I'm wrong.

      I am rather obsessed with talking practical details so I'm thrilled to answer any questions :)

    2. Let me qualify that. I don't eat till full - that's a relic of the olden days. I eat till I feel satisfied.

    3. Should be workingMay 22, 2014 at 11:48 AM

      So do you go to an O gym, or a women-only class? Do you wear a skirt for kickboxing??

      I have a Fitbit, it is totally motivating, I get up an hour early and walk the dog around our hilly neighborhood. I average 12,000 steps a day plus some bicycling, but it doesn't seem to make me more fit though, which is annoying. How many do you do? :)

      I can't imagine how you get by on 1400 calories a day. I would be chewing off my arm. Sometimes I wonder if I am just plain hungrier than most people. And fruit is, to me, totally unsatisfying; the sweetness gets me hungry and it doesn't fill me up.

      Both you and W sound like have a Weightwatchers-like approach, very rational and healthy. But I've done WW and end up so hungry it makes me obsessed with eating and not eating, it doesn't feel healthy at all because I'm so obsessed with every bite. Not mindful, obsessed. And grumpy because of being ravenous all the time.

    4. SBW, I think it is important to experiment and find what works for you. Each person's metabolism is so different. I lost 25+ pounds over 6 months in a way that would never work for you. For one thing, I am short (5'1") and petite overall. I discovered I need to take in less than 1000 calories a day to lose weight. At 1400 I'd be gaining! When I am actively trying to lose weight (I should be working on 5-10 pounds post-Pesach weight, but am ignoring it), I eat huge amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, moderate amounts of lean proteins and fat-free dairy, and very few grains. It would drive lots of people crazy, but it works for me.

      And that is my only real point -- keep experimenting with different approaches, maybe meet with a nutritionist like W did, and eventually you will figure out what works for you and your life. I have a friend who gained a lot of weight because of required steroid medications. Even though her doctor told her it would be impossible to lose weight, she is gradually making progress. But it has taken her more than six months to lose 15 pounds or so. Slow and steady can be what wins the race. Good luck!

    5. I go to our JCC and those two classes happen to almost always be female-only. Maybe it's the hour (9:30 am) or the class type? I don't know. If there is a man in the class I do throw a light hoodie over my Tshirt and put on a skirt over my leggings. But that happens like twice a year.

      Are you very active? If so you need more calories, for sure. I'm really not all that hungry, so it's a good point for me. Being hungry all day is absolutely not an option I could or should live with.

      Agree with Miriam, for sure.

    6. Should be workingMay 22, 2014 at 9:48 PM

      Does this mean that you are ok with wearing pants/leggings among other women (without the overskirt)? Do you need to cover your hair in front of other women? Hard to imagine how kickboxing fits well with hair-covering, but I guess it's doable.

    7. I am okay working out in pants among women, without a skirt. Hair-covering among other women is not mandated by Jewish law but is considered a very good thing to do for various reasons - so I do it. I just wear a bandanna, which I throw in the wash when I'm done. It's perfectly comfortable. The instructor, who is not Orthodox, wears a baseball cap sometimes, come to think of it.

    8. In my neighborhood there are tons of young women seen jogging in headscarves, lightweight nylon skirts and leggings.

  3. Here is my story, as comparison/motivation.
    A few years ago I started putting on weight, very suddenly and for no apparent reason. I had never had any weight problems, and within just 3 months I put on 55 lbs. I was feeling really bad, I was losing hair by clumps, I was always hot, my heart was racing, I was so sleepy I could barely work - and yet, strangely, I didn't connect all those things together, I was just preoccupied with the weight gain. So I went to see a nutritionist. I was very lucky to find a great professional, who immediately made me do a large blood panel, and it was soon clear I had a serious thyroid disease.
    I was put on medication, but the medication only kicks in after a few weeks/months - and in the meantime I kept on putting on weight. And once the drugs starts working, they only bring your metabolism to normal, and I was left with the 66 lbs I had gained by then. My nutritionist was an amazing doctor, but I also think that I was smart enough to be honest with her about what I can and can't do. I told her very clearly that I travel a lot, so I eat out a lot, and I simply can't weigh and measure everything I eat. Also, sprinkling food with one teaspoon of flax seeds or whatnot - can't be done. I needed a diet that would allow me to function normally.
    After some initial tweaking the diet plan was very simple. At breakfast I was allowed one slice of bread, or a small bowl of oatmeal, some fruit and some cheese. At lunch I was to mentally divide my plate into three equal parts: one part vegetables, one part proteins, one part carbs. At dinner I was to divide my plate into four parts: 2 parts vegetables, 1 part protein, 1 part carbs. That's it.
    I was also to write down everything I ate and drunk, plus every time I didn't but felt like eating (the thyroid disease was pushing me into horrible cravings). The only thing that was banned was sugar and sweeteners.
    I lost 60 lbs in 6 months, and then went back to my previous weight. I didn't feel hungry. I didn't feel deprived. Aside from the obvious relief of getting my original body back, I learned a few valuable lessons: I'm stronger than I thought. If I really want something, I'll fight for it (and win). It pays to be honest and state my needs and limitations. I'm able to kick a habit (I would only ever drink my coffee and tea with sugar, I couldn't imagine how I'd do without. For a week I was miserable watching desserts - and after 10 days, brutally, all my sweet cravings disappeared). Ruchi is right - taking back control is one of the most empowering experiences out there.

    1. Should be workingMay 20, 2014 at 8:33 PM

      W, that is wonderful that you were able to do this, and in the face of a big medical issue. Did you suffer a lot between breakfast and lunch? Were you hungry? I get hungry at 10am whether I eat breakfast or not, and no matter how substantial. Your breakfast looks SO minimal and the lunch pretty light too. Snacks??

    2. Wow, what a story! I too am impressed with your drive and ambition. I totally agree that "you're stronger that you think." Good for you and thanks for sharing.

    3. Very impressive! That takes real determination! I would also have a problem with such a small breakfast, although I know a lot of people aren't hungry in the morning. As for the other meals, it sounds like you could eat as much as you wanted as long as the proportions were right. In other words, if you wanted to eat a kilo of pasta, you would just have to eat huge amounts of vegetables and protein as well, right?

    4. DG, haha, no, it was understood that we are talking about a standard-size plate (which, I also guess, is smaller than a standard-size plate in the US, where the portions are humongous by our European standards). Still, in the lunch version (so 1/3 of the plate), I was allowed up to 6 spring potatoes, or 6 spoons of rice, or an equivalent in pasta.

      SBW, I didn't suffer. As I said, at the beginning I had to write down everything I ate and drunk, and also every time I felt hungry (even if I didn't eat). I would show the table to the nutritionist at every visit, and she made me walk her through it. She noticed quite early on that I tend to get hungry about 2h after a meal if I had fruit at the end of the meal, so she made me stop, saying that it's probably the glycemic index of the fruit that made my sugar level drop after 2 hours and made me hungry. I was either to eat my fruit 2h before the scheduled meal time, or replace it with a vegetable, or go for low GI fruit. Once that adjustment was made I was never hungry between meals, really.

      What was great with that system is that it wasn't complicated for me, and it wasn't annoying for the others - actually most people didn't notice I was on a diet, because I could still go to restaurants, eat at friends' places etc. I was even allowed 2 glasses of wine a week (and one croissant a week :) )
      The only thing that was banned was sugar/sweeteners - so switching from Coke to Coke Light was not an option. As I said, this was the biggest issue for me, because I always had a sweet tooth. And going cold turkey was really painful for about 10 days, until suddenly (not progressively!) sweets lost all appeal. I could sit next to people eating desserts and not feel tempted at all.
      Once I got back to my initial weight I was allowed to eat normally, but some habits stuck: I eat very little "hidden sugar". I will have a dessert, but I will not drink sodas, or eat candy, or put sugar in my coffee. If I drink a Coke - occasionally - I consider it a dessert, not a thirst quencher.

    5. Ruchi, I think that in a way it was easier for me than for you. You put on weight very progressively, and it's easy to adjust when it just slowly sneaks up on you. When you put 66 lbs in a few short months, it's impossible not to notice. I never had time to adjust to that body, it's just that one day I woke up in a fat suit. I didn't recognize my reflection in window glass, and I was permanently covered in bruises, because (as I discovered) we have some mental image of our size, so you think that you need *that much* space to pass, and suddenly it's *that much more* space. So I'd bump into things when I thought I could pass by without touching. Also, overnight none of my clothes fit anymore.
      So it's like the difference between putting a frog into hot water (it will jump right out) and putting it in cold water and slowly heating it up (the frog will boil unaware) - that's why I say it's a decision that was easier and more obvious to me, and that I think it takes more courage and honest reevaluation of yourself to be in your situation.

    6. In a way, I can see that. And I've totally experienced that spatial confusion in pregnancy - oh my gosh. However, you had to eliminate an entire food, which I have not done.

  4. W ugh, could have done without the frog analogy, I'm eating lunch! But I am impressed with your strength to overcome this problem. I wonder if the fact that you were always naturally thin, however suggests that your brain has no problem being disciplined and eating within limits. I wonder if people who naturally tend to overweightness have their brains wired differently which makes them more prone to eating addictions, emotional eating etc.

    Ruchi, thanks for sharing. I find it interesting that to this point it seems like only your female commenters are weighing in (no pun intended) in the discussion. Perhaps it is a sense of modesty at not wanting to intrude on a somewhat more intimate and personal discussion, or perhaps men don't obsess with their weights and body image in the same way. Having said that in our small frum community there are quite a few guys who have serious weight problems and struggle with diet in a world which unfortunately is not so conducive to healthy eating (think: kugel, kishke and kokosh).but whilst it's more culturally acceptable for women to be dieting and watching their weight, maybe not so for the guys?

    1. I was wondering about that :) On Facebook, it was reposted by a man, who mentioned that it's important for "men too." I do wonder about men being more overweight than women in general and what the trends are specifically in the Orthodox community. Here's what I've noticed:

      1. Women are usually ten years ahead of men in terms of health, but I think women are more likely to be motivated by vanity.

      2. I do think both men and women are more overweight in the Orthodox community. I think there are several reasons for this.

      One, less discretionary time and funds due to more kids and responsibilities, so therefore less time for working out.

      Two, more temptations due to the kinds of foods you mentioned and many more simchas and holidays, Shabbos, etc.

      Which doesn't mean it can't be done. But it might be harder. A non-Orthodox man is far more likely to spend an hour at the gym regularly than an Orthodox man with no health issues to worry about.

  5. Should be workingMay 21, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    A fascinating article the NYT this past weekend about whether getting fat might not be causing us to overeat, rather than the other way around--I recommend it. One thing I appreciated about the article --and here might be venturing into the psychological, if not the spiritual--was how it pointed out how it is not just a lack of willpower and weakness for some people, but a vicious cycle/circle of becoming more hungry as the body stores more and more calories as fat.

    Willpower and discipline are great and necessary of course, in all realms of human life. But basically subsidies to corn farming require that tons of corn syrup be pumped into our bodies each year to maintain the economics of farming. Carbs are cheap and make us hungrier. The deck is stacked against willpower. The rhetoric of "individual discipline" belies how much of our eating lives and the economics of eating are determined on a macro level by forces that do not have our health in their equation.

    That said, can I ask about SomethingSweet's point regarding overweight in the O community? Do heavy O men feel less pressure to lose weight than non-Os? (I agree with SoSw that women everywhere are under pressure to be slim, so that is why I am asking about the men.) In the tiny, nonscientific impression of my experiences with O men there does seem to be a tendency toward overweight, although maybe not more than the general population. As I indicate above, I see this as NO moral failing whatsoever, I'm just curious about it.

    1. See above for my comment on your last question. Regarding your middle paragraph, have you seen the book "The End of Overeating" (written by a Jew, ahem).

      Fascinating dissertation on how America's food companies conspire to keep us addicted. Again, no excuses. Ultimately we choose what and how much we eat, even if others choose how easy or hard that will be.


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