In late May, I decided to get serious about improving my health. Since then, I’ve lost 20 pounds (9 kilos) and feel MUCH better. Six relatively easy steps have helped me transition to a healthier lifestyle.
1. Contemplating the Worst Case Scenario: when I started this journey, I weighed 230 pounds and I’m only six-feet tall. It was easy to envision a scenario in which I got diabetes, or had a heart attack.
Jewish law has a principle called “Pikuach Nefesh,” which states that most Jewish laws can be broken to save a life. If Jewish law takes preserving one’s health and life that seriously, I decided it was time for me to start taking my health a lot more seriously.
2. Thinking about What I Have to Lose: the excellent book The Joy of Educating Children: A Practical Guide for Jewish Parents, which contains the selected writings of Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch, stresses the close bond between parents and children, and how much children depend on parents:
The principle is simple. (Young or old) parents must make themselves like friends and comrades – like brothers and sisters – of their children! A child should feel that his parents are his most trusted allies in every battle that he might have to fight. Children must rightly perceive that nowhere in the world do they have any closer, more intimate friends than their parents (page 119).
Every time I am tempted to start binge eating (something I have struggled with in the past), I mentally picture my three smiling, beautiful children. And my wonderful, patient wife. And then I imagine how much harder life would be for them if I weren’t around (see #1 above). It’s a POWERFUL visualization exercise.
3. Feeling my Feelings: a lot of my binge eating occurred because I was scared to feel my feelings. When I was sad, I ate. When I was worried or scared, I ate. When I was happy, I ate (to celebrate). Eventually I got so heavy that I was just miserable all of the time. Food could no longer distract me from the misery. As I stopped eating to dull the pain, I slowly began to realize that experiencing my feelings really isn’t that bad. Feelings come, and feelings eventually go.
4. Eating Right: in addition to eliminating the binge eating, I’ve started paying a lot more attention to what I’m putting into my body. Not from a place of vanity, but in an attempt to live a more authentically Jewish lifestyle.
Chana Rubin’s excellent book, Food for the Soul, details the importance Jewish tradition places on maintaining a fully functioning body (and offers many tips for healthy living).
I consider the physical effort to maintain good health to be both an obligation and a mitzvah. It is one of the requirements dictated by the Creator for self-perfection (pages 10-11).
– Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (known as the “Chazon Ish”), who lived from 1878-1953.
I’ve gone fully vegan, eliminating meat, eggs and dairy. I’m trying to minimize processed foods and emphasizing healthy fruits and vegetables. I feel significantly better — twenty pounds is a major difference and I’m just getting started! (G-d willing).
5. And Exercising: I was a decent basketball player a lifetime ago, but since attending university (which was also a lifetime ago) I have struggled to find regular exercise that I enjoy. My back hurts on and off, limiting my options. But I have stuck to a swimming routine recently and I’ve found that it suits me well.
The rhythmic nature of swimming can be very meditative and water is often used as a metaphor for Torah in Rabbinic literature. Rabbi Berel Wein teaches that just as water has the ability “to transform a barren desert into a productive place of lush fields and orchards,” Torah can transform a Jew into a holy and productive person.
And hopefully water can also transform an out-of-shape Jew into a physically fit one.
6. Remembering My Blessings: gratitude is a crucial part of happiness, which is one reason it’s such an integral part of Judaism. When I really concentrate on connecting to the Source before, during and after eating, I am more likely to make wise food choices and not engage in gluttony.
I am determined to continue my journey to help myself (and hopefully others). Feel free to follow along!