It is very true that much of Jewish observance involves food and eating. Not only the ingredients but also the volume of what we are eating can really affect our health. How can we conduct our lives and reach or reach/maintain a healthy weight?
We know what happens when we are told not to eat. There was only one thing that Hashem withheld from Adom – Do Not Eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What happened? Eve saw it. It looked so good. It seemed safe and boom! Down it went! Was that the first binge? In any event, it doesn’t really help to tell us not to eat because eventually we resume.
What we are looking for is a healthy understanding of why we are eating and a way to enjoy that does not destroy our health.
How do we approach a meal? The food we eat has impact on our blood not only in the nutrients. The Nesivos Shalom adds something spiritually important too (Shabbos, p. 181) “…One whose eating is imbued with sanctity will absorb such sanctity into his own bloodstream…he ingests Kedushah, which can have the effect of transforming his essence into one of great sanctity.”…It depends o how we conduct ourselves during the meals…the Gemara (Nazir 23a) contrast two people eating from their Korban Peach. While both fulfill the mitzvah, the deference between the attitudes and the effect on their deed is quite stark…two people roasted their Pesach sacrifice. One proceeded to consume it for the sake 0f the mitzvah while the other consumed it for the sake of abject indulgence. Regarding the one who consumed it for the sake of the mitzvah, it states (Hoshe’a 14:10) “And the righteous shall walk therein.”…
The purity and sanctity Judaism instructs for us actually helps us have good healthy eating habits.
The goal of eating kosher food is not only nourishment and energy. A person is able to access the hidden spark in that fruit. A person can access that. He is able to get to the elokus and perform that which we are created to do which is to uncover and reveal the elokus in the food. It can be restored and revealed as elokus and brought back through the thoughts and intentions of the Jew who is eating it through a bracha. Everyone can have the intention of using the strength to serve Hashem, to have the strength to learn and daven to Hashem. Through the act of eating with the basic kavanna of a bracha, we are able to lift up and make a repair of some kind to reveal the elokus. We see this in the upcoming celebration of Passover.
When partaking of matzah, this motif is enhanced, because matzah is a mitzvah, drawing down infinite G‑dliness. The Maharash teaches that When one eats matzah, he partakes of G‑dliness. As a result, eating matzah brings a person to a state of bittul —self-transcendence — empowering him to make an unbounded commitment to G‑d.
It is much easier at Jewish holidays and Shabbos meals to make the healthier food choices if we focus on what really matters (Hint: It’s never the food!). If we focus on our family and have a vision of what Judaism teaches us about the spiritual affect our eating has and focus ourselves on our prayers of what our lives can be like 5, 10, or even 20 years down the road, in great health, it will be much easier to stick to healthy eating habits.
Preparing healthy and simple meals that support long life makes sense! We can do our part and take care of ourselves and commit to improving our health.
Portion control is central, along with the understanding that protein satisfies hunger, not things high in carbohydrates. A healthy meal looks like a huge salad, protein and then literally a small taste of anything else.
One small serving of cholent and a small slice of a piece of kugel is a good start. Because we are looking for a lifestyle change, we get used to portion control, not complete deprivation (which eventually stops working.)
Rabbi Ittamar Schwartz has an article on Shevat – Fixing of Eating. The remainder of this article is excerpts from that article which can be found in whole here http://www.bilvavi.net/english/rosh-chodesh-avodah-011-shevat-elevated-eating
We know that a person cannot survive without eating. By reflecting on the purpose of why we eat – of how it can be holy to us or of how it can be spiritually detrimental to us – then we will develop a sense of purpose in our eating.
“There are always two motivating factors taking place: a motivation to eat the particular food we are eating, as well as a motivation for taste. If we make a reflection, we can notice that sometimes we eat because we really need to eat, and sometimes we eat because we just want to taste something good, and not because we really have a need to eat right now. We might want to eat because we really need to eat, or we might want to eat just to fill up our stomach; both of these motivations are within the desire to eat. But there is also a third motivation of why we eat: to simply taste something that’s good.
In the first motivation of why we eat, it is a desire for food, not taste. This itself divides into two categories: (1) Eating because we are hungry, and (2) Eating more than what is necessary to fill our hunger – which is actually a desire to experience more materialism of this world. In the second motivation of why we eat, we eat simply because we feel a need for taste, and we will want to experience various kinds of taste. If we reflect into it, we can discover these three motivations in our eating. Sometimes we eat because we are hungry, sometimes we eat because we are desiring materialism, and sometimes we eat for a completely different reason: because we are looking for taste.
There is also an additional, fourth reason why we eat, and every person can also discover this motivation in his eating: sometimes we eat because we are feeling bored. We are in the mood of doing something, and sometimes we fulfill this need for action through engaging ourselves in eating. In this motivation for eating, we are not eating because we need to eat, nor are we even trying to fill our stomachs and pursue physical desires, and we are not either doing so out of a need to experience new tastes. Rather, we are in the mood of having some kind of action, and we are using eating to fill that void..” Rabbi Ittamar Schwartz on Shevat
Rabbi Schwartz continues with some suggestions.
- Perhaps it would help to first consider, before we eat, why we are going to eat, as well as while he’s eating. Eat with a sense of awareness. When a person wants to become aware of why he is eating, he should first reflect: “What is the reason that I am about to eat right now? Is it because I am hungry? Is it because I simply want to nosh? Is it because I want to taste something? Or is it because I’m just bored?” There can be two reasons, three reasons, or even all four of the above reasons, which are all driving him to want to eat right now. The more a person can “listen” to what’s going on inside himself, he can better discern what his motivations in eating are.
- Focused calm eating
Many time we are talking on the phone or doing something else while we are eating.. Besides for how this ignores the halachah that one must not converse as he’s eating, there is another problem which develops from this unfocused kind of eating. When a person is doing other things as he’s eating, he usually will not have any awareness of why he’s eating right now. He won’t be able to listen to himself at this moment and be aware of why he’s eating. When a person gets used to eating in this way, he does not pay attention to why he’s eating at the moment, and he will be very far from developing any awareness in his eating and from elevating the act of eating One should view eating as a time to work on his menuchas hanefesh (serenity). Eating should be always be done calmly, and that will enable a person to have the calmness to listen to himself and reflect into the reasons of why he’s eating. Therefore, in order to carry out this advice, try to make sure that you don’t eat during a time of the day where you are harried or feeling pressured with lots of tasks to take care of. Every person needs to set aside a part of the day where he will have some menuchah (serenity), and for part of this time, he should eat calmly.
When a person isn’t focused and calm as he eats, he doesn’t digest it as well. Not only is it unhealthy to our physical body, but it damages us as well on a more inner level. When a person eats as he’s not calm, he will eat more than he really needs to, because he can’t think properly about how much he needs to eat right now.
Rabbi Schwartz goes further to explain how we can use hunger in a good way, to bring us closer spiritually.
“When a person feels hungry to eat, he should ask himself the following: “Who made me hungry? Did I make myself hungry? No, that can’t be.” Whenever a person feels that he is “hungry” and he immediately goes to eat something, without thinking it through enough, he might open up the fridge and eat whatever he finds there. But this resembles the way an animal eats. A person who wishes to live a more inner kind of life doesn’t act upon his impulses so fast. He first thinks, calmly, about this simple thought: “Who made me hungry?”
When you are aware that the reason that you’re eating is because you are hungry, don’t act upon it so fast. Train yourself to start thinking like this before you are about to eat, and get used to the habit of making reflection before you eat. Even if it is only a little amount of reflecting, it is helpful, because it trains you not to act upon impulse as soon as you get hungry. You can try waiting for 60 seconds, or 30 seconds (and if you can’t do that, try it for 20 seconds) before eating upon the hunger.
Whatever amount of self-control you can muster when it comes to this, the point is not to eat immediately when you feel hunger. When you get used to reflecting a bit before you eat, your eating becomes more spiritual, it becomes more refined and loftier, and it becomes elevated from the normally animalistic eating that it would have been. This advice has been mentioned in the works of the Rishonim: whenever you are hungry, wait a little bit before you eat [and reflect into the purpose of eating].”
When a person feels cravings to eat more food than what he needs, the first part of the advice for this is to get used to takes pauses in between the meal. The second piece of advice is to train ourselves to eat lighter kinds of foods, and to avoid eating heavier and thicker kinds of food. All of this should be done with conscious attention that you are trying to eat calmly, and it should be done during a time of the day that you set aside specially for this, where you will work on eating with more menuchas hanefesh.
4, eating out of boredom
Sometimes we go to eat out of boredom. Finding some engaging activity that makes us feel like we are doing something calms the desire to eat out of boredom, which is entirely a need to experience movement.
A person should always reflect into what is motivating him to eat. Eating with this mindfulness causes us to be better off physically, but we should mainly think of its spiritual benefits. Thus, we should try to bring an inner attitude into our eating. We should eat calmly, , and from “listening to our body” as we eat. Eating calmly includes avoiding eating while standing, avoiding eating quickly, and not to multi-task while eating.
Anyone interested in a journey toward healthy eating habits is welcome to contact me through my website www.createoptimalliving.com