The audience at a Shirley Bar seminar
The audience at a Shirley Bar seminar
The audience at a Shirley Bar seminar

By Larry Gordon

The holidays were beautiful, but in terms of food consumption they were a little out of control. I mean, these days, who eats at such a steady pace and on that kind of consistent schedule? But it is over now; it was very enjoyable, but the reality is that it’s time to pay.
With every bite of extra challah and each piece of additional sushi, I knew that once it was over something drastic would need to be done. Enough of wearing jackets that fit but do not comfortably close. Let’s not even talk about the pants, shirts, skirts, and dresses in the aftermath of the chag. The food was great, but so was the damage!
I met Shirley Bar a few weeks before yom tov, when she came to our offices to inquire about this paper serving as an outlet to publicize her remarkable accomplishments in the area of diet and nutrition. I knew very little about her approach, but I made a commitment with the foreknowledge that I wanted to lose ten pounds (and then another ten after that) and would follow her instructions and chronicle the experience here as part of her campaign and my diet.
Psychologically, I knew that if I constructed the deal that way I would not be able to maneuver my way out of it by skipping sessions or just rationalizing that I can skip a week or two and go back to a regular food-intake schedule that is tasty but also does a lot of damage on many levels.
So a few days after yom tov I sat with Shirley in her Cedarhurst office listening to what she wanted me to do. I was thinking, “I can’t do this,” while telling her that it was no problem and that I can certainly make the changes she was recommending.
After my first week of following her nutritional regimen, I had lost 5 pounds. I’d lost weight on diets before, but never at that pace. This was interesting. I was eating plenty, but eating differently. Right now I’m starting week two; it is 6 a.m. on Sunday morning and I am eating my second banana.
I’m not sure that I can explain Shirley Bar’s approach accurately, as I am still studying how the system works. Shirley understands the intricacies of our digestive systems and how our internal mechanisms interact with the foods we consume. The best analogy to cite is an automobile–that is, if you are going to put sugar or a combination of other chemicals instead of gas in the gas tank, it is just not going to run properly.
Shirley talks to me about the nutritional philosophies of the Rambam and how she integrates that sage’s knowledge with modern science so that our bodies can function like well-oiled engines, so to speak.
So I am starting the day with two cups of water with a bit of lemon squeezed in to enhance the taste. That is followed by fruit. Some days I eat organic Fuji apples, other days melons or strawberries and blueberries, and today the bananas in the kitchen looked ripe, so I went for those.
Don’t be frightened. This first phase of the diet is a 42-day program that teaches you how to eat and better understand what you are doing to yourself, weight-wise and otherwise, when you just don’t think and instead simply eat whatever you feel like eating.
The food market is dominated by junk food, and even the things that are advertised as “reduced fat” or “healthy” are often filled with chemicals that do damage to your innards and do little to facilitate weight loss. You’ve probably noticed that for a lot of people–though certainly not all–who have lost considerable amounts of weight, the weight kind of crawls its way back, sometimes with a vengeance, once the diet is officially over.
The most difficult part of this is coming to grips with the reality of the relationship between what we eat and who we are. You know the old adage: you are what you eat. Well, guess what–you are exactly that.
For now I am not ingesting any carbohydrates except for tiny amounts on Shabbos. I like to think of those amounts of challah and other traditional Shabbos foods as being within the margin of error of any diet. As many of you must be aware, there is an emotional conflict here that results in a persistent struggle. The friction is created by exercising your free will and eating not just whatever you would like but as much as you’d like. But that collides head-on with how you feel after a gluttonous indulgence, and then there is the matter of how your clothing will fit over the following day or two.
Week one was limiting. Some of the restrictions have been lifted here in week two, and I am feeling much freer. During that first week, after the apples in the morning and a cup of coffee, it was basically nothing until about lunch at noon. Lunch was a huge salad with protein in the form of nuts (raw cashews, almonds, or pecans) or some salmon cut into it.
As with all diets that work, you need to drink at least eight cups of water a day. Shirley’s guideline here is the prescription of the Rambam, who has written, “Eat at midday like a king; in the evening eat like a pauper.” That means that for all these years most of us have been living under a mistaken and unhealthy assumption. Large meals seem natural at night. You know, another steak, a few more fries, and of course that deep molten-triple-fudge chocolate cake for dessert. Is there anything better than that? Let me put it this way: is there anything worse?
So in your infinite knowledge of diets and nutrition you are going to skip the pastry and go with the fruit. Aren’t you much better off? The reality, according to the Rambam, as explained by Shirley, is that fruit is the worst thing to consume at the end of a meal. Whatever you may have eaten prior to the fruit, whether meat, poultry, or fish, it takes the body hours to break it down and digest. During that period, the fruit literally sits in a queue, unable to move or be processed by your system, sometimes making you feel ill.
Shirley Bar’s approach is not exclusively about weight loss, though the pounds going down are an inevitable result of the changes she counsels to incorporate into your daily routine. Having been on a series of diets over the years, I am rapidly becoming convinced that those who strictly address weight loss are like those who make certain their car is always hot-waxed and simonized but neglect what is going on under the hood.
So where do we go from here? In order to get into the habit of eating light at night, during that first week I dined on either black-bean soup or lentil soup. I don’t recall having ever eaten either of those, so I can report that though you do not sit down with a knife and fork in hand, they are both quite tasty, enjoyable, and filling.
Shirley Bar says that over the initial 42 days of this new approach to food intake, combined with a reasonable amount of exercise (nothing crazy), you can get in touch with the real you and figure out what we otherwise view as the complicated mechanism of the body’s inner workings.
Right now, in week two, I do not feel deprived. I feel like, for a change, I am approaching this vital life-giving exercise that keeps us alive and well with intelligence and understanding. We may have something here, and I’m hoping to stick with it. I will keep you posted as this experiment progresses.
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