Now that yom tov is over, I think it’s time to get back to my diet. Not that I’ve been dieting at all before yom tov. But it’s been long enough since yom tov started that my body doesn’t know that. My body isn’t that smart.
And anyway, our family minhag — and I think the minhag Yisrael — is to talk about how we’re going to diet after yom tov. It’s the main thing Yidden do this week, besides bring books back to the library. The key, I think, is to spend so many days this month eating that we’re literally sick of food, and then to see if we can ride that feeling all the way to Chanukah. As soon as we finish eating these leftovers.
I don’t know if the minhag is to actually diet. It’s just to talk about dieting. It’s like the things we pledge to change on Rosh Hashanah. Even if we don’t actually change them in the end, Hashem judges us by our intentions at the time. And if that’s good enough for teshuvah, it’s good enough for dieting.
I’m not so bad when it’s not yom tov. For the most part, I’ve been living on a strict regimen of intending to work out coupled with, every single day, intending to eat right. I actually diet every day until about noon. That should work, right? I’m spending literally a third of my life dieting. If I were working out every day until noon, you wouldn’t say, “Yeah, but it only works if you work out the whole day.”
And if you work out, it basically is the whole day. Who has time to work out? You can’t work out for two minutes here and there. Working out only helps if you get sweaty, and then you have to take a shower. So if you’re going to work out for an hour, you have to add in a ten-minute drive to the gym, ten minutes to drive back, time to change into your clothes, time to shower afterwards and change back, and time to figure out where you were holding in whatever you were doing before you had to run to the gym. It’s a three-hour gesheft. I feel like for that kind of time, you could just be cooking healthier. For three hours a day.
If I want to skip a step to save time, what do I skip? Warming up? Then I’m in pain the next day. Should I skip the showers? No. So I skip the actual workout. I just do the stretching and the showers.
And besides, working out itself is a massive waste of time. I read somewhere that for an intense workout of a half-hour with no breaks, all you lose is 300 calories. This is for an intense workout, such as running. Are you going to run for a half-hour straight? You are not. Most other exercises are about 150–200 calories for a half-hour. That’s not even one doughnut. This is not an efficient use of your time. It’s much quicker to not eat the doughnut.
Then there’s the motivation factor. You work and work to get your weight down, and you wonder what your future will hold, but then you look at old people and think, “No matter what I do, it’s gonna be OK.” You never really see a fat old person. No one in the old-age home is really that big. They all look pretty much OK. Yes, it’s entirely possible that the people in the old-age home are the ones who actually took care of themselves. So I suppose you can ask around.
“Excuse me, I don’t know you, but were you ever like really fat? What happened?”
It’s nice to talk to these people. They have stories.
But on the surface, it’s not very motivating.
Also, life is too long, baruch Hashem. You work really hard and get down to your goal weight, and then what? You don’t live happily ever after at that weight forever. You still have to eat every day for the rest of your life, which is now longer because you’ve lost all the weight. But at least you had a window of being at your goal weight so you could take updated pictures that you’re willing to hang on your wall. Everything else since you’ve gotten married is just pictures of kids. Kids and rabbanim.
Diet and exercise are a segulah for arichas yomim. We just had the Yomim Nora’im, during which we davened for arichas yomim, and we had a window for segulos until Hoshanah Rabbah, and diet and exercise isn’t one of the segulos that we managed to squeeze in there. So whatever. The window is closed. I did enough segulos. You can’t rely on segulos anyway.
I was actually on a diet for a while, and I had a whole list of foods to eat that would fill me up but that were pretty low in calories. I was doing great until after about a year or so, when I got sick of those foods. I was eating soup like three meals a day during the summer.
The whole diet thing is disheartening in the first place, because let’s say there’s free cake, and you’re being good, so you don’t eat it. It’s hard, because everyone around you is eating it, and the whole room smells like it, and you’re holding yourself back, and it’s not like smoking, where you can just go inside and be antisocial and everyone will say, “Yeah, he doesn’t want to smell all the secondhand cake.” You just have to stand there and take it. Do you know how much weight you’re losing because you’re not eating the cake? Zero. In fact, maybe you’ll gain a few ounces because of all the secondhand cake fumes. This isn’t like mitzvos and aveiros. You don’t get schar for avoiding temptation. Your body doesn’t say, “I’m going to lose weight because we could be eating cake but we’re not.” At most, you just don’t gain. That’s it. That’s the entire satisfaction. To be honest, it’s not much, because you don’t see how much you’re not gaining. You don’t get a printout receipt at the end of the day, “You saved five pounds!” That would be motivational. There’d be a coupon for five pounds off another food that you generally don’t eat anyway.
Even if you say, “I’ll only eat cake socially, when other people are eating it,” and you figure that this way it will keep you from eating cake when you’re alone, the result will actually be that you’ll suddenly find yourself becoming extremely social. You’ll go to every simcha, every social event, parent-teacher conferences, you’ll show up with cakes that you’ll offer everyone … You’ll be happy, and fun to be around, and you don’t want that. What is the point of watching what you eat when no one’s around? It’s a known fact that if you eat something and no one sees you eat it, it has zero calories.
The foods they tell you to avoid when you want to lose weight are hard to avoid, as Yidden. Bread, for example. Yiddishkeit is based around bread. We just ate round challah for a month, because it was a segulah to be round. Or something. Bread isn’t that good for us. That’s why there are signs at the park not to feed it to the ducks.
“But why not?” you’re asking. “The ducks love bread! They go crazy over it!”
Yeah, but it’s not good for them. They might love it, but they also don’t read medical studies about what’s good for them.
If you think about it, there are not a lot of healthy Jewish foods. There’s no yom tov where there’s a minhag to eat vegetables. Well, technically, there’s Rosh Hashanah, when there are a whole bunch of healthy simanim to eat, but even then, you eat one bite of squash and one bite of carrots, and one black-eyed pea, and that’s enough for the year. It’s not like you have to eat 354 of them. There’s no halachic minimum. The only other time we’re supposed to eat vegetables — the karpas on Pesach — there’s a halachic maximum. Most of us have replaced it with a potato.
So apparently, my current diet, which I’m getting back to this week, is that I do eat, but if what I eat is bad for me, I feel bad about it. Like the guilt is going to help. If guilt helped you lose weight, all Jews would be skinny. Especially this time of year.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.