By Basya Kovacs

During the weeks preceding Pesach, two of my clients expressed similar thoughts, sentiments that stayed with me long after the session was over. I pondered their comments for several days, realizing that they expressed what so many of my clients feel all the time.

The first woman, let’s call her Miriam, has been a client for over two years. Petite and in her early 50s, Miriam successfully and quite easily lost over 25 pounds, but struggles mightily day after day to keep the weight off. The constant battle exhausts and frustrates her. At her most recent weigh in, Miriam cried to me, “Am I really going to always have to be that crazy woman who brings my muffins and kugels wherever I go? Do I really have to live this way forever?!”

The second client, a post seminary graduate, expressed a similar sentiment. This girl, let’s call her Sarah, lost weight with a different nutritionist on a strictly regimented diet that cut out all snacks, sweets, treats, meats, and fun food. Of course this type of plan is unsustainable and her weight began to creep back on. Sarah came to Nutrition by Tanya in order to maintain her loss while reintroducing all the foods she’d deprived herself of for many months.

Session after session, burned out from her previous diet, Sarah kept telling me “I just want to do whatever I want, and be normal!”

Both of these clients, and many more, are just yearning to be free from the burden of “dieting.” So many of us are. There is a whole movement towards intuitive eating which basically professes the following: don’t diet, don’t structure, don’t plan, just eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

If only it were this simple. If only we could be “free” and “normal”!

Unfortunately, our intuition is clouded by a host of factors including but not limited to:

  1. Abundance of foods in every grocery, pantry, and refrigerator (baruch Hashem)
  2. Constant elaborate simchas that outdo each other with both food and presentation.
  3. Advertising in magazines, social media, blogs, and newspapers, enticing us to eat.
  4. An entire foodie culture encouraging us to eat more, focus more on food, eat creatively, and eat constantly.
  5. Chemically engineered food that is designed to keep us coming back for more. High fructose corn syrup, MSG, and hydrogenated fats are added intentionally to make food as addictive as possible.

With all these factors at play, intuitive eating is all but impossible. Doing whatever we want sounds lovely until we realize that our wants and desires are swayed and manipulated by the forces at play as described above and are not to be trusted. The only way to enjoy all the different foods and all of life’s occasions and simchas is to do so within a structure and a framework, also known as a “diet.”

The desire for freedom seems timely, Pesach being the holiday of freedom. It is interesting that our freedom coincides with being given the Torah — a full guidebook of rules and restrictions as to how to best live our lives!

Freedom, then, can’t mean doing whatever we want when we want because what we want is subject to change on a whim! As it says in Pirkei Avos, if we were free to do what we wanted, society would deteriorate and we would literally swallow each other alive. Structure and rules are needed. Too many rules can suppress and suffocate us, but the right structure and framework actually sets us free!

So yes, Miriam might need to bring her own kugels and muffins when she goes away for Shabbos, because without them she goes off track. And yes, Sarah might never be able to just eat as much as she wants whenever she wants, because her appetite is larger than her caloric needs. But who is to say that others are freer? Is eating to your heart’s content and then being filled with guilt and regret truly freedom? Is starving all day because you are too busy to eat, and then eating all night while feeling depressed and out of control true freedom? When thinking about freedom this holiday season, think about what it truly means to be free.

Basya Kovacs is a nutrition counselor and manager of Monsey and Monroe Nutrition By Tanya.

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