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Many people find the week-long Pessah festival, especially the Seder, uplifting, satisfying and a welcome change of pace. But others cringe over participating in unaccustomed family gatherings, suffer from matza-induced constipation, shudder over gaining several kilos, feel depressed if they are single and alone - and wonder whether it was all worth leaving slavery in ancient Egypt.
Psychologists say that although festivals are times for celebration and enjoyment, some people feel boxed in from time spent with extended family, arguments and conflicts. In the event of a first Pessah Seder after a beloved family member dies, sadness, grief, isolation and longing are a common reaction. If you feel depressed during the days before the holiday, speak to your family doctor and/or ERAN, the anonymous call-in emotional first aid service which can be reached at 1201 anytime of the day or night.
Eating matza often causes constipation, as the yeast-less "bread of affliction" in fact causes the gastrointestinal tract much affliction. Drinking plenty of water (10 glasses a day at least) and other fluids may help prevent or alleviate it. Increase your consumption of fiber from whole-wheat products, nuts, fresh or dried fruit and vegetables, as fiber makes stools bulkier and softer, so they travel through your bowels faster and more easily.
People suffering from allergies must be very careful during Pessah, as you never know where nuts are hidden in kosher-for-Pessah food. If you suffer from a severe allergy to nuts, remember to check with your hosts before eating anything and carry with you an anti-histamine tablet or even a suitable injectible drug if necessary. If you suffer from celiac disease, in which you cannot digest gluten, obtain matza made from oats or spelt that are easier to digest.
As whole fish are often served during the holiday, watch out for fish bones. Although very distressing and uncomfortable, this is rarely an emergency, as the bone is not big enough to prevent air from reaching the trachea. Most people complaining of pain from a stuck fish bone have no visible pathology as the bone is often swallowed within a few minutes, but the sensation can remain for hours in the esophagus, as the bone often scratches the tissue. If you feel you have a fish bone stuck in your throat, don't panic. Drink some water and try eating some soft food. If you don't feel better soon, go to a doctor.
To avoid the almost-inevitable weight gain of Pessah, go on walks and exercise more than usual. Remember that a single piece of matza contains about 130 calories, the equivalent of two slices of bread, and one matza or gefilte fish ball 150. Avoid fried foods as much as possible; choose boiled or baked foods.
Remember that wine and grape juice are also full of calories, so take a sip rather than drinking four full glasses if you must not gain weight. Eat several small meals rather than three heavy ones a day. Choose special foods you don't eat often to fattening ones that you see every day. If you do eat matza, do not slather it with fattening additions such as chocolate spread.
Diabetics must take special care, as holiday foods are full of simple carbohydrates, including sugar, and they can disrupt the insulin/sugar balance in the blood.
Don't come to the Seder hungry. Drink a lot of water or sugarless beverages. Drink dry instead of sweet wine. Choose vegetables over cakes and cookies. Children will also snack if they are bored, so make sure they are not hungry when starting the Seder.