The Jewish month of Elul is here: Time to better our health - opinion

Without a healthy body, one can’t have spiritual health either. We know what to do, but now we have to resolve to do it.

 A time to change also means concentrating on our health and health habits, says the writer at The Wellness Clinic. (photo credit: Aharon Glazer)
A time to change also means concentrating on our health and health habits, says the writer at The Wellness Clinic.
(photo credit: Aharon Glazer)

On the Jewish calendar, we are well into the month of Elul. Our tradition is such that we are in a process of repentance that brings us into the week of the Selichot prayers, which then in turn take us into the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time of both reflection and, based upon that reflection, a time for change – to make our lives better. Although this certainly applies to life in general, I would like to concentrate on our health and health habits.

Western civilization has been in a downhill dive when it comes to health and healthcare for almost a century already. That slope has become steeper and more dangerous over the last 40 years, to be sure. As mentioned in previous articles I have penned, the amount of chronic and autoimmune diseases in the population has increased exponentially and; consequently, 70% of yearly deaths on the planet are now the result of disease and illnesses.

My colleagues and I, who practice lifestyle medicine, find this both frustrating and very sad. Most of this is preventable, controllable and yes, even reversible with just a change in lifestyle. That change would not only extend and bring greater quality to our lives, it would also solve the healthcare crises that take such terrible financial tolls in so many countries. A wonderful side effect of moving to a more plant-based way of eating is that it is good for the environment – even more so than electric vehicles.

So what’s holding our society back?

I’ve written in these pages in the past about food addictions and also about paradigms. The ultra-processed foods we eat and drink – pizza, burgers, chips (fries), soft drinks, snack foods, and diet products – are nutrient deficient and are engineered by food scientists to be as addictive as possible.

We’ve all been there. You decide to cut back on these junk foods, but after a short while you say, “Okay, just a little this time.” Then there is another time and then it’s more than a little and we are back to where we started. Food companies know exactly what they are doing in order to get you hooked on their product. This, over time, will bring upon all of the dreaded illnesses – the ones most people look on to as inevitable. Nothing could be more false.

 A flexitarian diet involves eating more plant-based meals (credit: UNSPLASH) A flexitarian diet involves eating more plant-based meals (credit: UNSPLASH)

What foods are healthy?

There is great, worldwide confusion about what foods are really healthy. Industry has done a great job of misinforming us about the health benefits of their products and of creating confusion. We think that we need to eat meat. We think we must get as much protein as possible. We forget that dairy is just really liquid meat. And just as important, we are negligent on feeding our bodies the all-important fuel that allows it to both fend off disease and heal us when it needs to.

Some health professionals, including doctors, give out terrible nutritional advice. We have reversed diabetes several times in The Wellness Clinic, through the consumption of a diet that includes fruits and potatoes. A neighbor of mine with type 2 diabetes was told by his doctor to stop eating fruit and white potatoes, despite evidence to the contrary. We now surely know nothing is further from the truth.

As Dr. Neal Barnard points out so well in his book on reversing type 2 diabetes and as many other experts tell us, type 2 diabetes is not a disease of sugar. High blood sugar is a result of the disease. It is a disease of the over consumption of the Western diet, and of fat in particular. How is it that in 2022 there are still doctors giving people advice that will keep them as their patients forever instead of trying to cure the disease?

So, it is that time of the year. It’s time to commit and change. But how?

There is a continuing debate over going cold turkey or taking things one step at a time. Dr. Milton Mills, a plant based physician in the United States is a big advocate of “let them scream, yell and throw a tantrum, but go for it 100%.” He says that way, people see the almost magical effect of eating whole, plant-foods along with the other lifestyle factors of exercise, sleep and stress management and it is very motivating.

Others feel that even though it takes longer to see results, a step-by-step process might be more sustainable. Both sides of this argument have valid points. I personally try to assess the person’s ability to make changes and proceed accordingly. But the one thing we must do is indeed make the change. Just this past week in my clinic, I saw someone aged 91 and someone aged 13. It’s never too early to start and yes, it’s never too late.

The sainted and revered Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, lived from 1838 to 1933 and spoke openly about the importance of our health from a Torah perspective. He wrote the following in his volume Nidchei Yisrael Ch.19: “Since God loves us and wants to bring us merit through Torah and mitzvot to Olam Haba, He warned us about our health, to maintain before Him a strong and healthy body in order to serve Him in this world, as the verse says, ‘And guard my decrees... and live through them’ (Leviticus 18:5).”

As we enter this most-spiritual time of the year, let us remember Rabbi Kagan’s words. Without a healthy body, one can’t have spiritual health either. We know what to do, but now we have to resolve to do it. The transformation will change your life for the better forever. It will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”

The writer is a health and wellness coach, and personal trainer, with 23 years of professional experience. He is director of The Wellness Clinic and can be reached at [email protected]