Hanukkah: Eat healthier, live happier this winter - opinion

Here are a few tips for you to consider to get started on your healthy living and weight-loss journey to good health this Hanukkah.

 A FAMILY comes together for Hanukkah candle lighting and a meal. (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
A FAMILY comes together for Hanukkah candle lighting and a meal.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

The Hebrew month of Kislev seems to harbor an inherent contradiction. These are the shortest and darkest days of the year. They often feature cold and stormy weather. Yet, it is the very month almost 2,200 years ago in which the Maccabees rose up to defeat the Greeks and those Jews who had fully assimilated into Greek culture.

This led to the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days and the restoration of sacrifices in the Holy Temple, as well as a return of open mitzvah observance. A holiday that focuses on light takes place at the darkest time of the year. But there is yet another paradox inherent in Hanukkah. Families with children notice it as their children grow older.

There was a time many years ago when during Hanukkah I would put up a large table near our window filled with Hanukkah menorahs. At the peak, there were nine of them every night. As time moved on, our children grew up and moved out. And each year, there were fewer and fewer menorahs on that table. For the last five years, there has been only one.

Candle-lighting used to take a long time as each child recited the blessings and we sang “Haneirot Hallalu” and “Maoz Tur” afterward. At first glance, you see much less light generated in our home on Hanukkah these days. But when you take a step back and think about it, how many more menorahs are being lit in the home of each of those children by them and their children? So this is a case where less is more.

A former personal training client of mine once told me that when he travels back to the United States (he has been in Israel for more than 50 years), he notices that the word “better” in America seems to go hand-in-hand with “bigger and more.” Success is translated as more money, more cars, bigger cars, bigger homes, bigger weddings, more food for your money in a restaurant and longer vacations. Yet, it has hit me over these past few years that bigger and more are not necessarily really better. Many times, less is indeed more. Our health is somewhat built on this very concept.

 THERE WERE candles in  blue and in white. (credit: PXHERE) THERE WERE candles in blue and in white. (credit: PXHERE)

We all know and understand that when it comes to being overweight, when it comes to prevention of chronic disease, more seems to be harmful and less is best. Less translates into good health and a happy life. As the head of The Wellness Clinic, I spend my days working with people who want more out of life. They need to learn how to do with less of certain foods, less of certain unhealthy behaviors, and to engage in more health and wellness in order to achieve their goals.

Carrying too much weight can cause an array of life-threatening health problems such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, auto-immune conditions, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease and Alzheimer’s. In addition, problems that affect our quality of life – such as osteoarthritis, digestive issues, depression, anxiety and problems of self-esteem and self-confidence – are prevalent in the overweight and obese.

HOWEVER, HAVING seen success after success in my clinic, I also see how less is more. I watch week after week as people come in with new blood tests showing better sugar numbers and lower cholesterol. Their blood pressure drops and they just feel so much better.

People transform over weeks and months in terms of attitude and stress. The same techniques we use to get people to lose weight – a proper food program, proper exercise, better sleep, ability to better deal with stress and making the behavioral changes necessary – are easily applied to other aspects of their lives.

Less is indeed more, but it can’t happen in one day or one week. This learning process takes time – weeks and months for many people. But the rewards you gain (and the weight you lose), both in terms of physical health and mental well-being, are the “more” here. Those who succeed find it hard to believe that they were ever in the “more and bigger is better” mode. There is a great sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of this road. 

Here are a few tips for you to consider to get started on your healthy living and weight-loss journey to good health.

  • Diets are not good. They initiate a fleeting process at best, only to be abandoned ultimately. The better option is to learn how to eat healthfully (predominant plants and no ultra-processed food), control your portion sizes and don’t let yourself get hungry. Also, maintain good hydration with an abundance of water.
  • Learn the difference between real hunger and desiring food for other reasons.
  • Exercise must be part of your life, and a priority. Learn what a balanced exercise program is and fit it into your day. Even daily moderate-to-brisk walking accomplishes so much.
  • Learn how to prioritize. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first when you must. It is a great mitzvah to help others, but helping yourself is crucial, too.
  • Write it all down. Track your food and your exercise and even your feelings at any particular moment. And when you do something great, write that down, too. Giving yourself credit for your accomplishments is important.

Oh yes, back to those dark winter days in the month of Kislev. Illness, disease and the inability to function can seem unending and can create darkness in your life. Our doctors have told us many times that we can manage these things but we have no cure. That isn’t something we necessarily want to hear, and it can certainly lead us to stress and depression. The data clearly tell us that although we don’t have the answer to every single problem, enacting proper lifestyle habits can certainly light up the darkness of poor health.

Make your holiday enjoyable. Be with family and friends and enjoy healthy foods. If you would like some really healthy and tasty latke (livivot) recipes, email me and it will be my pleasure to send you some. But remember that in spite of what we see around us, less is indeed more, just like the menorah burning in your home or your scale trending down.

And when it comes to your health, losing weight in a careful and healthy manner will bring you more “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]