I was shocked to read that people in Israel can gain as much as 6-7 kg. over the Passover holiday. What bothered me more however was seeing statistics decades ago about the amounts of cardiac calls that Magen David Adom has to deal with before and during Passover: the most of any two-week period in any given year. None of this has to be. There is no mutual exclusivity here.
One can observe Passover fully with all of its laws and customs and not damage one’s health. As a matter of fact, you can even use this wonderful period of family time to enhance your health. Remember that one of the aspects of lifestyle medicine integral to health is social integration, as well as relaxation and de-stressing.
By now, you have it all down to a good routine: which rooms get cleaned first, who is in charge of what, the shopping and when to make the kitchen kosher for Passover. There’s the grocery shopping butcher order and the fresh produce. How many guests are coming to the Seder(s) this year? How many for the last day(s)? What are the plans for the intermediate days? And now let’s add this one more thing: how can I do all of this without harming myself?
Yes, our health is just as important as anything else. With all the joy and celebrations throughout the holiday, having a good time doesn’t mean mortgaging away our health. Actually, when we take care of our health, our enjoyment of life is greatly enhanced. So let’s break it all down.
The lead up to Passover is several weeks long and the closer to Passover we get, the more normal eating can be difficult. We need to be realistic in order to succeed. This is not a time to try to be perfect. Staying in control and being aware can make a big difference in how much weight we might gain and more importantly, in our overall health. By putting a few tips and ideas into practice we can really make a big difference in our post-Passover outcome.
Setting reasonable goals
Remember that when someone gains excessive amounts of weight, this is also an indication that other health parameters are being harmed, as well. So while we are focusing on weight gain, it is with keeping other health considerations in mind. There is no one best way to navigate weight control over Passover. Goals are important and you should decide how you want to approach your after-Passover weight.
Are you currently losing and would like that to continue? Maybe you just want to hold steady over Passover and continue your weight loss afterward. Perhaps you want to plan a 1-1.5 kg. gain, knowing that after Passover you will be back to your good eating and exercise habits and the weight will come off in a week or two. Whatever your goals and strategies are, a plan should be in place.
Here are some examples of some of my clients who succeeded with their Passover goals.
Larry was now spending his 11th year at a Passover hotel. For him, planning only involved Passover itself. I encouraged him to do a full workout before he left town for the hotel, which he did. We created strategies for dealing with the buffet spreads typical of the hotels in terms of which choices to take, what size portions to take and how not to keep going back to the buffet for more – especially more meat, chicken, fish, dairy or eggs. Going back for more plant-based choices isn’t so bad and especially when it is vegetables.
The hotel had nice grounds for walks, a pool and a workout room. We planned how to use those also. Larry only gained 1.5 kg. over Passover and felt very good about his accomplishment. He felt especially pleased that a week after Passover was over, his weight was exactly where it was before Passover. Without any extra effort, he simply went back to his regular food and exercise program.
Rose had an amazing result over Passover: she lost 0.9 kg.! She was nervous about gaining and actually became over-focused on her eating. Rose took all of my advice about what food choices to make and staying as active as possible. It was impossible to do her regular exercise routine over the holiday. However, she learned that something is always a lot better than nothing.
Leah did what she does every year. As mindful as she is about her good eating, she was mindful about her treating herself, too. Leah made sure to thoroughly enjoy her normally-forbidden foods in very small amounts, eating them slowly and savoring each bite. She was mindful that when she had a little more than she is used to having of any food, it was still controlled.
When you are as disciplined as Leah all the time, you can get away with a small planned weight gain whether it be Passover or just on any vacation. Ten days after the holiday was over, her weight was back to ideal levels
Moshe made sure to check in with me via email every few days during the time leading up to Passover right until after the holiday. Although he was out of his routine, we kept his excesses under control. Moshe did gain a little bit, which made him unhappy, as he had lost continually for 10 months. However, unlike the previous year, where he put on 5.5 kg. during the month of Passover, he had enough control to only gain 2.5 kg. this time around.
The one common denominator among them is that the minute Passover was over, they immediately were back on their plant-predominant regular way of eating and were back doing their familiar exercise routines.
The days before Passover: Food and exercise
The few days before Passover can be more challenging than Passover itself. The amount of hametz in the house is limited and getting less daily but we aren’t yet all kosher for Passover. Preparing balanced and nutritious meals may become challenging. Here is where a lot of the trouble starts. But, here are some tips for success.
Many of us begin eating takeout food daily. This certainly has its problems in terms of fat, overall calorie consumption and the nutritional makeup of the meals we are eating. In addition, with the many tasks to be done in terms of cleaning and shopping, time becomes an issue. Exercise can easily fall by the wayside. This is a time when we truly need to be creative.
If you can, set up a small area where you are still eating hametz. Even though you may not be able to cook at some point for a day or two, make the best of the situation. Use whole-grain crackers or bread for sandwiches. Peanut butter and almond butter in moderate amounts are good choices. Keep plenty of fruit and vegetables in the house – no hametz problem there. Be sure to drink plenty of water.
If you are going to do some takeout foods, decide ahead of time exactly when the pizza, falafel and burgers are happening and keep it to an absolute minimum. Keep in mind it is the quality of your food more than the quantity that will make the biggest difference in your health.
As far as exercising and activity go, you may not be able to keep to your regular routine but the most important thing to remember is that it isn’t all or nothing. Whatever opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. A 10-minute walk here and 15 minutes there all add up. It only takes about 90 seconds to do some push-ups and two minutes to get through an ab routine. That isn’t a lot of time, so don’t be fooled by the perception that you have no time at all.
Stay tuned for part two of this article, where we will talk about different ways to handle the holiday itself, the amounts we eat, the kind of foods and how to keep some activity and exercise in our lives over Passover. We will include some practical tips you can implement in order to keep your health intact over Passover and “add hours to her days, days to her years and years to her life.”
The writer is a health and wellness coach and personal trainer with 23 years of professional experience. He is the director of The Wellness Clinic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.