Being the daughter of a doctor and a psychologist, I was taught from an early age to be aware of what I put in my mouth. At a meal, eat your protein first, then the vegetables, then the starch. Two cookies at a time for a snack. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.
Still, there were some adjustments to be made when I started keeping kosher and that sometimes, Judaism’s culture of food is hard on our health.
I made adjustments for keeping kosher. Because a smaller portion of the food out there has a kosher label, it sometimes means choosing something different that I might have previously. My favorite example of this is low-fat cheese. While low-fat cheese exists in abundance in the non-kosher cheese world, around here, the only low-fat cheese you can find around here is of various soft, white kinds: cottage cheese, cream cheese, etc. Make it a lot harder to enjoy cheese responsibly – especially since dairy products are one of the few kinds of food that when fat is taken out, they tend to not put too much fake stuff back in.
Probably harder to deal with is Judaism’s constant focus on food. On Shabbat, you celebrate by eating – holidays have special foods and special meals too. The Passover seder, one of the most widely celebrated rituals in Judaism, centers on a meal. There’s also the pressure of going to others homes and inviting others to your homes. We have a culture where there is never too much food on the table, even if it is only just the six of us.
So how do we deal with it? Once we realized we needed to, we changed our eating during the week to something like the South Beach Diet model (my father’s recommended diet). There are special challenges to being on South Beach and being Jewishly observant. We eat challah & dessert on Shabbat, maybe a little more than we should, but less than we used to. We remember, especially when it’s just the two of us at a Shabbat meal that Shabbat comes every week, so maybe we don’t eat a huge meal every week. A celebratory meal, sure, but something lighter. We eat until we’re full, not until we’ve made a good show of it or we’ve stuff ourselves into a stupor. And we sleep just fine during our Shabbat naps anyway.
We’ve always been big on meal planning, mostly because we hate grocery shopping (seriously, we shop every two weeks), but we also find that we have a much better idea of what we’re putting into our bodies if we have it on paper. We even started this healthy kick right around Purim, which is a festival of low fiber carbs and giving and receiving seriously sweet foods. So, we took everything, laid it all out, took the stuff we really wanted and gave the rest away. It all has to be eaten by Passover anyway, so we rationed ourselves to one or two pieces a day, and then got rid of the rest.
Traditional Judaism tries to be about moderation (i.e. Enjoy eating, but not everything). So we try to work with that in mind.