Monday, May 3, 2010

Weight loss can mean spiritual gain

Rabbi Hillel, a well-known rabbi from the Mishnaic period, was once famously asked by a non-Jew to relate the entire Torah while standing on one foot.  Hillel's timeless response was, "Do not do to your neighbor what you would not want done to you.  That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary"  People are constantly asking me about loosing weight.  Here's my answer: Eat less and move more.  The rest is commentary.  I know, its a bit Michael Pollan-esque (who says, "Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants") but it really is that simple.  1 pound equals 3500 calories.  If you eat 3500 calories more than what your daily needs are (which generally ranges from 1500 - 2500 calories depending on age, sex and physical activity) you will gain a pound.  If you eat 3500 calories less than what your daily needs are, you will loose a pound.  This adds up over time, so if you eat 500 calories a day less than what your body needs, in a week you will loose a pound.  It all sounds very neat and simple and easy.  And we all know that its not.

When trying to lose weight we deal with cravings and patterns that often feel impossible to overcome.  We set up unrealistic goals for ourselves and are not honest about what we can and should do.  We refuse to feel positive about our bodies and our appearance until we meet a random number on the scale.  In short, in our quest for physical fitness, we often lose sight of our spiritual fitness.

What is the best way to lose weight and still remain spiritually fit and positive about ourselves and our bodies?  Its important to recognize that our bodies have a tendency toward a certain weight and a certain shape which is not easily changed; our bodies naturally crave homeostasis.  You can starve yourself to take off those extra 5 or 10 pounds, but you won't stay there, because thats not where your body wants to be.  If you accept your body's natural tendencies, your future weight struggles will be a lot easier.  Also, keep yourself happy when you're trying to lose weight.  Eat delicious food, go out with friends, do activities that you enjoy.  Don't get sucked into the weight loss gym vacuum, so focused on the scale that you lose site of the rest of your life.

Every morning when you first wake up think of a body part that you are thankful for.  Try and be aware of that body part throughout the day and remain thankful for it.  You could be thankful for your biceps because they help you lift heavy grocery bags, or you could be thankful for your navel because it connects you to your mother and gives you a sense of your past.  You can also try to consider the deeper reasons for why you are trying to lose weight.  Is it because you have high blood pressure and are at risk for heart disease, or is it because you want to look good on the beach or be more attractive for someone else?  The first is an excellent and spiritually fulfilling reason to lose weight.  The second reason is okay to have, but it is more superficial and may be harder to justify spiritually.  If you make your weight loss about you and your self-image the reward will be greater and the blow to your spiritual self will be lessened.

Losing weight is a good kind of loss, but it also represents losing part of yourself.  My last suggestion is to put something back into yourself every time you lose a pound or reach a goal.  When you lose a bit of weight find a new way to connect to your community, contribute to a different charity, go online or into a library and teach yourself something new, write a prayer or a mantra, help a friend, or find a new way to observe and connect to your religion.

The basics of weight loss really are easy on a practical level, however its the spiritual plane that often gives us the most trouble.  I challenge you to couple your weight loss with a serious spiritual
gain - I promise it will lead to great health and fulfillment.

 Below is a spicy and delicious recipe for carrot soup.  Soup is a great thing to eat when you are trying to lose weight - it is filling and is the ultimate comfort food. 

Spiced Moroccan Carrot Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 small yellow onions, roughly chopped
2 ½ lbs carrots, roughly chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 small Yukon gold potatoes, roughly chopped
¼ tsp cayenne
1 tsp cumin
1 ¼ tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper
7 cups water
8 mint leaves
Makes 8-10 servings

In a large heavy-botttomed soup pout heat olive oil over 
medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. 
Add the carrots, garlic and potatoes and sauté 3 minutes
more, until they begin to cook.  Add cayenne, cumin, 
cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste.   Stir continuously 
until the spices coat the vegetables and until they begin to 
cook, about 1 minute. Pour in the water and bring to a boil, 
then cover the soup and simmer about 30 minutes, or until 
all of the vegetables are very tender.  Add the mint leaves 
and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender. 
Adjust seasonings and serve.
Carrots are high in fiber, which is good for digestion and for
lowering your cholesterol. They are also high in vitamin A, 
which is good for your immune system, your eyes, and your 


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