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Chanukah Is In The Air

Doughnut ads are popping up everywhere. Yeshivas are planning their mesibas, relatives are coordinating Chanukah parties, and families are baking sugar cookies….where does your healthy food plan fit into this picture? Do you undo the hard work that you have accomplished the last few weeks, and just dive straight into the festivities?

Think about it for a few minutes. Think about how you’ll feel if you get on the scale after Chanukah, and the number reads three, four, or even five pounds higher than it did before Chanukah. Even if you aren’t back at square one, you might be close to it, and it will take several weeks of careful eating to undo the Chanukah weight gain.

A better option would be to do some advanced planning. What are some of the not-to-be-missed Chanukah treats you are looking forward to? Is there a certain doughnut you’ve been dreaming about? Is your aunt’s cheesecake a once-a-year treat that will leave you feeling very deprived if you don’t have any? Think your Chanukah through, day by day, and party by party, and make a list of two or three must-haves.

My list looks something like this:

  1. Zishe’s doughnut from Evergreen
  2. Mom’s latkes
  3. Aunt Feigy’s cheesecake

Only put foods on this list that you will feel very deprived of without having. What often happens in situations like these, is that resisting these foods can backfire. The feeling of being deprived often leads to overeating later on. My recommendation is to eat everything on your list at some point throughout the eight days of Chanukah. A half a doughnut on two different nights, a thin slice of cheesecake on a third night, and a small latke on one or two evenings will not sabotage your diet. Telling yourself you will not eat any doughnuts or latkes, holding out for three or four days, and then eating three donuts and four latkes for several nights in a row definitely will.

When partaking in these Chanukah delicacies keep in mind a few things:

  1. Don’t eat these special treats on an empty stomach. Make sure to first have your regular, filling foods so that you can eat the Chanukah treats purely for the enjoyment and the taste. These aren’t foods to be filling up on.
  2. Don’t have these treats in place of snacks. The snacks that we recommend between meals should have a fair amount of fiber and protein so that you are sustained until the next meal. The Chanukah treats we are discussing do not serve that purpose, and if eaten in place of proper snacks, may cause you to overeat at a later meal or at night.
  3. Have your Chanukah treat while seated, and don’t forget to use a plate. This will guarantee that your treat actually registers. When we eat without concentrating we hardly notice or enjoy the food, and we don’t acknowledge the extra calories either.

Now make a second list. This list should include foods that are delicious and out of your routine, but not particularly special to Chanukah. Items that go on this list are things like fresh bagels with cream cheese, lasagna, eggplant parmesan, chocolate coins, fried schnitzel, french fries, etc. This list has all the foods that are tempting and can sabotage your diet but aren’t extra special.

The point of creating this second list is so that you can plan in advance for these temptations. It isn’t always enough to tell yourself that you will “try hard” to eat well at a Chanukah party – you need to have a plan of action in place.

Some ideas for an action plan:

  • For some bochurim, it might be helpful to find out if something similar but healthier can be served (especially if it’s your mother or grandmother making the food!) For example, eggplant parmesan can be made with low-fat cheese and baked instead of fried. Homemade french fries and schnitzel can be baked as well. Even lasagne can be made healthier, by using whole wheat noodles and low-fat cheese and keeping portion size under control.
  • For other people, the best option (at a milchig party) is to simply eat some sliced turkey before they go, making themselves fleishig and forcing themselves not to eat.
  • Another option is eating your healthy food before the party and then sitting far enough from the party food to not be tempted by it.
  • For yet others, eating a snack along with your selected Chanukah treat right before a party might be enough to help resist the tempting but more routine party fare.

The goal of making the two lists and the plan of action is to go into Chanukah with a sense of control so that you can enjoy the special treats of the Chag without undoing all the progress you have made.