Eat. Pray. Love. A famous book and movie. Pray. Drink. Eat. A typical Passover. The holiday season brings with it bigger, later meals, junk food, socialized eating and less physical activity. Rest assured, there are ways to not let the food restrictions defined by Passover define poor food choices. Understanding the reality will help you calmly take control of what and how you are eating. Recalling the splitting of the red sea does not have to result in the splitting of your pants. Here are realistic and easy to follow weight management tips for this Passover season:
Choose whole grains. Whole grains are the optimal choice for health compared to refined carbohydrates for benefits including more fiber and vitamins. They are the key to making you feel fuller and satisfied longer and relieve feelings of bloating and constipation that typically accompany Passover eating habits. Lucky for us, there are a variety of products on the market today to make this step easier. No more excuses. From farfel to matzo meal, regular matzo to shemura you finally have more choices.
Eat Breakfast. This step is essential to curb your appetite throughout the day and achieve a healthy weight. Get creative with your choice of breakfast options so you are not eating 5 pieces of matzo with cream cheese every Passover morning. Choose plain yogurt (there are many varieties kosher for Passover) and mix with your own fresh fruit. Add a few small pieces of whole wheat matzo for added crunch. Another great choice can come right off leftovers of your Seder table: the hardboiled egg. You can also make an omelet and add vegetables to make it more nutritious. Even a salad with an egg or tuna fish and a piece of whole wheat matzo is a well-rounded, balanced breakfast.
Eat Regularly. Sounds simple, right? You wake up and tell yourself you are going to start with breakfast and not go more than three hours without eating a small portion of something. Well, with the kids at home, cleaning, cooking the meals, socializing with family and forget about the demands of Seder nights where you feel forced to adhere to the meal schedule dependant on the synagogue one, remembering to eat is not on the top of your mind. The seemingly easy step, if not kept, can be your biggest downfall. Your body is a living, breathing being. It runs on a timer, one that was set based on your eating patterns. If you skip meals and snacks your body will be out of sync, not knowing when you will give it the nutrients it needs to function next. In turn, the body will respond by hanging on to every last bite you eat. This in turn will slow your metabolism and contribute to bloating and future weight gain. It will take reregulating your eating pattern and being consistent to get your body back into motion, a process that takes a lot longer than you simply remembering to eat in the first place! Keep in mind that there is no way to avoid eating the late night feast during Seders, but ensuring you are eating small, frequent meals or snacks throughout the day will help you to not overeat. Try to skip the night dessert and plan it for lunch instead, which leads to the next tip…
Go Dark. Let’s face it: dessert is part of the Passover experience. You need to be geared up to make the best choices. If you must have the piece of chocolate, always go dark versus milk. Dark chocolate has flavonoids, an antioxidant, with less sugar and calories. If you need to satisfy that sweet tooth and the fresh fruit is not cutting it, best choice is the simple square piece of a dark chocolate bar, a small dark chocolate covered lollipop or a handful of dark chocolate covered nuts. Stay away from chocolate combined with other added sugars like caramel.
More importantly than the choice of snack, is planning when you want to have it. Studies show you eat less when snacks are planned versus an impromptu urge where you may overindulge. If you choose to have your dessert at lunchtime, for example, it is better to have that piece of cake in your mind than to eat multiple portions of every dessert at each meal without thinking twice.
Planning the unplanned meals. Eating more per meal than usual can do harm. Your body sorts through the rapid influx of food you consumed in a short amount of time resulting in a digestion and metabolism slow down. When venturing to meals as a guest, use your plate as ammunition against the unknown battlefield of food. Take a 9-inch plate and divide into quarters: one quarter for a protein, one for a starch and two for vegetables (potatoes, peas, beans and corn count as a starch). With this strategy you are assured to eat a balanced, portion controlled meal no matter what the exact dishes turn out to be.
Remember to eat slowly. Taking your time while eating will allow the food to digest into your gut and release hormones telling your mind that you are full and satisfied. Eat too fast and you will over consume as your mind is not getting these signals fast enough for you to stop eating.
Take a Hike. Just like our brethren walked through the dessert, relive the Passover story by taking a walk around your block. Although not quite as dramatic, keeping your body moving during the holiday will aid in weight management and allow you to feel better and more in control of your body.
The best part about these tips is they apply to everyday life. Passover or just another day, these guidelines will help you stay on track and take control of your health.
Beth Warren holds a Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition from Brooklyn College. She is a freelance foods writer, nutrition consultant and runs a private practice specializing in pediatric and adult weight management, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease in Brooklyn, NY. She also writes her own blog at www.myfoodthoughts.com.