Rosh Hashanah has its shofar, apples and honey. Yom Kippur has its tefillot (prayers) and fasting. Chanukah has its menorah and draidel. Pesach has its Seders. Shavuot has its Torah.
Sukkot, except for several symbols, is really about the joy of eating in the sukkah and enjoying the friends and family you have invited.
This year, it’s a three-day holiday, with Shabbat following right after, and we will be eating six meals in the sukkah, one after another. There are many challenges related to a three-day holiday, a schedule that comes every so often in the Jewish calendar. These challenges include having enough food available, especially if entertaining many family members and friends, and having a variety of foods to keep it fresh and inviting. There’s also the stress of avoiding significant weight gain.
When you think about it, this year, the month of September, spanning from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot, mimics Thanksgiving to New Year’s, when average weight gain could be three to five pounds. Also, since the holidays are a month earlier, we light the candles later, and we are eating our meals at a later hour.
What are the reasons for weight gain during these marathon holidays?
Eating a large amount of food during mealtime.
Especially if the weather is nice, it is enjoyable to sit out in the sukkah, sharing with friends and family and consuming wonderful food. Some dishes are made especially for the holiday. In addition, the food is likely to remain on the table, encouraging second helpings and nibbling, rather than being taken off the table and into the house.
Eating much later at night.
Consuming a large meal and then going to sleep, after spending most of the evening in the sukkah, soaking up great conversation and singing, causes weight gain.
Lack of exercise.
During the holidays, when one is grocery shopping, cooking and eating and then grocery shopping, cooking and eating some more, there is much less time for regimented exercise or taking time out for a walk, let alone a trip to the gym.
So how do we avoid excessive weight gain and keep it reasonable and manageable so that we can lose it quickly when the holiday is over? Here are some easy tips:
Pace, pace, pace yourself.
Realize that if you don’t taste a delicacy at one meal, it will probably show up at another of the meals. At dinnertime, when we are probably eating at 8 p.m., don’t forget the importance of monitoring portion sizes.
Try to avoid excess fat and sodium while putting together your menus.
Include lots of dishes that are baked, broiled and grilled instead of fried, or include items with lots and lots of sauces. There is nothing more wonderful than a platter of perfectly grilled carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and turnips.
Consider mindful eating.
It is important to really experience your food, using all five of your senses. No time is more critical to be mindful than during a three-day holiday spent with friends and family, catching up on a whole year of events and happenings. Do not go into autopilot and lose yourself in spirited conversation, while consuming way more calories than necessary. Enjoy those you love and haven’t seen for a year, but be mindful of every bite of food at the same time.
Do yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
These exercises will help to keep you centered and mindful and help get you through what could be a stressful time. Even taking a walk after meals with a family member can have wonderful benefits.
Adriane Stein Kozlovsky, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a licensed registered dietitian in private practice, working with individuals, groups, corporations and nonprofits. She recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher-training course at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Integrative Medicine and is teaching individual and group yoga classes. Visit ChaiLifeNutritionForU.com.