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When a Cupcake gives Insight

            Several months into this new life plan, my niece, Shayna came to Houston for a visit.  We had all kinds of activities planned.  She is an avid fan of cupcake wars and was really excited about going to the shop called “Sprinkles” which is owned by one the judges on the show, the originator of the latest trend in cupcake bakeries.  It was a cute little show with incredible flavors of cupcakes.  One cupcake after all is a limited intake.  It’s not like buying a cake and picking away at it a little at a time.  It is reasonably finite and I planned to have one.  I had planned my day to include this high calorie treat. Shayna and I sat at the window bar and really enjoyed our treats.  As I ate the cupcake I noticed it was very sweet.  It was sweeter that I thought it would be and, although it was very good (I got the carrot cake flavor) it did not taste as good as I had imagined it would.   What was more significant was the physical reaction.  Within 10 minutes I started feeling bad.  I got a headache and I just felt gross.

            I am so glad I ate that cupcake.  I learned a lot that day.  I learned that the choice to eat the cupcake was not a slip in my plan from which I would begin sliding ever downward.  I had chosen to eat it and planned for it within the rest of the day’s meal plan.  I didn’t need to “start again in the morning” because I had not ended anything.  What was even more significant was the proof that my body did not want or need that kind of simple sugar anymore.  It felt so much better being “clean” and the “addiction” had lost it’s appeal.  When I go to a special dinner with friends or a party celebration where sugary desserts are integral to the evening, I have the best of all worlds.  I do eat some.  I eat some.  “Some” is the word to emphasize here.  I enjoy 3-4 bites of the special treat.  I enjoy it.  I savor the taste and then I stop.  More than 4 bites and I know my body will start to yell at me.  It doesn’t want or need the sugar.  I am not deprived.  Nothing is off limits.  Everyone is happy, including my thighs!

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The Kosher Connections

The Kosher Connections

            I was not raised keeping kosher.  In fact, my mother told me that you must do it all or nothing and since it was too difficult to do it all, it was not something we could do.  It’s one of the rare times when I think Mom had it wrong.  I always wanted to keep kosher and so it was one of the first things Sam and I discussed after he proposed.   I don’t keep kosher because I think G-d said it and we must follow it.  I keep kosher for several reasons.  First, it reminds me continually that I am connected to a people a history and a set of principles.  The other reason I keep kosher is something I learned from the first rabbi with whom I had a personal connection, Rabbi Allan Krause.

            He provided the following illustration.   People, he said,  go to the gym to exercise their bodies; we go to university to strengthen our minds.   Kashrut, Rabbi Krause said, is the exercise of our free will.  As we control day in and day out, something as routine and mundane as what we eat,  we are choosing what we eat instead of being ruled by desire or animal instincts, we are rehearsing strength of will.  When difficult times or hard choices confront us in life, we will know that we have the  strength of character to deal with it.   We choose to keep kosher not because G-d said so but because it provides a framework for us to perfect our being.  It is part of the path to living a life adhering to a higher purpose.  It is one of the rituals in Jewish life that gives purpose far beyond what the casual observer can perceive.

            I have always been drawn to this explanation.  I have kept kosher for almost 26 years; I began several months prior to getting married.  I don’t “cheat” on kashrut.  I choose not to eat pork or shellfish.  I choose not to knowingly mix milk and meat.  In 26 years I can say that there has only been a handful of times when I have made a conscious decision to deviate from kashrut and it was always for a higher value of not insulting someone or causing  a fuss in a circumstance I did not create. 

            So, if mind could conquer stomach with kashrut, why couldn’t it do it for dieting???  I have thought for years that I could succeed if I could only apply the same resolve to dieting that I did to kashrut.  How could I teach the values of kashrut and other “body ethics” curriculum and carry an extra 100 pounds of my body at the same time?  I was not in sync and I felt it.

            This time was different.  It was very different.  I did not approach kashrut as a temporary thing.  When I decided to start keeping kosher, I planned a wonderful final treif meal.[1]    I knew from then on, I would be adhering to a kosher life eating plan.  This weight loss journey was the same.  I did not approach it as a diet.  Diets have a start date, and a goal to reach.  Actually, diets have many start dates.  They have the official start date noted by your top weight.  They have re-start dates marked as the morning after the day you cheated and they have “ok, that plan was unrealistic I think this new diet is going to be much better” start date.

            When I started this journey the thought process was different.  I came to a realization that I was almost 50 years old and I was faced with a choice.  I could live uncomfortably for the rest of my life and that life would be limited in many ways or I could change the way I was living and actually LIVE the rest of my life without physical limitations.  It was now or never. I had completed a very long and detailed survey on the “Real Age” website.  The more completely you answer the questions about your health, history, and lifestyle the more accurate the calculation of your body’s real age.  I completed the survey to discover that although I was chronologically 49, I was “really” 65 years old.  My mother died when she was 65.  That was an eye-opener.[2] 

            This time for me it was really a commitment to make a life change.  It was hard in the beginning.  I was fighting my body like an addict going through withdrawal.  One year later, it is no longer a struggle.  It is still a choice but it is a choice that reinforces itself continually.  When I eat well, I feel well.  When I eat poorly, I know the difference right away.


[1] This was in no way a sacrifice.  I knew from the time I was in high school that keeping kosher was something I wanted to do.  It was too difficult to keep kosher in a non-kosher home with others who did not keep kosher.  When I moved out of my parents’ home, I wanted to observe kashrut.  So, my first home with Sam was kosher from the start.  By the way, my final treif meal was in Walnut Creek, CA at a marvelous little French restaurant.  There were private dining spaces and I had scallops in a cream sauce.  I knew it was my last treif meal and I enjoyed it completely.  After that I have never ordered or eaten shellfish, or pork. 

[2] One year later I am thrilled to report that my “real” age is now 45.  That is 5 years less than my chronologic age and a full 20 years less than when I started.  My cholesterol level is 146.  My HDL (good cholesterol) is up and my LDL (bad cholesterol) is down.  I am a month away from my 26th wedding anniversary and I feel healthy, energetic and I have a significantly increased chance of reaching my 50th wedding anniversary.

The Initial Motivation

The Original Motivation

            Why this time?  Why was I able to succeed and get healthy this time when I have tried so many times before?  First of all, I did not try this time.  I made up my mind that I was going to do it, not try to do it. The next question is “What made me do it?”  What was my original catalyst to change.  Here is the evolution of what happened.

            I was approaching my 25th wedding anniversary.  For months I had been contemplating what we should do to celebrate.  What could I get for Sam?  The question was hard because it is so unusual for us to actually get presents for each other.  We usually pick out something fun for ourselves around our birthdays but it is not something that one of us chooses and buys for the other .  We never discussed this but it just evolved from the beginning of our marriage.  Our relationship is not validated by the gifts we give each other.  Rather giving of ourselves to each other is the gift.  This has always been the feeling we both share.  I grew up watching my dad buy gifts of flowers for my mom “just because” he felt like it.  He never let Hallmark determine when Mom should get flowers or treats.

            Nonetheless, a 25th Anniversary is special and I wanted to think of some appropriate way to mark it.  Every time I thought about it, my mind kept drifting back to the one and only thing I knew Sam would truly want and appreciate.  He would want me to be healthy.  He would want more years together.  It was never about the size for him or the number on the scale.  I have felt each and every day of my marriage that Sam loves me completely.  Even when I did not love me because of the way I looked.  He loved me, no matter how I looked.

            Could I really do it?  Could I give him the one gift that he would cherish above all else?  If I could, I knew that it would be the truest representation of how much I love him, of how blessed I feel to be his wife and of how happy he has made my life.  How could I not do it?  If not now, I knew it would be never and that was a very pessimistic look into the limited years ahead.

            The goal was an anniversary gift for Sam.  The present was a healthy me with good cholesterol and normal blood pressure.  I would reduce the controllable health risks and give us 20 more years together.  Not a bad anniversary present!