On Self Control

It’s screaming your name.
You weigh the pros and cons in your head, deliberately considering the situation, and then repeat. It’s a vicious cycle.
You want it.
But you don’t really.
Except you do.
You shouldn’t though. You know you’ll regret it.

It’s the chocolate cake.
#Chocoholicproblems. But actually.
It sits there, in the middle of the Shabbat table, mocking you with its perfection; its fudge icing is so rich and chocolatey, your imagination could only speculate what’s on the inside.
It’s obnoxious, really. You spent the whole week being (relatively) careful with your eating habits, and, inevitably, your downfall is bound to come now, just when your well-balanced week would have culminated successfully.

Confession: I would eat the cake.
Yup, I really said it. I would indulge in the rich chocolatey texture, no regrets (if it tastes good, that is :)).

I don’t believe in skipping dessert, especially this year.
Why should you deprive yourself of the wonderful rugelach, cookies, and cakes Israel has to offer? We’re in the Jewish food capital of the world right now. Don’t let the opportunity go to waste.

That being said, there is a difference between having one slice of chocolate cake versus three. And when I say I believe in dessert I mean the former. With Shabbat coming along once a week and the more than occasional Chag, self control can often be a hard thing to exercise while sitting around the dessert table with family and friends for hours.

But hopefully, with the proper mindset and some of my strategies noted below, exhibiting better self control will soon be a piece of cake…literally.

  • I recently read a book titled Food for the Soul by Chana Rubin, RD which notes an approach to mindful eating that I find truly fascinating.

    As Jews, we have so many restrictions that we’re barely even phased by them anymore. Keeping Shabbat, fasting on Yom Kippur, not eating chametz on Pesach and keeping Kosher are only some of the inherent values of Judaism that permeate our everyday lives. Our culture is one which requires a great degree of reserve and self control. A typical orthodox Jew wouldn’t even consider waiting less than the required time between meat and milk, let alone go out for a ham and cheese sandwich. For many of us, it’s gotten to the point where we don’t even crave non kosher food since we know, even subconsciously, that it’s not an option.

    Rubin suggests applying this sort of restrictive mindset when it comes to eating junk food. Try and associate unhealthy food with the same absolute denial as you do non kosher food. If you can prevent yourself from having bacon for breakfast then you can surely be capable of holding back on the Pesach cheesecake. Although this thought process may not work all the time, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
  • Push the cookie jar far away. Or better yet, make sure it’s not near you to begin with. Many times we eat mindlessly just because food is in front of us. If the food isn’t in front of you, well, that can’t exactly happen so easily.
  • Before you take dessert (or even food in general) ask yourself if you actually want what it is you’re about to consume.

    Do you have an appetite? Will your body appreciate what you’re eating? How will this help your body nutritionally? Does this food provide any health benefits?

    And, most importantly, don’t forget to consider how this food will make you feel afterwards. If you’ll have a stomachache or feel bloated and overstuffed it may not be worth it. No food should cause you pain.
    Taking time to check in with yourself is an important part of the process. Don’t rush or feel pressured to make snap decisions. Dessert will still be there. And if it’s not, then great! Decision made :)
  • Think of what you’re eating. This may sound obvious, but many times we are fooled by aesthetics and forget about the actual ingredients we’re ingesting.

    For example, red velvet cake may look pretty, but once you think about the chemicals used to give it its characteristic red color, you may be more drawn to the fruit platter.

    Did you know that many of the artificial dyes and colorings used for desserts are actually synthesized in labs? Or that pie crusts, non-dairy creamers, and margarines typically used in parve desserts generally contain trans fat which is basically poison to your body?
    Read books, follow blogs (like you’re doing now ;) ), scroll through articles, and listen to podcasts (The Nutrition Diva hosted by Monica Reinagel is amazing!) to educate yourself on proper nutrition. Once you’re aware of the benefits of eating healthfully, you’ll naturally become more inclined to do so. Soon nourishing your body will become second nature, as you’re likely to be disgusted by the methods used to process unhealthy foods.
  • Also, the more you eat healthy food, the more your body will come to desire healthy food. Once you begin to monitor your refined sugar and sodium intake, your body won’t even crave over-salted potato chips or candy.

    I know from personal experience – before my healthy days, I used to buy a bottle of raspberry Snapple from the school vending machine on my way to art class every Friday.  One bottle of this iced tea (which is supposedly supposed to be a healthier alternative to soda…) has thirty six grams of sugar! That’s more than twenty five grams, the recommended daily intake! Now I can’t bring myself to swallow a sip of that drink when in the past I wouldn’t even think twice about finishing a whole can.

    Eating healthy makes you appreciate food for what it is, not for something it’s not. Food isn’t supposed ago be a vessel muffled in layers upon layers of sugar and additives, which is unfortunately what it’s become in many cases. I’ve noticed that since starting to eat clean I’ve become better at appreciating the natural tastes and flavors in food.
  • Naturally, being a stereotypical Jewish girl, you have a grandmother, aunt, mother, or even teacher this year who will try her absolute hardest to push dessert on you. If you give even the slightest hint of refusal, forget it -they’re be even more persistent in their insistence (oh yes, it is possible, as you’ll find out if you haven’t yet), commenting on how thin you are, how you’re practically “withering away” and how you shouldn’t deprive yourself when “you’re so young.” And then they’ll continue to push, claiming that their chocolate chip cookies are the best ever and how if you turn them down, you’re “surely missing out.” As the entreating continues, they may even ask you if you’re okay, as they’ll be quite nervous you have an eating disorder.

    All because you refused one cookie.

    Don’t let others’ insistence pressure you into eating anything you don’t want to.

    What I’m trying to say is that YOU are the one who decides what goes into your body. YOU. And only you.

    This is something I feel really strongly about.

    If you chose to eat a dessert because you want it that’s one thing, but if you decide to do so because you feel the need to be “polite” or accepted by others then you shouldn’t.

    Your family and friends should accept you regardless of what you eat at their houses. If they ask, let them know that your skipping/limiting dessert is totally nothing personal, just an effort to live more healthfully. If they ask questions about your diet, answer them politely and to the best of your ability. If you can’t explain an answer or scientific explanation for something they ask don’t fret. After all, as I said before, at the end of the day this is about you. You’re the one who should understand why you chose to eat a certain way. Of course it helps matters (and your confidence!) if you have a broad range of knowledge when it comes to answering questions on nutrition, but if you don’t that’s okay too. There’s no better time to start, and reading my blog is certainly a step in the right direction.

On that note, I’d like to wish you all good luck in the coming week! I’m certainly going to need it with all the temptations coming up…
Take on Chanukah (and sufganiot!) with health and success <3

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