The Shavuos Challenge

By Aliza Beer

Who doesn’t love Shavuos? The weather is typically beautiful. It presents itself without the extra pressures of putting up a sukkah, purchasing lulavim and esrogim, turning the house upside down to clean it, or kashering the whole kitchen. What it does present, though, is a diet challenge. This year Shavuos is a three day yom tov. We have Shabbos, a day that is always difficult to navigate and maintain our weight, immediately followed by Shavuos, the yom tov notorious for its high fat, carby and cheesy foods. The crown jewel of Shavuos is the highest caloric cake known to man: the cheesecake! How can any of us expect to avoid weight gain over this three day food fest? Honestly, it will be very hard, but not unrealistic, to maintain one’s weight. It will take planning, focus, and a lot of discipline. Incorporate the following guidelines when creating your menus for the holiday and the scale will stay steady.
  • Dairy Downside: If one were to eat four meals of lasagna, eggplant parmesan, mac ‘n’ cheese, blintzes, and pizza, weight gain is unavoidable and the most likely outcome. Cheese is a very high fat food, so plan for some poultry/lean meat meals as well. I recommend for the four Shavuos meals to designate two dairy and two meat meals.
  • Fish is your Friend: Fish is a wonderful source of omega 3 fatty acids and a great weight loss tool. Serve fish options at both dairy meals. Season the fish with your favorite rubs or spices and drizzle some olive oil on it. Bake or grill it, never bread or fry it!
For those of you who do not eat fish, try eating eggs or homemade veggie burgers as a dairy option. Eggs are very healthy and easy to make. Use your favorite veggies and turn them into a frittata. Make your veggie burgers with a mix of veggies, eggs, and some oats or whole wheat flour. Bake them or grill them. These can be made and frozen in advance.
  • Savory Salads: Instead of making quiches and kugels, serve salads and grilled or roasted veggies. Salad bars are always a hit with guests and morphs the meal into a fun activity where everyone can participate. Make dressings that are low-fat and sugar-free. Roast or broil veggies with spices and a little olive oil or Pam. Another good option is using an air fryer for making sweet potato fries or zucchini chips. Cauliflower rice and zoodles are excellent faux carb sides.
  • Cheese It: If you must eat some cheese, then only use low-fat options like low-fat cottage cheese or part-skim shredded mozzarella. Make your own homemade pizza either using whole wheat crust or, for non-carb options, you can use Portobello mushrooms or eggplant. Use low sugar or no sugar added tomato sauce. If you are a guest at someone else’s table and are not in control of food prep, then take small portions of these high fat options. Fill up your plate with the above mentioned salads and veggies if available.
  • The Art of Cheating: It is unrealistic for me to expect everyone to get through these three days with zero indulgence. So if you are going to treat yourself, please do it in the morning, not late at night! Whatever we eat at night just sticks to us, especially if one is going to bed soon after. We do not burn off our dinner, and certainly anything eaten after dinner, the way we burn off our breakfast and lunch throughout the day.
True story: A number of years ago Shavuos was a three day yom tov. I had a patient that had a piece of cake for breakfast every morning of those three days, a normal nice yom tov lunch without dessert, and a Greek yogurt for dinner every night. She came to my office the day after yom tov and she had lost 2 pounds! How could this be? She had cheated in the morning, burned it off throughout the day, and ate very little for dinner; she therefore went to bed on a light stomach. The night is the key to weight success!
  • Drink Water: I know I’m repeating myself, and recommend this in almost every article, but water works! Drink one to two cups of water before each meal. Studies show that people will eat less at that meal, and it helps the stomach prepare itself to receive the food.
  • Matzah: I am well aware that it was just Pesach, but whole wheat or spelt matzah are much healthier carbs than challah. Challah is like cake – it consists of oil, sugar, and eggs just like cake. Matzah, on the other hand, is just flour and water. Also, there is less of a chance you will overeat the matzah like one can overeat challah. If you eat challah at six meals in a row then weight gain is inevitable! Designate three out of the six meals as matzah meals.
  • Go for Walks: The weather will hopefully be beautiful, so take advantage and walk off your meals. Cardio exercise burns fat, and walking is a good cardio activity! Walk for at least 30 minutes a day – longer if possible.
  • What Cheesecake?: I buy fat free frozen yogurt, in an assortment of flavors, for our dairy dessert. You can even make an “ice cream bar” but instead of ice cream use frozen yogurt! Use berries, slivered nuts, and granola for toppings. Compote and sorbets are other lower calorie and refreshing options. If you are determined to have your cheesecake, then either buy or make a low-fat option. Helpful hint: buy the ones that are already pre-portioned for you; this will inhibit overeating. If you are planning on making your own then use nonfat Greek yogurt and/or low-fat cottage cheese and bake them in small muffin tins or cupcake holders, again for portion control. Diet alert: a regular slice of cheesecake with graham crust and toppings can be in the neighborhood of 1,000 calories! Proceed with caution.
Shavuos is truly my favorite holiday. It is a very meaningful and joyous yom tov, but too much focus is given to the food. Indulge in some of its physical pleasures, but emphasize the spiritual importance of this yom tov too. Enjoy the special holiday treats, but with portion control and discipline. Too much of even healthy foods, such as fruit, is still too much food. Experiment more with flavors and spices, your food can be delicious and nutritious! Approach this yom tov with a plan for every meal – even log your meals in advance – and stick to your plan. Putting pen to paper will help keep you on track.
If one meal is a bust, don’t despair, instead get yourself back on for the next. Throwing in the towel, especially early on, will only have you digging yourself into a deeper hole. Don’t look back, just look forward and try to do your best!
Wishing all of my readers a chag sameach!


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