Here’s how to enjoy Chanukah feasts, without overdoing it.

Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day festival of light, celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, spirituality over materialism, and mind over matter.

Over 2000 years ago, the Greeks tried to force Hellenism on the people of Israel. A small band of Jews defeated the large Greek armies and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem.

As with most holidays, large family and friends gatherings means a lot of holiday eating. This is especially true on Chanukah when latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (strawberry jam-filled doughnuts) are food traditions.

For some, this means giving up on any notion of healthy eating and giving into overeating. Others go to the other extreme in the face of the avalanche of delectable goodies and swear off the feast entirely.

Consider this conversation I recently overheard: “I’m not going to even try on Chanukah,” said my one friend. “I am going eat everything in sight because I know it is impossible to resist! Besides, why should I?” Her friend responded, “I am thinking of skipping the meal altogether.”

Is that the choice: Is it only starve or overindulge?

The truth is that Chanukah is a time to celebrate mind over body and it can present a wonderful opportunity to improve our eating habits and general perspective of food. In fact, Chanukah eating can be a ‘mindful’ experience, which is the true significance of this holiday.

So, relax and enjoy a healthy Chanukah with these smart and meaningful eating tips.

Consider the Purpose of Food
According to most well known Jewish philosopher and doctor, Maimonides (1135-1204), good health is not simply something you do for yourself. Keeping yourself healthy through good diet and exercise is a service to God.

As he wrote: You should direct all of your activities regarding physical health and personal existence so that your limbs serve as the perfect media for the powers of the soul… As King Solomon said in his wisdom: “Know him in all your ways.” (Proverbs 3, 6)

Practice Mindful eating
Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking. Some steps include turning off any distractions like the television and computer. Stop talking or texting on the phone. You want to pay full attention to your meal and your body’s signals while you are eating.

Place a forkful of food in your mouth. Put the fork down after the food is in your mouth. This is a lot harder than you think. You’re hungry and you can’t wait to take the next bite! Resist the urge to slurp down the meal. Leave the fork on the table before you take your next bite. Chew slowly and enjoy the texture of the food, its flavor and vibrant colors and the food’s aroma. Be conscious of your different sensations and the overall experience.

Have a Daily Dose of Motivation
Choose a meaningful daily quote. Say it aloud every morning. Think about it during the day. This may sound a little strange but what we say and think about has a very significant effect on our minds and moods. You can choose quotes that relate to food or emotional behavior.

Don’t Let Food Hog the Spotlight
It is likely that you will be faced with an array of enticing foods and drinks at a Chanukah meal. You may eat and drink more than usual. But you don’t ‘have’ to overdo it. Relax and allow yourself to enjoy the meal. Concentrate on your family and friends. The delicious food is intended to enhance your social experience.

Make Smart Choices at the Table
Try to stick to the protein and vegetables. Your body can digest and handle protein and vegetables most effectively and your appetite will be stimulated less. You can have grains at the other smaller and more controlled meals during the day.

Take seconds of vegetables and if you want, take more of the protein. Enjoy a glass of dry red wine. As long as you don’t overdo it, it will enhance the experience and you can also enjoy its many health benefits.

If you are thirsty at the meal, drink water or seltzer at the meal. You will eat less food and drink less alcohol and avoid shots of hard alcohol. They add up quickly because it takes a few seconds to down them.

Enjoy Traditions Responsibly
While latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (strawberry jam-filled doughnuts) are Chanukah food traditions, you can enjoy them without overindulging. Consider having just a taste and then eat something healthy to satisfy your hunger and, if possible, opt for the baked varieties instead of fried.

Forgive Yourself…
If you did overeat at a Chanukah meal, don’t talk down to yourself. An exception once in awhile should not derail us. It is an expected part of the journey!

… But Get Back on Track
Even if you did overeat or overdrink the night before, as long as you continue with your regular healthy regimen and schedule the next day, it won’t have any lasting impact on your progress. The key is not to let indulgence become a lasting habit.


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