I want you to picture the Costco-sized container of hamantashen sitting on my parents’ marble countertop on Long Island, begging to be eaten. When I was a child, we would pack special Purim baskets, mishloach manot, to give to friends and family. They were full of peanut chews, pretzels, Hershey kisses and, of course, hamantashen. I sat there filling the cute little decorative boxes that had “BERNSTEINS” emblazoned on the front.

Unfortunately, more hamantashen got into my mouth than into the baskets. It was like the Looney Toons cartoon where a mobster gives out money to his gang, counting, “One for you, one for me. Two for you…One, two for me…” It was fun and carefree, not a big deal. But this kind of behavior made me significantly overweight by the time I was 16. That was when I started Weight Watchers, lost over 50 pounds and changed the course of my life.

I am a big fan of mindful eating, but once I started following the points plan I also resented having to be so precise about what I ate. Why couldn’t I just eat until a button popped? Better yet, why couldn’t I be that person who could eat what she wanted and still stay thin?! (I hear those mythical creatures actually exist.) I was so focused on my new self-control that I never allowed myself a “night off.” But this control sometimes backfired. Being too strict triggered some enormous binge fests. So I began to ask if there a way to relieve some of the pressure of always being so good, without running the risk of falling back into old habits? Can we plan to go a little crazy?

Purim offers a little guidance on this subject matter. In a nutshell, the evil Haman wanted to wipe out the Jews, especially Mordechai, but in the end, it was Haman and his people who got the noose, and the original plan was turned on its head.

That is why Purim is a wacky night. It is the Jewish “opposite day,” so much so that the rabbis in the Talmud said that a person is obligated to become so drunk [with wine] on Purim that he or she cannot tell the difference between the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordechai. We dress up in costumes, eat elaborate feasts and just have a good time.

The anthropologist in me sees the connection between Purim, Carnevale and Mardi Gras. These are somewhat sanctioned nights of “letting go.” It’s a valve that releases the pressure of our strict expectations.

We can apply the same concept to eating. It’s unreasonable to expect that I will never eat an eggplant Parm hero (my Achilles heel) or enjoy a few hamantashen on my favorite holiday. It’s important to make room and decide how we want to splurge on something that is worth it.

Once a month I would eat carefully all week and save up points for an entire hero. For others, it’s the cocktail hour at a wedding or 4th of July barbecue. We can foresee a night in which we want to relax with something really tasty and save up to splurge. Then we just get back on track at the next meal. It’s about feeling less deprived.

Sometimes you have to plan to be a little out of control.

Top photo by flickr user David Hurwitz