What could be better than fried latkes during Chanukah? When my brother makes them, I can easily eat four, five, OK, maybe six. That wonderful combination of salty-greasiness is so hard to resist. Drop on a dollop of sour cream, and I’m in heaven. Sometimes, those yummy latkes can be the downfall of those watching their weight, just like other foods that are filling and delicious.
Take Andy Kirschner, for example. Almost 15 years ago, Kirschner was 5-feet-8-inches tall and weighed 300 pounds. A young professional living in Chicago, Kirschner was in the process of returning to his Jewish roots. He was looking for ways to keep Shabbat and connected with the Jewish community there. “For the first time, I was having regular Shabbat meals with a synagogue community,” he says. “That meant I also had tons of wine, challah, cookies and sweets, in addition to traditional foods.”
One day, his boss offered to pay for Kirschner to work with a life coach as a bonus. “He told me I’d played a big role in the company’s success that year,” Andy recalls. Initially, Kirschner was clear that he preferred a cash bonus, but ultimately, he figured he had nothing to lose. Those initial steps helped Kirschner increase his self-confidence, but he still hadn’t changed his poor eating habits. When he was declined for health insurance, he was angry and then scared. Soon after that that he joined Weight Watchers.
“It was a slow, hard process, but over six-and-a-half years, I lost 100 pounds. Now, I have new habits and routines,” Kirschner says. “There’s always a reason to celebrate another simcha, Shabbat meal or eating more just because you have to have more latkes. But now I know that eating more doesn’t make a special day more special, and that every meal really doesn’t need to be special.”
Today at 37 years old, Kirschner is the founder, coach and trainer at 100 Reasons to Win where he helps individuals and organizations determined to change for the better. He provides accountability, guidance and training for his clients to create a clear vision for success and to achieve it. When he is not working or volunteering in the Jewish community, you might find Kirschner in Rock Creek Park, training for his next distance race, or traveling with his wife and one-year-old son.
Like Kirschner, Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein knows about the struggles of weight loss and weight maintenance from personal experience. The spiritual leader of Bellmore Jewish Center in New York recalls getting weighed at school when she was in fifth grade. “I went with five other kids and when they said my weight out loud, everyone made fun of me,” she says. “I was just a big girl. Nutrition wasn’t a focus when I was growing up.”
In high school, Rabbi Bernstein weighed 178 pounds at 5-feet-4-inches. “I had never felt good about myself. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I wanted to hide my body. One day, I was talking with a neighbor at synagogue who said she was going to her first Weight Watchers meeting and she offered to pick me up. Her kindness helped me start my journey.” Rabbi Bernstein continued to attend Weight Watchers meetings throughout college and rabbinical school. She lost 53 pounds.
“Weight loss isn’t really about food or exercise,” Rabbi Bernstein says. “It’s about living a full life, knowing yourself and being honest with yourself.”
Rabbi Bernstein shares her reflections about her food journey on her blog, Weight Watcher Rabbi. One of her most popular posts, “If I’m not for Myself…,” focuses on a teaching from Pirkei Avot 1:14: If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? If I’m only for myself, what am I? If not now, when? “In Judaism, we have a culture of nurturing others and that can mean a denial of self. But self-care is really important on this journey,” she says.
Al Chet: A Weight Watchers Confessional (depicted in word art at top)
From Weight Watcher Rabbi, a blog by Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein
During the High Holidays, Jews do sincere self-assessment (cheshbon hanefesh) and we confess our mistakes in the Al Chet prayer. This is Rabbi Bernstein’s Weight Watchers Al Chet:
For the mistake of Mindlessly eating
For the mistake of Thinking it’s all about the # at the scale
For the mistake of Forgiving others and not myself
For the mistake of Allowing others to bully me into eating
For the mistake of Letting my emotions overrun my carefully laid out plan
For the mistake of Eating in front of the TV
For the mistake of Choosing Facebook over reparative sleep
For the mistake of Falling back into old habits
For the mistake of Forgetting to return to what works
For the mistake of Not taking the first step
For the mistake of Thinking I was over my struggles with food
For the mistake of Not celebrating another’s weight loss success because of my own jealousy
For the mistake of Throwing out the whole day for one blunder
For the mistake of Not translating a mistake into a learning opportunity
For the mistake of Saying I will start on Monday
For the mistake of Not loving myself
For the mistake of Avoiding the scale when I know I have a gain and don’t want to face my disappointment For the mistake of Impatience with myself
For the mistake of Skipping meetings
For the mistake of Losing sight of all I have accomplished
For the mistake of Eating when I’m not hungry
For the mistake of Brushing off a compliment
For the mistake of Forgetting gratitude for my food
For the mistake of Comparing myself to others
For the mistake of Settling for what I have always done
For the mistake of Complacency in my workout
For the mistake of Trying to game the plan instead of trying to eat for my needs
For the mistake of not working out because I only have 20 minutes
For the mistake of waking up after eating half of the bag, and finishing the whole bag
For the mistake of Not thinking I am worthy
For all these, and more, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, atone for us. Help us to be more mindful, patient, compassionate so that we can eat to live and sustain ourselves with gratitude.