Friday, June 28, 2013

Battle of the Bulge: "As the Good Book Says . . ."

The article was entitled, "The Talmud and Other Diet Books." 

Go ooooon. 

Jonathon Crane is anti-taxing sugary soda, claiming that it is the wrong tactic. Indubitably.
Satiety, the feeling of being satisfied, is inherently idiosyncratic: everyone has her or his own sensation of being full. What sates my hunger will be different from what sates yours. Nevertheless, what sates our hunger will be less than what you might imagine.
Long before cooking shows and diet fads, many ancient civilizations understood this balance. The Greeks, for example, worried that excessive consumption would disrupt the four humors constituting the human body. They, like the ancient Buddhist and Confucian traditions, encouraged moderation as the golden mean. Judaism, Christianity and Islam added to those arguments theological overtones: eating too little could be as spiritually damning as eating too much.
The prophet Isaiah, for example, inveighed against the Israelites for vainly fasting when so much injustice surrounded them. Such fasting, and particularly fasting only for self-affliction, was sinful, rabbis of the Talmud said. But the Talmud also counseled “removing your hand from a meal that pleases you.” 
From personal experience, I used to think it would be impossible for me to function on less food than I was consuming then. Pinkt fakert: The less I eat, the better I feel, the more energy I have, the less in thrall I am to nutritionally-dead foodstuffs. 

He continues that there are "lavish" holiday meals now in Jewish households. Oh, yes. The wild-eyed shoppers in the supermarket before, during, and after a Shabbos or yontif zealously and indiscriminately chuck items into their cart to stave off a split second of hunger. 

"Cholent belly" is now a viable condition. Cholent used to be a mostly meager bean and grain stew flavored with a scrap of expensive meat; currently, they are just slow-simmering potential heart attacks. In the name of religion and tradition, we are eating ourselves to death. 
Among these old arguments is the novel idea of eating less than what fills one’s belly. The Talmud teaches that people should eat enough to fill a third of their stomachs, drink enough to fill another third, and leave a third empty . . .
Rashi, a medieval French rabbi, interpreted the Talmud to mean that the final empty third is necessary so that the body can metabolize emotions. If one ate until one’s belly was completely full, there’d be no room left to manage one’s emotions and one would burst asunder . . . 
The medieval physician and legal scholar Maimonides similarly instructed people to eat and drink less than what filled their bellies (he thought the stomach should be three-quarters full). Moreover, they should eat slowly. Modern science corroborates Maimonides: it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to receive messages from the stomach that it has had enough. Satiety can be achieved with less food than one might think, and it requires more time to reach it.
Since basic chewing is still a skill I am determined to learn, I've certainly noticed that I can be hungry hungry hungry, stuffing my face, then suddenly I will be uncomfortably stuffed. The stomach and brain need time to chat and send out the right signals. To quote Ma, "Chap nisht.

I was leaving a bar mitzvah, and two waiters were talking on the stairwell behind me. 

"What is it with these people?" one said in disgust. "They eat breakfast, they eat kiddush, they eat lunch, they eat dinner—if I ate like that, I would be—" well, it wasn't pleasant how he phrased the probable resultant state of his digestive system. 

At first I cracked up, laughing all the way to the car, only to stop with a shiver of horror: He's the waiter. He knows how the sausage is made, so to speak.
Not only are Jewish homes buying take-out and churning out unhealthy meals, we are also making too much of them, that even overeaters have leftovers. Baltashchis is still on the books, and throwing away perfectly good food due to lack of calculation as to what is needed is more than a downright shame. It is wrong.
We have to realize that enough is enough. We should stop asking ourselves, “Am I full?” and start asking, “Am I satisfied?”   

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Your Eyes in Stars Above

She had set me up once with a pretty okay guy, but all her suggestions since then were to be avoided. 

She appears next to me on the dance floor, both of us dodging the frantic shtick, shrieking over the booming music.

"He's tall! You can wear heels with him!

"I don't own heels!" 

"Buy some! And he's gorgeous!" 

"I don't care about gorgeous! I care about personality!" 

"He's got that too! I told your mother about him! I'll work on her!"

She bounced away. 

Aaaaaah. Ma wasn't biting since something was seriously off, so she was actually "working" on me; my suspicions proved to be valid. However, perhaps realizing that her idea wasn't going to float, she called Ma with her own realization why it is not meant to be. 

"Their stars don't align." 


"Their stars. I did their astrological charts and it is obvious they are not meant for each other."
I understand that us Jews did have a time when we dabbled in such things, and the universe is big and all that and who knows what is considered superstitious claptrap and what not, but I have to say having my bechira and bashert bespoken by the heavenly spheres does not appeal to me. If I have worked on myself hard enough, I should be outside mazal.

In any case, her "pushing it" suggestion has been relaunched into the greater world. Godspeed.          

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Her teenage son enters, hefting a dufflebag. 

"Bye, Ma, I'm heading to yeshiva." 

She continues to tap away on her iPhone. 

"Ma, I'm leaving." 

She doesn't look up. 

"Ma? Off to yeshiva." 

"Uh-huh." She can't spare a glance away from the device. Seated at her kitchen table she continues to text, not seeing what I'm seeing.

That hurt boy later mouths off to me at a simcha, and I don't let him get away with it. But I am not surprised. 

As Barbara Fredrickson observes in her article, "Your Phone vs. Your Heart"
Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. 
The irony is that while technology allows unprecedented convenience for connectivity, we are connecting less than ever before (typing "lol" for a re-sent joke does not count as "connecting," by the way).
Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.
How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect. 
When Elizabeth Bennet takes Darcy to task for his ill-manners, he replies stiffly that he doesn't have that ability that others do for easy conversation and association. Elizabeth retorts, following her barely adequate playing of the piano, that her lack is due to insufficient practice. 
Ignoring those who are physically present in consideration for the phantom chirping of a phone is not just bad behavior, but it also reinforces taciturnity.

Following some scientific jargon, Fredrickson explains that being able to relate to others is vital to other factors of bodily health. 
Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.
In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.
Children, young, vibrant, and impressionable, require constant parental attention, nowadays more than ever before. 
Being repeatedly brushed aside for a cold piece of ringing plastic leaves a mark. Not a pleasant one. 
When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Battle of the Bulge: Nutrition is Key

Dr. Joel Fuhrman was the doctor consulted for the film Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.
As I watched the above video, I was surprised to see how my current diet, which is richer in vegetables (I made a point to start adding more after seeing Dr. Fuhrman on "Dr. Oz") than ever before, was having my body react exactly how he described. 

While I do feel some hunger in the belly, I feel it more now in the throat. "Hunger is the best sauce"—when I eat a meal when in that state, everything tastes unbelievably delicious. Not bad foods, however; I can't even consume a store-bought cookie anymore; my blood stream seems to slow in my veins. I am at that point now without juicing.

The documentary shows how juicing can really jump-start one's system. But it is really, really hard, not conclusively the best way to go, and not everyone can have the motivation to do it, especially for weeks or even months at a time.

I, myself, have never juiced. I'm not a beverage person to begin with (I like a little something to chew on). But I can testify that one can change their life without a juicer; it probably will take longer, but if such a major step is just too far to go in one movement, take micro-steps

The film does make juicing sound very glamorous; I was totally ready to buy one as the credits rolled. But upon deeper contemplation, I realized that it's not a right fit for me. I love fruits and vegetables in their original state so much that the idea of shoving them into a juicer seems incredibly heartless. 

Additionally, juicing has not been collectively accepted by the medical and scientific establishments as the best option. Dr. Leo Galland (scroll down and see his responses to juicing queries), for instance, is not that crazy about it for the entirety of the population; remember the Mediterranean diet? It's got plenty of benefits, too

Perhaps if one is 400+ pounds, like Phil featured in the film, such a drastic measure is necessary to prevent imminent death; otherwise, a juice fast is not really necessary. Juicing extracts the pulp, where the fiber is, and I rely on fiber to stay full and to function. Juicing also condenses natural sugars, and I don't need those in overload. Therefore, I'll stick with the whole produce. 

I offer an alternative: souping. I have been hearing conflicting reports about how cooking affects micro-nutrient potency, but considering how I can practically hear my body hum with happiness after consuming butternut squash soup, I figure some heat can't do that much damage. (It doesn't count as "souping" unless it is homemade, by the way. Canned and takeout have all sorts of additives.)
The other night I attended a dinner, and after being lodged in traffic for three hours I fell upon my appetizer with gusto. It was followed by a luscious chicken, stuffed with mashed potatoes and sprinkled with fried onions. It was good, and probably not even the worst food out there, but my system was mad at me. I went to bed feeling as though there was a brick sitting uncomfortably in my middle, and in the morning the high sodium content (probably soy sauce) made itself known as I desperately guzzled three glasses of water in one shot.  

That night I had soup composed of onions, kidney beans, hull-less barley, zucchini, carrots, and celery. Better, my body crooned.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bridge-Jumping Fashion

Scenario 1: 

Fraidy was quite pleased with her gown. 

Drew Barrymore had worn it on the red carpet; that was sufficient for her to call up the boutique and order it. She had her hair styled in that casually wavy way that Drew had, too. 

Sure, maybe the frock wasn't really elegant enough for a sister's wedding, but it cost enough and Drew had worn it. The dress needed a few changes however; a panel to fill in the v-neck, a shrug for the sleeveless arms. Those alterations weren't cheap either, but still! Drew Barrymore! 

Fraidy confidently sashayed into the shmorg, unable to understand why she was only getting casual glances. It was designer! It was a fortune! Drew Barrymore had worn it!

But then . . .  she arrived. 

Miri glided in, looking positively divine. 

Her dress was was cut perfectly for her body type; her hair was swept up in a smooth, chic up-do; her makeup was gorgeously overkill. 

Her gown, however, probably cost a fraction of Fraidy's, yet she looked vibrant and eye-catching; it also appeared that it had needed no incredulous alterations, either. Fraidy watched in horror as admiring looks were cast upon her sales-rack-wearing rival. 

Scenario 2: 

Suri is newly engaged, so obviously in need of a wedding gown. Her mother hangs up the phone, looking smugly satisfied. "You know the Schwartz family? The Schwartz family? Remember they had the wedding of the century a few months ago? Well, I managed to get their daughter's wedding dress!" 

Squeals of glee. After all, such an expensive gown, worn by someone so "prominent," must be something to die for. 

However, the Schwartz girl is a petite, dainty creature, so the design of the gown was meant to build her up; boisterous shoulders, heavy ruching, overkill tiara. 

On Suri, who is a normal size and weight, the overdone gown made her look butch, not an ethereal bride. The groom was quite eclipsed by the overstyled kallah. 

The moral of these stories is, obviously, that fashion cannot be based on what others wear, no matter the price or status. Personal style means individualized style; different body types each have different needs.
Take Naomi here. That gown suits her in every possible way.
And check out that gorgeous bridal party. They look too good to have simply copied another. 
Orthodox Jewish Wedding Photography - Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, Miami
And Esther's Grace Kelly-inspired look? Perfection. 

Kindly do not jump off the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge just because everyone else is.

Additionally, whenever shopping, if a garment needs a ridiculous amount of altering or layering to make it modestly wearable, it is not worth it. Keep looking.  

To shine, and charm, and sparkle, one must be real: You are not Drew Barrymore. Or the Schwartz girl. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

In Case of Bad Haircut . . .

From this past week's Metropolitan Diary, submitted by Rachel Ament:
Victor Kerlow
Dear Diary:

A few days after moving to Brooklyn, I receive a rather shocking bobbed haircut chopped several inches above my chin. I decide the only hope for this new cut is to cover it up, so I set off to an observant Jewish neighborhood riddled with wig shops.

I don’t remember the exact terms of the Jewish law surrounding wigs. I just notice that every Orthodox woman of a certain age has that perfectly coiffed “wiggy” look: stiff, heavy and perfect.

I arrive at a small, busy wig shop off 13th Avenue. The store is studded with blank white heads wigged in all the latest Eastern European styles. Delighted, I run my fingers through a silky russet one. “I love this,” I gush.

The store owner eyes me suspiciously, “You look very young,” she says. “Is this your first wig?”

“Oh yeah, um, I guess I’m a … wig virgin?” I say, dumbly.

“It’s her first wig!” the store owner shrieks to the rest of the store.

Soon, clusters of women circle around me. “Mazel tov!” “Baruch hashem!” “You must be so excited!” “Who is the lucky man?”

I then remember that Orthodox Jewish women don’t begin donning wigs until after they get hitched.

Embarrassed, I confess that I am not engaged, then run out of the store before any of the women have the chance to tell me they can change that. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Pointless Date

I don't know how often this happens to other gals, but sometimes one seemingly has no choice. 

"I already talked to his parents about it," my aunt says. "They're very excited."

"But I—" 

"After all, I know the parents through business." 

"Oh, I—" 

"Did I mention the parents are excited?" 

I know this date is an exercise in futility, but can I really tell the aunt who successfully made my brother's marriage "Thanks, but no thanks"? 

I wearily plod over to my closet to pull out a flattering sweater and skirt, then plaster on a sunny smile. 

Or let's say I know from the guy's info that it won't jive, but I really don't have anything concrete to object to. I then morosely wait for a phone call I don't want to get, and summon a cheerfully friendly tone. 

Or despite the fact that the guy is sitting and learning and that type and I rarely have shared interests, I somehow find myself on a lobby date with a fizzling coke and fizzled out conversation.
And so I add another notch to my dating tree.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Clean Room Does Not Mean a Clean Life

The neshama is not happy in a mess, the family guru always said. I do admit, while my room is perennially in need of straightening, tucking away but a few items casts a magical glow of satisfaction. 

But I do not belong to minimalist camp, of homes filled with echoing emptiness. A house should have some clutter; a sefer left on a table, a potted plant (that has managed to outlive my murderous tendency to over-water), decorative yet useless pillows—a home is where living is. 

According to Will Wiles, hysteria over domestic perfection is based on the erroneous belief that all problems can be solved with a squeaky clean home. There are diligent hausfraus who weep at the sight of a speck on their sparkling surfaces, and I wonder if perhaps their constant scrubbing is connected to their sense of worth.
Wiles claims that there are ad campaigns targeting renovation and redecoration as the means to a happy existence. That is merely what all advertisements attempt to do to sell their clients' stock, but I wonder how many issues are glazed over while solutions are sought in all the wrong avenues.

Sort of like those dramas when a son breaks terrible news to his mother, who simply smiles sunnily and insists she is going to make some dinner, everything looks better after dinner. He trails her as she marches into the kitchen, loudly overriding his objections as she rummages in the fridge for the miracle cure.

Alternatively, consider the Roald Dahl short story "Lamb to Slaughter"; a chipper, pregnant housewife fusses over her husband when he arrives home from work. He tells her some news that shocks her (the audience infers he says he is leaving her for another) and she blankly goes to the fridge to defrost a leg of lamb for supper. When he says he doesn't want supper (obviously), she hits him over the head with the frozen leg, killing him. Then she calmly cooks it to perfection, which she later serves to the investigating police officers, who chat as they munch that the murderer will be caught when they get the murder weapon. Hee hee. 

Now, that is a way to use sparkling domesticity to one's advantage: Use dinner not to shield problems, but to eliminate them.   

Denial may be a standard psychological defense, but nothing gets better until it has been acknowledged and dealt with. I can insist until the cows come home that I don't look like a cow, but that doesn't make it true. Whereas making a choice to eat like a cow (greenery and bran), funnily enough, has very svelte results.    

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

To Stay Silent

"You stifle me! You crush me! You preach emancipation, and yet you enslave me, in the most fundamental way. Am I not to have the freedom to express myself, in my own home? In the face of such insult? You call our girls 'little women'; well, I am your belittled woman, and I am tired of it. Tired of suppressing my true feelings, tired of schooling my heart to order, as if I were some errant pupil and you the schoolmaster. I will not be degraded in this way."

"It is you," I said, trying to keep my voice even, though my pulse beat in my head. "It is you who degrade yourself, when you forgo self-mastery." From March, by Geraldine Brooks
Brooks' novel takes place in parallel to Little Women; Brooks observed that Little Women focuses on the changes the war wraught on the females of the family, omitting the father's experience. She brings in flash-backs to March's upbringing, his time before marriage, his introduction to Marmee

Her version of Marmee as a passionate woman with a fiery temper, who, under her husband's encouragement and guidance, learns to slowly govern it. But after being verbally stabbed by the sharp-tongued Aunt March, he is forced to shove her speedily out of the room before the old woman meets an untimely end at her hands. 
After Marmee bellows and hollers at him that he is a chauvinist pig, he reminds her that he is not the one demeaning her; her lack of self-control is.

I think of the times people claim bad behavior to be stemming from "matters of principle" or "personal pride." Now, I am all for preserving one's own dignity; there are many out there who will attempt to take advantage of another's ego. 

I remember once in elementary school when a classmate got a 100 on her test, but was raising a stink because she was entitled to two more points. "It is the principle of the matter," she huffed. Actually, she just looked stupid. 

Adults don't look much better. 

When grown individuals refuse to attend simchas for the weakest of reasons, or permit families to remain divided for the most tenuous of excuses, it saddens me. Heck, I'm not always happy with the world at large. Just being single and a certain age opens one up to all sorts of worded abuse. While I may be seething within, I manage to summon the acting abilities bestowed upon me from my ulcer-ridden ancestry, and smile through gritted teeth.  

Never once do I think, "Well, all that will change once I am married. Then I'll be able to behave exactly how I want, whenever I want." No, marriage doesn't change that. I have to behave because I have to behave, not because I require the goodwill of the world

There are enough Aunt Marchs out there, who will say what they like when they like to you, whether you are single, married, or an aged grandmother. But what makes me different from the Aunt Marchs? How do I elevate myself above vitriol? 

In my choice to remain silent.      

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Battle of the Bulge: Rise of the Flexitarians

Thanks to Mark Bittman, I have discovered that there is a term for my current state of food consumption: Flexitarian

While I am an animal lover, I am not so in love that I abstain from meat and cheese. However, while I will eat red meat without qualm, I just don't like it; I prefer the fowl, but I do not crave it on a daily basis. Dairy is my weakness, but beyond the milk in my morning cereal, cheese indulgence is also kept to a minimum.

I have been blithering on lately about Dr. Joel Fuhrman's theories on health and weight maintenance, but I must admit that I have not purchased his books, nor have I taken on his plan whole-hog (so to speak). I have plucked amongst his information and whittled it to suit myself. Specifically, I have made point to consume, as my main food group, vegetables.

But, before there can be a discussion about what to include in one's diet, let's first focus on what to exclude. Such as: Ready made. Processed. Fast food. Thanks to a cringing exposé by Michael Moss, the American public has now been clearly informed as to the—for lack of a better term—poison peddled by the food companies. Copying and pasting all the scary bits would take quite some time, so read it leisurely. Here's a video interview for more concise info.
No ready made means . . . cooking. Yeah, cooking doesn't seem to be the most thrilling of activities. Until I started doing it regularly. Cooking is not really bound by recipes; every time I tentatively experiment and succeed, I heartily share and consume my accomplishments. Cooking is a sport, a challenge to be tackled, not a meek pastime for Stepford wives. Look at all those television chefs, with their "Bam!" and verve. It's entertaining to watch; so why don't we try it ourselves?

It's a matter of changing priorities and budgeting time (not that much is needed). For me, cooking takes less time than getting dressed, parking, waiting in line, and recovering from indigestion. I can guarantee my audience that by taking the same hour for the gym, say, and placing it in cooking instead (with real, quality ingredients!) there will be more results, waist-line wise. It's all in the food, in the amount and in the fresh ingredients, as opposed to the elliptical. 

Michael Moss and his fellow journalist, Michael Pollan (who came out with a book, "Cooked,") showed, in an article, how it can be done. Entitled "Pots and Pans, but Little Pain," they shop in a regular supermarket, and concoct with just a little planning and effort, a mouth-watering lunch. Watch this video about their outing. It's quite informative.
The problem with cooking is that we’ve denigrated it,” Mr. Pollan said. “There’s just a cultural problem of persuading people it’s a valuable way to spend their time.
Mr. Moss agreed. “Just imagine what Madison Avenue could do if they wanted to sell home cooking,” he said.
I used to be the gal who would come home and grunt like a cavewoman for her dinner. But now, if there is nothing ready, I eagerly oil a pan and merrily slice and dice. (I'm a tv watcher. If I am doing this happily, then believe me, it can be quite invigorating.)

For the sake of health, as well as taste (never mind the wallet) embrace the way of the pot. I would recommend Calphalon, or anything non-stick hard anodized (like this everyday pan from Cuisinart). A good pot makes cooking all the more fun, flavorful, and most of all, easy

Recommended television chef? Jacques Pépin cooks for the real world, where an army of interns aren't lurking behind every stage kitchen chopping up and measuring neat bowls of ready-to-use ingredients. He shows the techniques needed, as opposed to recipes; how to cook and slice in the onion is more important than how many onions. There are many videos of him out there; watch one and learn something. (Since he uses butter and treif indiscriminately, keep in mind that with cooking, there is plenty of wiggle room. Experiment!)
He has two books out there called "Fast Food My Way" and "More Fast Food My Way." Yeah, it's fast.