How to stick to your diet – even on Shabbos

I had never succeeded at a diet. After watching my weight creep up ever so slowly over the course of 20 years, I decided the time had come “to get serious about a diet” to shed a few pounds.

After some six months of pretending to diet, I had managed to gain just two pounds.

Then recently I decided “to really get serious.” And this time it worked. For the very first time in my life, I was watching the scale go down.

But Shabbos had me scared. I often sit at the table and eat on and on during Shabbos. During some periods I gain a pound or two every Shabbos and spend four or five days getting back to my normal weight. Shabbos bingeing. Obviously that’s no way to stick to a diet.

So I laid out a game plan, writing down projected calorie consumption in my food journal, and equipping myself with the right rolls and loads of raw vegetables. But the big question was whether I’d be able to resist the temptation to gorge on the scrumption dishes my wife was to serve.

Have you ever heard a piece of advice or gem or wisdom that took several years to really register and sink in?

About a decade ago, my wife gave birth to one of our kids and my mother-in-law insisted she and the baby and one of our daughters spend Shabbos by her. That left me at home, on my own, with three boys. An old friend, Chaim, heard about my Shabbos plans and invited all four of us to his home for a meal.

After the third course, I tossed out a compliment. “Wow, you really knocked yourselves out: fish, soup and a main course.”

“Sure,” says Chaim, “oneg Shabbos is a big mitzvah.”

“Yeah, but what about אכילה גסה [overeating]?” I said. “After all, אין מצווה הבאה בעבירה [you cannot fulfill a mitzvah if it involves a transgression].”

“You don’t need to eat much to fulfill the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos,” explained Chaim.

I don’t remember if I actually said it aloud, but what I was thinking was, “Easier said than done.”

Then this Shabbos I actually made it happen. We have a big family. My wife cooks a lot, but it doesn’t always help because we had teenagers who sometimes raid the kitchen on Friday afternoon. (For example, this past Friday afternoon my wife got up from her nap and asked where the potato kugel was. I didn’t have the heart to tell her they had polished off all three tins.) So sometimes there’s not enough of a given dish to go around.

This week there were two main courses: burekas stuffed with ground beef served with mushroom sauce and a brisket. When the burekas were brought out to the table, I started having doubts. Maybe my calorie count would allow a small piece? The kids dove in and by the time the dust had settled, there were just crumbs. I took a bit of ground beef the size of a kidney bean and put it on my plate. “Lichvod Shabbos Kodesh,” I said to myself as I brought it to my mouth.

My 11-year-old daughter, who sees and hears everything, found this amusing, but I was very content with my lot. Finally I understood what Chaim had meant.


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