The day of rest should not also mean taking a break from healthy eating habits, writes licensed nutritionist Shira Isenberg in Jewish Action. Long meals and an abundance of delicious food are a recipe for relaxing one’s usual vigilance over food intake, which can easily lead to over-indulgence.
There is a mitzvah from the Torah delineated in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 242) to enjoy extravagances on Shabbos to elevate it from the weekdays. Although “this may sound like the antithesis of dieting,” writes Isenberg, “you can treat yourself on Shabbat and still stay within traditional nutrition guidelines.” In fact, dietitian Joy Bauer's guidelines allow you to stick to healthy food 90% of the time and earmark 10% of your calorie intake to “fun foods.”
How bad does Shabbat calorie consumption get? Dr. Anders Nerman, a naturopathic doctor in Jerusalem, did a simulated calorie count for an average eater on Shabbat, and the bottom-line figure came out to over 6,000 calories. Most adults need to consume somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day.
Bear in mind that excess weight is among the main risk factors for developing diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, and can contribute to high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and pregnancy problems.
Food blogger Jamie Geller (self-described "dietitian, wife, mother and sometime enabler") writes that Shabbat is a beautiful thing, "but too much of a beautiful thing is too much of a beautiful thing."
The challenge on Shabbat is twofold, Geller explains. “One challenge is the sheer amount of food. The number of meals (three or more for many of us), the luxury of time to eat (and eat and eat) and the custom of overdoing it (as if each meal was our last).
“Another challenge is that many of the recipes and favorite foods that have been passed down from generation to generation connects us deeply to our history, but are loaded with excess calories, fat and sugar. Our great-grandparents may have said ‘pass the schmaltz,’ we have to learn to say, ‘I’ll pass.’”
Here are a few tips to avoid spiraling into binge eating and wreaking havoc on your weight-loss plan.
Tip 1: Plan ahead - Either on Friday, or at least before Hamotzi, set out personal guidelines for the meal. Start out by taking the right amount of challah for you, and decide that you’re not going to take more. Put chunks of challah out of reach (e.g. in a challah basket in the middle of the table). You might want to opt for whole wheat, which is more filling.
Tip 2: Variety within bounds - Having a large selection of salads and condiments enhances your Shabbos table, but consider keeping the number of offerings down -- especially if you’re the type of person who just has to taste a bit of everything.
Tip 3: Devise a noshing strategy - If you nibble away endlessly, make sure you have something super low-calorie at hand. Celery sticks, super tasty lettuce, dainty cucumber spears, or whatever will appeal to your palate.
Tip 4: Small plate - Use a small plate, or take a regular plate and make a firm commitment not to take seconds, come what may. It also helps to use smaller serving plates and bowls for high-calorie foods and larger serving plates for healthier foods.
Tip 5: Count calories - Even calories from healthy foods are still calories. Whole wheat bread, brown rice and nuts are not “free foods.”
Tip 6: Reasonable desserts - Serve fresh fruit and sorbets instead of cakes and cookies and ice cream. Instead of nuts, eat sunflower seeds in the shells. It takes a lot of time and effort to overindulge, so it’s a lot easier to keep consumption under control.
Tip 7: Exercise - Regular exercise is prohibited on Shabbos, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a walk. If you’re often tasked with keeping kids busy, a long walk is often a great solution for them, too.
Tip 8: Kiddush - Keep in mind that you need to eat three meals on Shabbat, not four!
Tip 9: Drink responsibly - Keep water on the table and make a rule that you drink a glass of water before any other drink. If you have to indulge in a high-calorie drink, quenching your thirst a bit beforehand should help you keep it down to half a glass instead of a whole glass, or one glass instead of two.
As wellness coach Alan Freishtat writes, “Don’t let a beautiful gift like Shabbat ruin your health goals.”
Numbers and tips are all well and good, but what is the Shabbat calorie control experience like for real people? A message board with a group called Kosher Calories had some interesting reactions to the above-mentioned blog post by Dr. Nerman:
Cute article - Obviously there are many ways to not eat like this, but I do find myself eating way more than I ever intended to on Shabbat. Especially when I don't control what's being served, which is often these days. - Amy
Really? I find that Shabbos day [my calorie count is] very low. Fridays are harder for me. - MostlyWater
My Shabbat menu does not look like that and I don't go to a Kiddush on Shabbos morning. That said, I do eat more on Shabbos; I probably average about 2,500 calories on Friday and Shabbat, but I make up for it by eating less during the week, and I have been losing weight this way. It's all about balance. - momRN2B
My meals are under control, but I start noshing in the afternoon. - NewSavta
I've often tried to stay around 2,000 calories on Shabbat. Lately I haven't tracked - especially on Shabbat. Now that I am really trying to get back on track, though, I believe that I will pre-track Friday morning/afternoon and then reconcile it on sundown Saturday. - chriamaria
Shabbat is my "free day." I watch what I eat, but on Shabbat I watch it all go in my tummy! I'm always invited somewhere for dinner, so I enjoy as much of the salads and fish as I like. That fills me up so that I have no temptation to eat rice and potatoes. I'm mostly vegetarian, so I only eat a token amount of meat at dinner, and then, only because we are supposed to eat meat on Shabbat. By the time we get to dessert, I'm way too full to want anything but a bite or two of fruit. - sarabearinaz