Monday, December 19, 2011

This Holiday Of Miracles—Ancient Wisdom About Managing Your Eating

Taking back control. Rededication. Surviving persecution and abuse.  Triumph after being restricted, forbidden from following your own path. Your prized possession, quality olive oil, gets you through, for much longer than you ever believed it could.

These phrases describe the festival of Hanukkah, yet I can’t help but repackage them as a recipe for moving forward with our eating—both, during this holiday season and beyond, for Jews and non-Jews alike.

First, here’s my very brief summary of the holiday (for a more complete story, check out Chabad and Wikipedia). 

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem a long, long, time ago, more than 21 centuries ago. Following a rebellion against Hellenization, after being persecuted, denied following their own religion, a group of rebels fought back and regained control. They cleansed their temple, and wanted to light their 7-branched menorah, the candelabra, but there was only enough of the purified olive oil required for this ritual lighting to last one day. And yet, voila, it lasted all 8 days. This was great cause for celebration, and what better way than include a lot of fried food?

Some summarize our history more like this: They tried to kill us. They couldn’t. Let’s eat.

Thus, the tradition is to celebrate this triumph over oppression and the miracle of oil. And not just any foods, mind you. The Hanukkah mandate is eating oil rich foods, traditionally white carb types—it’s enough to cause panic among the health conscious and weight-focused.  We eat fried latkes (aka potato pancakes), with sufganiyot for dessert (aka doughnuts). And did I mention this lasts for not one night but for 8?

Regardless of your particular culture or religion, we are all confronted by food challenges this season. And while I have addressed this subject in various posts previously,,, I thought I’d give a bit more support to get you through this challenging (yet potentially joyous) season.


From my own experience, I’ll tell you that eating latkes or similarly fried foods, as the main entrée, isn’t going to work for me. I have no problem with including oil in my diet (see  and, but I need to have some balance. All too often, health-promoting types (nutritionists included) get stuck focusing on individual foods or nutrients, neglecting one important fact—we don’t eat single nutrients or food items. 

And we don’t need to get all nutrients from a single food! No, we eat foods together, providing us the opportunity to balance our meals, and our day’s intake, to stay healthy.

Take control of portions

Yes, Hanukkah at my house will include latkes, on more than one night. There will be the traditional potato and onion ones, and my more recent favorite—a parsnip-potato pancake. Perhaps I’ll even try a cardamom leek fritter recipe I stumbled upon recently. But served as the whole meal? I don’t think so. So what will I do? I’ll serve them with a soup and a salad, some lighter fare. On one night, I’ll also serve my homemade sufganiyot, these two-bite delights that really satisfy; at least the portions are small. The bottle of oil, in my home, lasts way more than eight nights, I’ll add. While the sufganiyot are deep fried, I’m light handed pouring oil for my latkes preparation.

Choose what you enjoy. Enjoy what you choose.

Wondering how you’ll manage the Christmas bird or roast with all the fixings, with a yule log for dessert, too? You, too, can add some balance, picking and choosing the richer and the less dense items. But do include foods you enjoy! Otherwise, you may find yourself indulging when you aren’t hungry later, making up for your feeling of deprivation.

And please don’t forget to leave leftovers! Better to enjoy the extra food when you aren’t stuffed; won’t the cake and pie taste better when you’re hungrier? Perhaps for breakfast the next morning? Yes, it’s allowed!

If you are doing the preparing, shopping and cooking for the holiday feast, remember that you have the right and the ability to dictate the meal content. Substitute some applesauce instead of the full amount of butter in the cake. Offer a range of your favorite vegetables to accompany the meal. Strain the fat off before mixing the gravy. Determine the ratio of desserts to guests—must it be one pie for every two people?

Be prepared.

Feeling overwhelmed? Preplan as much as you can. Make a shopping list; then send someone else to retrieve the foods. Bake in advance, and then freeze cookies and cakes. Sure, you may end up eating them right from the freezer, but wouldn’t they taste better eaten mindfully at room temperature?

Plan for the holiday eating schedule—be sure to eat breakfast in the morning, rather than letting one meal slide into the next. And don’t even think of restricting early in the day to compensate for potential overeating later. That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster.

Consider your limits.

And do watch your alcohol intake if you are trying to stay in control of your eating. Sure, it might decrease your stress, but it will also decrease your inhibitions around food (and, perhaps around those difficult relatives). That may be fine, if you are comfortable with the outcome. But it seems to me that rarely is the case.

I hope this helps limit the holiday stress.
Do enjoy the holidays, including your favorite foods!

Happy Holidays!

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