Here Comes Purim, Here Comes Indulgence
By Alan Freishtat, certified personal trainer and wellness coach.
If one could pick one or two days that we can really load up on a lot of calories in a very concentrated period of time, there is little question that Purim wins! We start with a fast day and tend to eat more before and a lot more after. Purim involves not only mishloah manot (yummy gifts) coming into the house all day, but there are parties the night of Purim and a big Purim meal in the daytime. In Israel, where Jerusalem keeps the 15th day of Adar, many people multiply this by two! And this year, there is a Purim Meshulash, when Purim falls on Shabbat in Jerusalem and this is spread over three days.
Let’s take a look at how one can have a wonderful and happy Purim, while at the same time not jeopardizing our health.
Fasting on Taanit Esther
When I speak with my clients about fasting, I often hear, “I get so sick when I have to fast” or “I start out fine but then I get a terrible headache”, and very common “I am fine during the fast, but after I break the fast, I can’t function for hours and I feel awful.” I know that many years ago, prior to learning how to prepare and break a fast, there were times I could have said all of the above. For the vast majority of people, if you prepare for and break the fast according to our tips, you will be just fine. Yes, you will get hungry and thirsty, but that is normal. Here are some simple instructions to help you along. Let’s begin with a review of preparing for and breaking the fast. These rules apply to any fast day.
Preparing for the fast:
Begin drinking on a consistent basis 36 hours beforehand. Increase your fluids by 25% or 30%.
Eat more fruit; particularly fruit that is dense in fluid, melon, and watermelon are particularly good. Fruits help retain the liquid you are consuming.
If you are a coffee or caffeinated tea drinker or a chocoholic, it’s imperative that you begin weaning yourself from these and other caffeinated foods or drinks 72 hours before the fast begins. Failure to do so may bring on headaches during the fast.
At the meal before the fast, stick with complex carbohydrates with a normal amount of lean protein—DO NOT go high protein at this meal. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and baked potatoes, or preferably sweet potatoes are great.
Keep drinking non-caffeinated beverages and remember that water and some fruit juices are best.
Breaking the fast:
Begin with four or five glasses of water.
Have a light meal, a bowl of soup, a small amount of whole grains (a slice of bread or a portion of brown rice are examples) and a fresh-cut salad is perfect. Keep proteins light and lean.
Finish with a fruit or two. Stop there!
Leave the table and go for a short walk and do your stretching exercises.
If you are really still hungry after that, have a small snack and some more water or tea.
Don't eat late at night and the next day you should wake up feeling hungry and healthy.
When you wake up Purim morning, even before you go to hear the reading of the Megillah, drink 2 glasses of water. Now for an important piece of advice: when you come home sit down and eat a proper breakfast. By doing so, you are less likely to start grazing and picking during the day as mishloah manot come in. (Even those of you celebrating Purim on Friday this year should still eat breakfast in spite of the short day.)
Plan your treats. You can have treats—it is Purim—but they must be limited. Limited means ONE! If you really like chocolate, then choose that; if it’s a piece of cake that calls your name, choose that. But when you have it, sit down, eat slowly and enjoy every bite. And when you are done, you are done.
Alcohol is high in calories. For instance, each 5-ounce glass of red wine is 122 calories. Whiskey is 105 calories per shot glass. Add these numbers to the extra food intake and realize that today won’t be a “perfect” eating day. But if we don’t impose some limits, we can really get in trouble. And as we all know, alcohol consumption, when excessive is dangerous.
Unfortunately, drinking on Purim sometimes is far from moderate and Purim can also be more than just one day of drinking; it can be the beginning of a very bad and dangerous habit. If you feel good from a little drinking, you begin to think that maybe a little more drinking can make the feeling even better. And then you always want more. And when you have more and you have it more often, trouble most certainly lies ahead. Don’t drink alcohol if:
You’re planning to drive a vehicle or operate machinery.
You take medications that can interact with alcohol.
You’ve been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
You have liver or pancreatic disease.
You have heart failure or you’ve been told you have a weak heart or dilated cardiomyopathy.
There is no question, especially as Purim is upon us, that we have to be very careful about our drinking. This is something that when it goes beyond the limits, can end very tragically. There is always the danger of an accident, but just as dangerous is the possibility of alcohol addiction, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and cancer. Ultimately, the person would need a liver transplant to survive.
The Seudah-the Purim meal As far as your Purim Seudah goes, it is a mitzvah (positive commandment) to eat, but it is never a mitzvah to overeat or gorge yourself. As a matter of fact, it’s a bad idea.
Start your meal with several glasses of water.
If you are making your own Seudah, think about giving everyone a small, whole-grain roll so you don’t keep taking more and more bread or challah.
While you may well serve choices that aren’t particularly healthy, make sure healthy choices are also available. Salads and vegetable sticks are good. Keep your main courses like meat and chicken to a minimum. Keep grains whole. For dessert, (especially considering all the junk you received throughout the day), try a fresh fruit salad or possibly a low-sugar sorbet.
Sing a lot and have a wonderful time. The more you sing, the less you might eat!
Perhaps the most important advice though is when you wake up the day after Purim, get right back on track—exercise, eat well, drink a lot of water and stay focused. If you resume normal eating habits right away, the weight will fall right off. Then, in another month when Passover is upon us, you won’t be worried about additional weight gain. You’ll be back on track and armed with the confidence that you can get through “unscathed.” (And when that time comes, I’ll help you plan for Passover too.)
With a sensible and realistic plan, you can experience true Simchat Purim. Excess is never a good thing and in the case of Purim celebrations, an excess can be very dangerous. But with a little bit of planning and some common sense, you can have a great Purim, and you can still can “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 20 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of The Wellness Clinic for the prevention and reversal of illness and disease. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments, and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops.