On Sunday evening, January 31, Dr. Shmuel Shields, certified nutritionist, shared a life-changing lecture at Congregation Chasam Sofer in Kew Gardens Hills. Community members attended with social distancing and masks, and also on Zoom.
Dr. Shields began by stating the importance of the mitzvah in the Torah of guarding your health. It says specifically that we should guard our soul, which is interpreted to mean to guard one’s health. There is a mitzvah to erect a fence on one’s roof to prevent harm. In the same way, we need to put in effort to protect our health. “It seems that we tend to neglect this important mitzvah of guarding our health. We don’t give it enough emphasis.”
Dr. Shields shared a mashal. When we go into a department store to shop for jewelry, we see that the cheap jewelry is on the counter and the more expensive jewelry is behind a locked case. The very expensive jewelry is in a vault. Even a department store knows to protect what is most valuable. So with our health, we need to protect this valuable asset in order to serve Hashem and perform His mitzvos. We do this by wearing masks and social distancing, and we need to include with this a healthy lifestyle.
As we age, we tend to gain one or two pounds a year. After ten years, this excess weight adds up to as much as 20 pounds. After 20 years, it becomes 20 to 40 pounds. This is concerning, because excess weight and obesity are associated with a myriad of health risks. Some of these risks are heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers, macular degeneration, knee and hip replacement, dementia, and more.
He then detailed causes of weight gain. One cause is overconsumption of sugar. Sugar is found in many foods, and when there is too much sugar, the body converts it into fat. Another problem that causes weight gain is eating refined and processed foods, which remove the fiber and essential nutrients so a person is not satiated. This means that a person doesn’t have brakes and he can’t stop eating this food. In refined and processed foods, the mechanism Hashem put in to help you feel satiated is removed. In a whole-foods diet this doesn’t happen. No one will eat six apples, or a whole head of cabbage, or four or five sweet potatoes, for example. In the 1600s, people consumed seven pounds of sugar a year. Today, the average person consumes maybe 125 to 150 pounds of sugar a year. People will often say that they don’t add sugar to their food, but there are hidden sugars added to foods. It’s important to read labels.
Another cause of weight gain is low physical activity level. Still another cause of weight gain is lack of sleep. A study of 20 to 30 thousand women found that women who slept less than six hours were more prone to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Still other causes include lack of hydration or hormonal imbalance. With aging, we develop a slower metabolic rate even if the thyroid is normal. Also, sometimes there is an underlying medical condition that causes weight gain. Certain medications cause it, as well. These include insulin, psychotropic medicines, and steroids. Then there is emotional eating, and finally genetic predisposition to obesity.
Dr. Shields then listed suggestions for weight management as we age. These include using a whole-food meal and snack plan that does not include processed or refined foods. Eat more of a plant-based diet. He shared that a lion has a different physiology, which is built to digest meat. It has acid in its saliva and a short digestive tract, a large liver, and large kidneys. People, on the other hand, are designed for more plant-based foods. We have a long digestive tract, a smaller liver and kidneys, and our saliva is alkaline which is suited for plant-based food. He taught we should increase our activity level to offset our slowing metabolism. Also, avoid emotional eating. Eat slowly and chew more consciously. Also, rule out medical issues and get adequate sleep. “Plan for slow and steady weight loss. Rapid weight loss doesn’t work.”
“Diets don’t work. I don’t like the first three letters of that word,” he quipped. Seek professional guidance and/or a support group. He also recommended his book, L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, which really does outline healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle for a frum person.
By Susie Garber