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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Talmudic Weight-Loss Advice

Daf Yomi Gittin 70


Every night, the holy Reb Itchele would sit down to a delicious meal, prepared for him by his loving wife, Raizel.  He would never finish his meal, always making sure to leave a little over on his plate, as an act of self-control.  After a while, Raizel noticed that he wasn’t eating everything she served him and so she began to give him a little less.  But as before, in a demonstration of self-mastery, Reb Itchele continued to leave over a portion of his food.  After all, who was in control, his food or himself? 

A couple of weeks passed, and Raizel noticed that she was still giving too much and Reb Itchele was not finishing his plate.  And so, again she lessened his portion.  But sure enough, the holy man that Reb Itchele was, he continued his practice of self-control and left a little over on his plate.  Raizel, for her part, noticed again, that apparently she was still overfeeding her husband and continued to ration his portion.  This back-and-forth went on for a number of months until poor Reb Itchele was surviving on a morsel of bread and a half-mouthful of water. . .

The Prophet Eliyahu said to Rabbi Nasan: Eat to a third of your stomach’s fill, drink a third and leave one third empty.  When you get upset stand up to your fullness.

Many people won’t get up from the table until they are completely full and cannot eat anymore.  However, the Talmud’s formula for maintaining healthy weight levels is to eat and drink in equal parts and to leave just as much empty space in your stomach. 

In fact, the Torah clearly states, “You shall eat and be satisfied and bless Hashem.”  It does not say ‘you shall eat and be full!’  Just eat enough to satisfy your hunger and then leave some room and let your body fulfill the wonderful mission Hashem has miraculously endowed it with!

Some people complain of their inability to lose weight.  ‘If I don’t fill up my plate, I’ll get hungry later.’  Is that a bad thing?  Hunger is the way your stomach shrinks itself and asks for less food next time around!  The problem is the other way around: when you fill yourself up, how can you ever expect to lose weight?  On the contrary, by constantly insisting on being full, you’re constantly pushing the outer limits of your stomach’s capacity!   Actually, you can never eat exactly the right amount to feel full, so when that’s your aim, unfortunately you end up overeating and stretching your stomach, so that next time you need even more to feel full.

And that’s the meaning of Eliyahu’s admonition to Rabbi Nasan: When you step on the scales and get upset at your weight, start standing up to your ‘need’ to feel full all the time!  The secret to maintaining healthy weight levels is to overcome your desire to be full.  It won’t kill you to feel a little hungry!  That’s your body regulating itself and keeping things on an even keel!

When the Talmud discusses filling one’s stomach, it is in fact a metaphor for of all desires of this world.  As long as your aim to fulfill your every ‘need,’ those ‘needs’ will continue to stretch further and further.  Yesterday, all you ‘needed’ was a decent car that would get you from point A to B without breaking down every other week.  But once you got that, you then ‘needed’ a car that looked nice and was pretty new-looking, reflecting how you wanted the world to perceive you.  Once you scored that ‘need,’ you suddenly ‘needed’ two cars between you and your spouse.  And before you knew it, you both ‘needed’ to drive luxury cars!

The trick to avoiding the onward bulge is to always aim to consume a little less than you think you need.  Leave a little room of your ‘needs’ unfulfilled.  And then you won’t suffer the upset of turning around to find that your consumption has spiralled out of control!  When you keep your needs and wants in check and unfulfilled, you will find yourself needing and wanting for very little!


Always remember Eliyahu’s advice: Stand up to your desire to feel full.  Your car doesn’t need a full tank to run, neither do your ‘needs.’  May you merit the happiness that comes from never feeling the need to run to fulfill all your desires!