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The Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge


My skirt feels uncomfortably tight after a week of festive eating. It’s the same old story. My tummy starts to bulge ever so slightly and I’m already thinking about going on a diet and what I have to do to take off the weight. It’s a battle that feels like it will never end, a classic battle that almost every woman struggles with: The battle of the bulge.

It’s hard for me to be happy with the way I look. I’m always striving for some unrealistic expectation, some ideal that doesn’t exist. I longingly look at pictures of myself ten years ago and remember the flat stomach and the thighs that didn’t touch.

At first everyone told me I looked fabulousBack then I was skinny, too skinny as I completely obsessed about what I ate and how much I exercised. My life had to be rigid with regards to food and to how much I weighed. I lacked the freedom of flexibility and was a slave to a very sick set of societal standards. I never allowed myself a treat or anything with the three lettered word…FAT.

I had no idea what I was doing to myself until one day I remember my mother crying to me, “Bubbie and Zadie (Grandmother and Grandfather) were starved in a concentration camp for their granddaughter to starve herself?” The words resonated in my heart as I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a once beautiful young woman turning into a frame of mere skin and bones. What was I doing? How did this happen? I had no longer had the body of a woman, but of a skeleton.

I was seventeen years old and applying to colleges when I became anorexic. It caught everyone by surprise, myself included. I was neither heavy nor insecure about my weight or body. However, the pressure of getting into a good school, the pressure to be perfect in every aspect of my life and the incredible desire to feel in control of the future that I thought other people controlled, drove me to anorexia.

At first everyone told me that I looked fabulous. I loved the attention. Then fabulous turned into dangerously skinny as I dropped below a hundred pounds. Why couldn’t I just be happy with my already small frame and why did I always feel that I had to be in such control over every aspect of my life? I tricked myself into thinking that I was healthy. After all, I was healthy as I ate lots of fruits and vegetables and exercised, right? And I kept pointing out that I wasn’t like the other girls around me, the ones who drank diet coke all day. I wouldn’t touch such a chemically filled drink as I drank nothing but water and water and water all day.

What I didn’t know is that too much of a good thing, isn’t good either. I didn’t realize that health, for a woman, means a bit of fat, a bit of roundness on her body. Health means eating fats such as nuts and avocados, it means eating whole grains and proteins. Health means flexibility and it means loving yourself and allowing yourself to be happy. It also means forgiving yourself if you eat a piece of chocolate and giving your body a break.

Too much of a good thing, isn’t good eitherAnd most importantly health means letting go and realizing that you are NOT in control.

So many young women come to me, worried about their lack of menstruation. They come to me for advice. I know that it’s hard for them to listen to what I tell them because I tell them the truth; a woman’s body can’t function unless fed properly and if you want children, you can’t live on salads alone.

I know that it’s not easy. We’re bombarded by advertisements of anorexic women. We’re told to be healthy on one hand and yet to eat a deficient diet on the other hand. It’s hard to live a balanced life that’s truly “healthy.” Maimonides, the great Torah sage and scholar was also a doctor. Maimonides always advised to take the middle path in your life with regards to everything except for two character traits. He said to stay far away from anger and haughtiness and to be extremely humble. Everything else, he advised, one should do in moderation.

I’m always moving. If I have the chance to take the stairs instead of the elevator I choose the stairs. Walking or transportation, I prefer to walk. Every morning I jog by a woman who takes the bus two blocks to drop off her daughter at preschool. She always calls out to me as I jog by, “I admire you; I wish that I could also find the time to exercise.” I laugh to myself as she says this because I feel so breathlessly busy at times between taking care of my son, my home, running errands, and work that I couldn’t imagine being any more busy. And yet with the fifteen minutes that she spends waiting for the bus, I walk.

We’re told to be healthy on one hand and yet to eat a deficient diet on the other handBut, as we said before life is about moderation. I look at certain women who actually appear perfect in their physical appearance. However when I get to know them and their routines, I actually feel sorry for them. And I remember how I was also like them. I can no longer imagine spending my whole day engrossed in making myself beautiful. Spending hours at the gym, hours clothes shopping, hours in a beauty salon, and hours worrying about what to eat and what not to eat and reading magazines about the latest miracle diet. How much time of the day can a person waste on such vanities? It’s just not for me and it shouldn’t be for any sane, “healthy” woman.

I left that life over ten years ago as I started to heal both from within and from without. With the help of friends who supported me, I quickly sought help and went to a nutritionist who helped me gain perspective on my eating habits and who encouraged me to want to live and be healthy. Life is so short and it’s so full of meaning. I get so sad when I think about the superficial things that we waste it on. I remember once reading a story by Rabbi Twersky how a person was crying before Yom Kippur. He moaned, “We come from dust and will return to dust.” The rabbi answered him, “True, but in between you have a beautiful thing called life.”

I know people who are wealthy and never happy with what they have; beautiful and never satisfied with the way they look. Millions of people live malnutritioned and in poverty and we live in a world where the wealthiest people actually spend money to look like they’re poor. Is that a life to desire or be jealous of?

I know the importance of being beautiful-for yourself, for your husband and for your family. I practice what I preach as I always make sure to look good as my husband walks in the door and greet him with a beautiful smile, but should the way I look and how much I weigh really be my life’s goal? Is this the reason why my husband loves me and wanted to marry me?

I pat my stomach and feel the little bulge. I know that I eat correctly and exercise. I’m active and alive. I realize that I have to accept myself and love myself and know that my life is more than just my belly.

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
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Lisa Providence, RI April 4, 2017

Weight gain during the holidays is a common problem, but it doesn't have to be.

I eat skimmed soups and gravies, stuffing baked OUTSIDE chickens and turkeys, and vegetables. I also try to eat only one dessert. Reply

Bekee June 18, 2016

I'm so encouraged with this Post. May God continue to bless u Reply

Sara G. B. Fishman March 7, 2016

Thank you, Elana! Beautifully written, and I just want to add that it is as relevant to the super-size woman as to the one whose tummy just bulges a little after a Yom Tov. I like to think that, since my body is bigger than the average, it's made of more atoms than the average, so more atoms get to participate every time I do a mitzvah! Reply

Anonymous April 1, 2015

I should add that the carbs should be eaten at night (after 6p)--the fat cells are more resistant to storage at night. Reply

Anonymous August 21, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Not true. Be careful administering nutritional advice when you are not the nutrition expert.
I am a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and have been for over 22 years.
Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly.
Psychological care is essential.
It is important for the person with the disorder to seek treatment with a psychologist trained in helping clients with eating disorders. Sometimes a psychiatrist is also involved for pharmaceutical needs.
Wishing you a long healthy life! Reply

Anonymous Flagstaff, AZ March 24, 2015

In Case You're Interested Shrinking one's fat cells is as simple as eating low-carb more often, and high-carb less often.

When one eats high-carb food (spiking their insulin), their bodies shift from using their fat as energy to using their readily-available carbs as energy, and their fat cells go into "energy storage" mode (becoming more plump).
When one limits their ingestion of high-carb foods to once a week (within a specific window of time--something like 2-4 hours), their body shifts their fat cells from "energy storage" mode to "use stored energy" mode.

Fat cells are like "twinkies", and trigylcerides (sugars are stored as triglycerides) are like the "filling". We need to get the body to use the "filling".

Exercise is good, but even if all you change is your diet it will make a difference.

You can be skinny and healthy--you don't have to sacrifice one for the other.

The information I presented is based, in large part, on (my memory of) an article, called, "Eat Fat. Burn Fat." by John Kiefer. Reply

Anonymous August 21, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Oy! oy vey izmeer.

Beware of Food Fadism and Quackery. Reply

Anonymous Far Rockaway, NY January 17, 2012

Nicole - Don't Don't let other people take away your self esteem.

Don't let other people declare that you are ugly.

By the time we get to age twenty, we women have been so bombarded by cruel remarks and criticism that we hate ourselves.

It is time to stop all of that self hating and begin some healthy self loving.

The kind of female beauty that men are taught to aspire for - a living fashion doll with an hourglass figure in a minus two dress size with flat stomach, thin waist and long legs - makes no sense and is actually impossible for a normal woman to achieve.

Dress in a modest but flattering manner, smile with self confidence, radiate outwardly your inner health....and you'll find that others are attracted toward you.

Jewish women always possessed an inner "chein," a special grace. They dressed modestly not because they were ashamed of their bodies, but because "the beauty of the King's Daughter remains within."

Nicole, don't give up on men: your soul mate is out there. Reply

Emily Cribb Lakewood, WA December 21, 2007

Thank you Thank you so much for writing this I couldnt have said it better myself:)

I too was very thin and then went anorexic at 15- about 21 I still catch myself thinking this way but it does not go away over night.

I am now better and relize I need to be able to live. Thank you again Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem, Israel April 18, 2007

standards We're all taught that if we're not thin enough, or pretty enough, we're worthless and nobody will love us. Personally I've never been anorexic but I can well understand people who are. It's such a desperate feeling to think that you'll never make it, you'll never be good enough, and it can take over your life. You forget what's real because you're told over and over again to aspire to something that doesn't exist. I've stopped reading women's magazines- they cause me nothing but misery and anxiety. I no longer live in the city I grew up in, where "you can never be too rich or too thin." But the feelings still come back sometimes, because our entire society focuses so intensely on this insane ideal of perfection. Women, don't forget! the gorgeous magazine people are airbrushed, altered, starved, surgically tucked and made up to within an inch of their lives. NOBODY looks like that, and you don't have to, either. Reply

Gisele Brooklyn, NY April 17, 2007

we must live heathy both in mind, spirit, and body. But we must stop judging others how they look but better on how they act. That is the real message here. Reply

Nicole Jerusalem, Israel April 16, 2007

The battle of the bulge Dear Elana,

I totally agree with your article and think it is brilliant.

However, in all honesty I am not there nor live that. For 90% of my life I have been underweight and now that I have the right weight I feel like a whale.

The way I look and am makes me depressed becuase there is absolutely nothing I like: my hair is too black, my skin too white, I'm too short and my stomach, no matter how thin I make myself, does not disappear.

The only good thing is that because I am neither pretty nor rich men are not interested in me, which suites me fine!

People who are ashamed of their bodies tend to dress modestly - so I suppose low self esteem assists the religious cause!

Anyway, good on you!


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