Dear Rachel,

I know that the Torah talks a lot about what you can and can't eat and when. But is there anything there about being overweight? I have been struggling with my weight for many years, and I was wondering if being fat makes you a less spiritual person. I'm not happy I'm fat, but I find it very hard to lose weight. Does the Torah have any tips?


Dear Lighthearted,

Let me start by saying that your weight does not make you less of a spiritual person, nor less of a beautiful person. As a Jewish woman, you are the daughter of the King of kings, and you have an innate spiritual worth that is beyond measure. When the Torah describes how beautiful the matriarchs were, it does not mention their waist size. Jewish ideals of beauty have less to with how one looks and more to do with how one presents herself, with dignity and modesty. So while we should take care of our appearance, things like the circumference of our waist are negligible.

That being said, our bodies are houses for our souls. And we have to make sure that our bodies are able to function optimally in order to carry out our souls’ holy mission. So here are various Torah perspectives on how to take care of your body:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. The Torah commands us to safeguard our health,1 and that includes maintaining a healthy weight. Of course, the standards of ideal weight have fluctuated over the millennia, and there is no Talmudic weight chart, so you’ll need to follow your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Eat simply. In Ethics of Our Fathers, it says, "Eat bread with salt and drink water in its measure."2 In other words, don't overindulge. The Rambam, one of the greatest rabbis of all time, who also happened to be a doctor, said that all illnesses come from overeating. That's long before the doctors of the 20th century linked diabetes, heart disease and some kinds of cancer to being overweight. (The Rambam was more concerned with amounts than with specific types of food, but that was before processed food was invented.)
  • Eat more in the morning and less at night. In the Talmud, it's recommended to eat breakfast like a king (and to eat bread at breakfast), lunch like a regular person, and dinner like a pauper.
  • Keep kosher. Kosher is one of those mitzvahs we don’t understand; we do it simply because it is a commandment from G‑d. However, from a spiritual perspective, it is understandable that certain animals have traits that we don’t want to internalize. For example, we don't eat scavengers (like lobster), hunters (like wolves), or pigs, who'll eat anything.
  • Feast and fast. There are certain times when it’s appropriate—and a mitzvah—to feast, such as Shabbat, holidays, bar mitzvahs and weddings. (This does not mean that we should be gluttonous, but rather that our eating should augment our happiness.) And there are certain times when it’s appropriate to fast, such as on Yom Kippur and 9 Av.

Rachel’s Weight Loss Tips

There are a lot of diets and fads out there, but I believe that maintaining a healthy weight is a result of an overall healthy lifestyle. Here are my personal recommendations:

  1. Say affirmations. Stand in front of the mirror, smile, and say to yourself, "I am the daughter of the King of kings, and I am beautiful and worthy."
  2. Eat real food. The body doesn't know what to do with chemicals, so it stores them as fat. Avoid processed foods, which are packed with artificial flavors, sweeteners and preservatives, and instead, enjoy whole, unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables.
  3. Stay hydrated. Drink water or green tea, consommé or vegetable juices. A bit of red wine is good for you once a day.
  4. Don’t eat late at night. It’s recommended to wait 12 hours from your last meal of the night to the first meal in the morning.
  5. Make blessings on your food. It makes you more mindful of what you're about to eat and what you just ate. You can find the blessings here.
  6. Get eight hours of sleep every night. When you sleep, chemical processes happen in your body to keep weight down. You also function better all around. If you can't get eight hours, get as close as you can.
  7. Move your body. Get comfortable shoes that make it easier to walk, and walk at every opportunity. Pick an exercise you enjoy (like a dance class or tennis) and do it regularly.
  8. Indulge on Shabbat. One day of enjoying your favorite calorie-laden foods will help you maintain your healthy eating, and Shabbat is the perfect time. Of course, if there is a two-day holiday that segues into Shabbat, you may want to tone that indulgence down.
  9. Buy yourself some pretty items of clothing or accessories. It can be something small and inexpensive, but it should make you feel good when you wear it. The way you look does not begin and end with your weight. And when you feel better about your body, you’ll be more respectful of it.
  10. Stand tall and watch your posture.
  11. Greet everyone with a smile. This won’t help you lose weight, but it will give you more confidence and make you feel more comfortable with yourself.
  12. Focus on eating as a mitzvah. The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (the "Ari," 1534-1572) taught that every created thing possesses a "spark" of divine energy that constitutes its essence and soul. When a person utilizes something toward a G‑dly end, he brings to light this divine spark, manifesting and realizing the purpose for which it was created. So if you keep in mind that the purpose of eating is to maintain your health so you can better serve G‑d, you’ll be more likely to make healthy food choices.

Wishing you good health and inner, as well as outer, beauty, and the sensitivity to see these in others.