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A Weighty Issue

A Weighty Issue

An obsession with dieting is not a Torah value, but neither is preoccupation with food. The challenge is striking a balance in today's fat-conscious world.


We promised ourselves we'd be different. My girlfriends and I spent hours strategizing. Our daughters would not grow up with the weight obsessions that we were subjected to. The word "fat" would never defile our lips. The word "diet" would be taboo. And that awful symbol of man's inhumanity to man, the bathroom scale, would never cross our thresholds.

We promised: that awful symbol of man's inhumanity to man, the bathroom scale, would never cross my thresholds.

Yet even as I sit here and fantasize about living in an era when the goal was to look "like a rich man's wife with a proper double chin," I know we've failed. The world around is too powerful, the values too pervasive.

My young children play games sticking out their stomachs to pretend to be fat. My older ones don't play; it's already serious business for them, and my thinnest daughter gets too much attention for it. They talk about it at the Shabbos table and in the halls of their school. When relatives come to visit it's frequently the first thing they comment upon. No one is immune.


My husband has a theory that children are naturally self-regulating and that without direction they will choose the appropriate foods. While I don't agree entirely, I do see that the old adage about children's eyes being bigger than their stomachs frequently rings true. And I've noticed that even though my kids may heap their plates with dessert, they often leave it half-eaten.

They stop when they're full.

This is an amazing concept. To stop when you're full.

Maimonides, suggests that we should stop eating when we're two-thirds full -- a prescription for a healthier physical and spiritual life. For I think we all recognize that our ability to grow, to reach out to others, to focus on transcendent issues, is not unconnected to our physical state of being.

If we're cold or tired or hungry, it's hard to concentrate on loftier matters. And conversely, it's difficult to soar in the spiritual realm when our bodies are weighted down by that extra piece of chocolate cake, coming closely on the heels of those second helpings of chicken and mashed potatoes.

It's difficult to soar in the spiritual realm when our bodies are weighted down by that extra piece of chocolate cake.

Why didn't we stop? I have observed that around adolescence our internal controls start to betray us. No longer is the goal of eating to satisfy a physical need, and in so doing give us strength for spiritual endeavours, the goal becomes the food itself. The goal becomes the delicious taste, not the material sustenance.

And so we eat because it's yummy ... and we're sorry ... a little time passes and we forget how sorry we were and ... we eat because it's yummy ... and we're sorry.


For some adults and children, this article is irrelevant. Their metabolism gets them through. My husband is one of those people and he seems to arouse envy all around. But why is that? Why are we allowing ourselves to fall prey to these values and sentiments?

When we see an ad for a BMW telling us that "you're looking at 3,000 pounds of life-goal fulfillment," we turn away in scorn. So why do we buy the "thin is in" slogan in its latest incarnation?

It's a fine balance. We don't want to overeat because it dulls our spiritual sensibilities. We don't want to overeat because it's not healthy. These are ideas we must teach our children.

But our children must also know that the Almighty made His people in all shapes and sizes and that the one they have (assuming they don't abuse it) is the right one for them. And no billboard, magazine cover, or diet pill will change that.

We want our children to fuel their bodies so that they can function to their utmost potential, so that their spirits can reach the stars. And as long as they are doing their best, then we have to teach them to ignore those words and ideas we can't keep from seeping in.

Forget about burning bras; I think true liberation stands on an ash heap of bathroom scales.

April 29, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, June 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Good Clear Points on How We Deal With Weight Issues

A man was standing behind me at a supermarket check out counter. Pointing to the magazines, he said that anyone from another time would look at these covers and think what kind of people live now? And it's the truth. We should keep our children as far away from the influences around us as we can without robbing them of their independence. It's a real challenge.

On the issue of food, this article put things into a healthy perspective.

Thank you for the "food for thought."

(3) Anonymous, March 26, 2002 12:00 AM

overeaters anonymous for compulsive overeaters

a 12 step programme for physical, emotional and spiritual recovery based on alcoholics anonymous' successful programme.

(2) Chana Siegel, May 4, 2000 12:00 AM

Weight Obsession Should be an Issue in Tsniut

The author touches on some valid points regarding our society’s obsession with weight and slimness. It is almost impossible to break free of the shackles of the “culturally approved” physique, and the “mandatory” dieting obsession that accompanies it. Unfortunately, genetic predisposition in weight and body build is nearly impossible to buck. For the most part, we are built like our ancestors no matter how much we exercise and diet, and the more we obsess and crash diet, the more our lives circle around food and, paradoxically, the more we tend to gain weight. I suffered with a mixed eating disorder for years until I came to Israel and became religious, but I’m still not sure what did the trick. I walk a lot and never, never diet, because that makes me think about food too much. I suspect that the “tsniut” dress code was helpful; almost nobody naturally looks good in Spandex. Still, I see lots of religious girls and women spending far too much energy on “fatness”, and no one condemns it as a false value. It seems to me that “tsniut” should preclude devoting too much effort and desire on the pursuit of something so self-obsessed and superficial.

(1) Lisa Genstil, May 1, 2000 12:00 AM

It's nice to read an article that tackles this subject from the Torah perspective. Eating to live, rather than living to eat is certainly an appropriate goal. Yet at the same time, weight does become something of an issue in the dating and marriage arena. I would like to hear the author's views on that point.

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