Jews and Weight Loss

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September 28, 2022

5 min read

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A comedian’s take on his ongoing battle to lose weight and keep it off.

An excerpt from comedian Mark Schiff’s new book Why Not? Lessons on Comedy, Courage, and Chutzpah. Mark, a long-time touring partner of Jerry Seinfeld, gives us a hilarious account of his decades of foolery with comedy and acting legends and how he honed his mensch skills in all of life’s arenas.

With wit and wisdom, Mark reminds us that no matter the troubles at-hand, the show must always go on.


My first wake-up call to how heavy I was took place when I was walking on Cashio Street in Los Angeles and I dropped something on the ground. When I bent down to get it, let’s just say, it wasn’t easy to get back up. I was almost two hundred pounds with a big puffy face, and I was really starting to feel old.

A day or two later, as I was being introduced to go onstage, Dom Irrera, a comedian friend, said to me, “Look how fat you are.” Soon after that, I was walking with Jerry Seinfeld when he pointed to an old guy with a walker crossing a street and said, “We don’t want to end up like that.” Few people are as dedicated to exercising as Jerry.

With all this, the message came across loud and clear: lose weight and get healthy. So the next day I decided to crawl out of my fat suit and do something about it. It took a year, but I lost fifty pounds and have kept forty-six of them off for over ten years.

Losing the weight was not hard—it was exciting—but keeping it off has been murder. I have been an overeater and food addict my whole life, still am and always will be. I remember I was three months old being breastfed and my mother screamed at me, “Enough already. Don’t you ever stop eating?” My problem is I’m never full. I could eat a fifteen-course dinner and then on the way home stop for hot buttered caramel popcorn. I have an emptiness inside me that is extremely demanding and never satisfied.

You can do it.

In order to lose the weight and keep it off, I had to do just one little thing, and that was to change just about everything. Diet to me means not eating things I used to enjoy ever again, and doing this one day at a time. I don’t eat pizza, pasta, or bread (except challah on Shabbat, and even that I may have to give up). My dessert is fruit, no more cakes or cookies. To the best of my ability, I’ve given up all sugar. My diet is now plant-based. No meat, dairy, or eggs. Nothing that had a mother or a face. That means I basically eat exactly the same as a rabbit, but because I wash the dirt off my vegetables mine have slightly less flavor.

If possible and I am still able to chew, I would like meat for my last meal. I’d like a hot pastrami on rye with mustard and coleslaw, and a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda. At that point, who cares about cholesterol, diabetes, or saving the planet?

#Jews get very worried when you lose weight. They all think they are doctors and diagnosticians.

As I was losing the weight, a funny thing happened. I noticed that my losing weight bothered my Jewish friends more than my non-Jewish friends. Jews get very worried when you lose weight. They all think they are doctors and diagnosticians. They say things like, “Are you okay?” “Why did you lose the weight?” “Did you want to lose the weight?”

On the other hand, when my non-Jewish friends would see me, I’d hear, “You look great!” “You’re like Benjamin Button,” and “How’d you do it? Bet you feel terrific!” and “Want to go to the rodeo?”

A few of my Jewish friends called my wife to try to pry out of her how long I had to live. Sometimes they would walk up to me in the street and scream, “Enough already! Stop it! Don’t lose any more weight!” The crème de la crème was when I was in the neighborhood supermarket and a woman I know looked at me, turned white, and started running away. I quickly caught up with her and asked if she was all right. She was trembling right there in the middle of the store. She had heard I was extremely sick and that I had died. She said she’d always liked me and was incredibly sad to get the news of my death.

I thanked her for her kind words, told her I was all right, and went back to get some grapes. About an hour later, I thought if she liked me so much, how come she didn’t come to my funeral, send a card, or make a small donation in memory of me? Phooey on her.

One rabbi who wanted to lose weight called and asked me to meet him and tell him how he could also lose weight. I said, “Where do you want to meet to talk?” He said Schwartz’s Bakery.

Keeping the weight off is a daily fight. It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every day I am on the battlefield trying to stay alive. To my Jewish friends, I know you mean well. And when I do die one day while eating a bowl of broccoli, you can all have your laugh. What I’ve come to understand is that I hardly ever miss all the foods that I thought I could not live without. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that almost everything in life is overrated anyway. Keeping weight off is a full-time job. My paycheck is getting my health back and wearing my kids’ clothes. Now go for a walk.

Click here to order Why Not? Lessons on Comedy, Courage, and Chutzpah.

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