Weight Loss and Teshuva

September 25, 2005

6 min read


Getting in shape, physically and spiritually.

Once again, my clothes don't fit. Yep, the same ones that fit just fine three months ago. Perhaps they all shrank? A likely culprit: the dryer did it. I'd like to believe it myself, rather than blaming it on chocolate. Such a lovely thing chocolate is, why attach bad memories to it?

I've been watching my weight. I've watched it so well, it hasn't gone anywhere. Matter of fact, I've accumulated more of it, just by watching it! These skills are acquired, mind you.

The truth is, I know the reasons why I gain weight. I eat too much. I don't exercise enough. Plain and simple, no complications.

And I know the formula to fix the problem. It works every time: Eat less, exercise more. But as many times as I gain and lose, eventually I go through the same routine over and over again.

This pattern of failure sure doesn't help to get me motivated to try again. This same problem can often sabotage the process of teshuva, returning to be the best person I can be.

Considering I can't even seem to stay on a diet, how can I honestly say I'll never repeat my past mistake and stay committed to a life-changing mission?


With both weight loss and teshuva, it's not about quick fixes, but about a lifestyle change.

On some crazy diets I've tried, I push myself beyond my limit, and the first day is very successful. Then the second day is a little less successful. Each day afterward is just a spiral path downward until the diet has failed me again.

Crash diets don't work. Fly-by-night teshuva doesn't work either.

It's the same with my unsuccessful attempts to conquer my bad habits. I start my teshuva 'diet' and go on a strict plan to stop immediately. And the first day I am very successful. But just like that crash diet, my teshuva process crashes as well.

Crash diets don't work. Fly-by-night teshuva doesn't work either. Losing weight means changing my eating style and pattern, relating differently to food, and integrating exercise and healthy habits into my life. Doing teshuva means recognizing my behavior patterns that don't work, working on letting go of them, and integrating good character traits into my life.

This year, my list of Rosh Hashanah Resolutions will include: 'Get in Shape!' And I figure, the same basic principles that will get me in shape physically, will also get me back in shape spiritually:

  1. Believe in Myself – I know I can only have the courage and strength to try if I think I can do it. Why bother trying to lose weight or do teshuva if I don't think I can accomplish my goals? I need to believe in myself enough to really give it all I have and try my best to make it happen. So my first step is to believe that no matter what, I know I can do this!

  2. Make a Plan – It is very easy to say 'I want to lose weight,' or 'I want to be a better person,' but without a clear plan and goal, I don't know where I am heading, and I can't possibly find my way there. With specific planning and setting goals, I can map out the right way.

  3. Take Small Steps – If I take on too much at once, I will burn out very quickly. By cutting out all of my favorite treats, or by cutting out all possible slander and gossip from my life, I know that I am setting myself up for failure. I am not going to be an angel overnight. I need small steps to make changes. So the first day, maybe it will be no chocolate after 6 pm, or no speaking about anyone else in any negative way before 2 pm. And once I can handle that and move on, I can make bigger changes. Slow integration is the key to long-term effects.

  4. Think of the Big Picture – If I live my life wanting and expecting instant gratification, I will often regret my choices later. That brownie might taste good now (really good!) but how will I feel when I weigh myself? That clever and witty yet very hurtful remark might bring a few laughs right now, but how will I feel when my relationships are affected by my lack of sensitivity towards people's feelings? By not going after the instant gratification, I can look at the big picture and see how my choices will affect me later on. I can live without the brownie. I can love without the hurt.

  5. Make Lifestyle Changes – Successful weight loss and teshuva can really only be accomplished by a true change in my lifestyle and behavior pattern. By integrating new habits into my life, I am not just going on a diet that might last a day or maybe if I'm lucky, a month. I am making changes in who I am and how I relate to food. I am also making those soul choices that will transform the way I relate to myself and others.

  6. Resist Temptation – The easiest thing, of course, is to avoid temptation. But temptation is everywhere (Am I supposed to not go to weddings because the schmorg will be too delicious? Stop speaking with friends because we may slip up and gossip?). By being aware of surrounding temptation, I can be prepared to fight it.

  7. Get Over Minor Setbacks – There is really no such thing as a major setback. My problem is that I let my minor set-backs turn into major ones. Okay, I had a donut! So what? Get back on the program. The problem is that I tell myself, It's all over. I might as well have the rest of the dozen. If only I were able to look at that donut as minor setback and get right back on my diet, it would never be such a big deal. The way to accomplish anything meaningful in life is slowly but surely, little by little, a few steps forward and sometimes a few steps back.

  8. Monitor Progress – With weight loss, each week I can weigh myself and see how I'm doing. I can look back and see what's working and what's not. With teshuva, a great way to monitor progress is with 'Cheshbon HaNefesh' a daily accounting of the soul where I sit down for just five minutes each night with a notebook and pen, and I look back at my day and see where I accomplished my goals, where I was challenged, and in what areas I need to try harder tomorrow.

  9. No giving up – Sometimes it's hard and I'd like to quit. That's when I pray to God to give me the strength and resolve to persevere, and the clarity to know that my goal is too important to ever stop trying.

This year, may we all have success in our endeavors to get in shape, physically and spiritually!

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