Break the Fast Without Breaking Your Diet

How Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and other holidays can inspire healthy eating

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According to Jewish tradition, everything a person does is written in the Book of Life. No deed goes unrecorded, whether good or evil. During the Ten Days of Penitence, beginning with Rosh Hashanah this Sunday and leading up to the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, we reflect on days past, as well as ponder the future.

These High Holy Days are a time for deep thought, self-examination, and contemplation. What better occasion to look back on the past year and ask yourself: Did I take care of my body? Am I making the healthiest food choices for myself and my family? Am I setting a good example when it comes to my eating habits?

For some people the sound of the shofar—a ram’s horn whose blast signals the end of Yom Kippur—is like the sound of a gunshot before a race: There's a mad dash from temple to table after evening services. Following the Yom Kippur fast, there seems to be a feeling of "entitlement" to eat one meal that's the size of three! Would you ever think of going into a restaurant and ordering some cantaloupe, a dish of pickled herring in cream sauce, one bagel with cream cheese and lox, another bagel with whitefish salad, and then topping it off with a piece of babka and a few cups of coffee? I've never seen this ordered by one person in one sitting when dining out, but I have certainly seen this array of food consumed countless times by friends and relatives (who shall remain nameless) at my table.

So, you ask, how can you make this diet-challenged event guilt free? (I thought I'd throw in a little something about guilt—after all, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.) Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the holiday without needing an antacid as a side dish:

• Try a thin slice of challah (around 100 calories) instead of a bagel (400 calories).

• Have smoked whitefish instead of whitefish salad, laden with mayonnaise.

• Add some lettuce and tomatoes to your sandwich, or be sure to have salad available. After fasting, you could use a dose of nutrient-rich veggies!

• If the fast is broken in your house, be sure to add a fresh fruit platter to your dessert course, and if you're going to someone else's home, consider bringing one. Fruit can help accompany that slice of cake you've been waiting for, and it'll make the cake look less lonely on your plate.

• Drink lots of water or seltzer—the types of foods served are usually quite salty. Don't be surprised if your shoes feel tight the next day or your eyes look puffy. Salt acts like a magnet to water and could cause fluid retention. Drinking a no-calorie beverage before a meal can also save you lots of calories, since many of us mistake thirst for hunger. Try adding fresh cut watermelon, nectarines, or other fruit to water ahead of time for a hint of sweetness.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are timeless, celebrating a person's ability to grow and repent, and more importantly, to change. I don't believe it's productive to look back on your faulty eating habits with regret. So many of the people I counsel spend their lives looking back and "wishing" they'd made better food choices. Instead, try to improve your eating style one day—or holiday—at a time.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Updated on 9/13/2012: This piece has been updated to include a definition of a shofar.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.