Dear Fellow Jewesses: Please Don’t Get Sucked In By Fad Diets

As summer approaches, new diet fads are yet again circulating in the Jewish community. My Facebook and Instagram feed are filled with diet posts promising to help me become “Happy and Healthy for your Beach Body.”

These posts are often connected to multi-level marketing pyramid schemes designed to rob you of your time and money. Followers of the program post endless social media pictures of their progress, often utilizing sugar bags to demonstrate their amount lost, and instruct followers to message them for more details on their super-secret life changing program. Almost all of these individuals have absolutely no nutritional or medical training, but many refer to themselves as “health coaches” and use standard pyramid scheme techniques to lure in potential customers. When my girlfriend with multiple hormonal conditions asked one of the “coaches” for written information on the program to share with her endocrinologist, she was told by the coach that they had to “meet in person” so that the program could be explained “properly.”

After utilizing my doctoral-student qualitative research skills, I quickly learned that this super-secret plan was one whose claims have not been evaluated by any scholarly research or medical professionals. Just like any other fad diet we’ve seen for decades, the program combines an eating plan with “supplementary” products like bars and shakes.

As Jewish women, why do we continue to allow our self-worth to be defined by our dress size? Why we do we plot, plan, apologize, and obsess over our weight? Statistically we are a highly educated and accomplished group of Americans. And yet, especially in the world of Jewish dating and marriage, we still allow ourselves to be valued based on our weight. And worse, we continuously judge ourselves!

Oh, how the ancestors in the shtetl (villages of the old country) must be laughing in the Olam HaBah (world to come). People who lived through horrible winters and years of starvation, and now our Jewish daughters are not only trying every possible way to appear as skinny as possible, they are “coaching” their friends to do the same.

The most ironic part of this all is that these diets are especially popular in the ultra-Orthodox community — with women who would never wear a modern swimsuit, much less a bikini, to a public beach!

For me, this is personal. I am a formerly morbidly obese person who has maintained a weight loss of 150 pounds for the past eight years, following my gastric bypass surgery in 2010. I know exactly what it feels like to be that person on the couch, desperate to lose weight and ordering the newest “proven” diet plan, no matter what the cost. I can clearly remember my vulnerability as I signed up for another round of Weight Watchers or ran across town to a “special nutritionist” on the Lower East Side, who was convinced that my morbid obesity was due to a lack of proper nutritional supplements, and promised me that if I ordered his specific vitamins, I would drop the weight. After years of this vicious cycle, I finally took the brave step and made my first appointment with a Bariatric clinic that performed weight loss surgery. To be perfectly clear, I never intended to have weight loss surgery to “be skinny.” I was married at the time with three beautiful children and had a great career. I just wanted to cure my myriad of medical conditions, including high-blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and excruciating knee and back pain. I wanted to be able to cook for Rosh Hashanah dinner without having to sit down every 10 minutes due to back pain. At the tender age of 29, I knew that if I took this leap now, I might be able to save myself from a lifetime of medical problems. I might have the energy that I needed to be the best mother that I could be.

Having been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome and a strong genetic predisposition towards obesity, I knew that this would be an uphill battle. After all, don’t we all know a cousin’s sister in law’s neighbor that had weight loss surgery and then gained it all back? The result of this process was a total loss of a 150+ pounds, going from a size 22 to a size 0. Now that I am eight years out, the struggles are different, and I can certainly eat a much larger variety of food, but my brain has been conditioned to the point that cravings and a desire for food as comfort are almost gone.

I feel that it is important to be clear here that weight loss surgery is not a “magic pill” by any means, and at the end of the day, successful long-term weight loss is all up to the individual, not the surgery.

Having conquered morbid obesity does not free me from my obligation to my Jewish sisters who are still caught in the cycle of obsessive thoughts and constant dieting. Your beauty and your worth are not determined by the size of your jeans. A new diet program may claim that weight loss is the key to true happiness, but like the curse of the lottery, we know that that is simply not true. Why are we letting others, whether they be friends, partners, spouses, co-workers or fashion magazines, determine our own self-worth? Once you believe your own beauty, the world will radiate with your confidence. At the same time, true obesity is a disease and carries with it certain medical risks. If you and your trusted medical professional feel that weight loss should be an important goal for you, there are a few things that one needs to remember before taking the plunge into the latest diet fad:

Speak with a medical professional before beginning any weight loss plan.

Certain conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, metabolic syndrome, Hashimoto’s and other hormonal conditions can be greatly affected by starting a new diet plan that is not monitored by medical professionals. You should also have your thyroid function completely evaluated. Be cautious of terms like “weight loss coach” or mentor. These people generally have no formal medical training.

Do your research.

If someone will not tell you the name or details of a program without “meeting in person,” there is probably a good sign that this person is simply trying to make money off of you and does not actual care about your personal health goals. There is a wealth of information online and support communities for almost any diet plan on the market that one can think of. Never trust “reviews” or “studies” conducted by the diet product company themselves; they will make themselves look good to sell their product. According to Marketdata LLC, the weight loss market is a 66-million-dollar industry in the United States. There is a lot of money to be gained from America’s obsession to be thin, while obesity rates rise.

Long term permanent weight loss is extremely hard to accomplish.

This is especially true when you’re trying to lose a significant amount of weight (over 100 pounds), no matter who you are and which program or too you try. If something sounds “too good to be true,” it probably is. I’ve been put on every FDA approved diet medication and still ended up morbidly obese. It is my personal belief that anyone looking to lose over 80 pounds should first seek the help of a medical professional, preferably an endocrinologist specializing in metabolic treatment programs. As we now know, weight loss and health are not simply determined by “calories in versus calories out.” Hormones, genetics, and so many other factors are at play. Get educated in what your body needs.

Permanent Change Is Possible

Yes, despite having the odds against you, long term permanent weight loss is possible — but only if your expectations remain realistic and you are truly ready to put in both the “inner” and “outer” work.

We need to learn to practice what the author SARK speaks about in her book Succulent Wild Woman: Dancing With Your Wonder Full Self: radical self-acceptance. The God/dess gave you a beautiful gift, your body, and it is up to you how you choose to celebrate it.

This story "Please Don’t Get Sucked In By Fad Diets" was written by Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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