the myth of Shabbos weight gain

One of the biggest things that I hear from a lot of my clients is that after Yom Tov or Shabbos they tend to gain weight at the beginning of the week, and as the week goes on, they lose the weight and they go back to themselves, only to gain it the following Shabbos. And the cycle continues. Over the course of the week it’s up a few pounds, down a few pounds, and the following week, up a few pounds, down a few pounds. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions I work through with my clients. And that is, that when we’re bloated it doesn’t mean we’ve “gained weight”.

If over a long period of time we consistently eat a lot of food, that is to say more food than we need, then yes, eventually our bodies will turn it into fat. But if it’s a one off thing here and there that we eat too much food, then our bodies, in their brilliance, will know how to properly allocate it. So temporarily it may seem that you’ve “put on weight”, especially if you go on the scale and you see that the number went up.

The thing is that it’s really normal for our bodies to go up and down a few pounds over the course of the day, the week, the month, and the year depending on the seasons, what foods are available, and how active you are. It’s very normal to go up and down, anywhere from about 3-8 pounds. There’s a certain amount of fluctuation in the number that we see on the scale — which is exactly one of the reasons I don’t recommend going on the scale at all — because if we see the number go down then we feel like we hit a major victory, and if the number goes up then we feel very badly about ourselves, when really the numbers are completely meaningless because it’s not that we actually gained or lost any fat.

Usually at this point my clients respond by saying, “No, I ate a lot of food on Shabbos, we ate a lot of food on Yom Tov, and that’s why I put on all this weight. Right? Because I ate more than I was supposed to. If I ate extra calories, then my body is going to turn those into fat.”

When Yom Tov or Shabbos come around and we see the number go up on the scale, or our clothes feel tighter on us we panic. If you think about it, on Shabbos we are eating more food than usual, eating saltier foods, richer foods, sugary drinks and soda and not drinking enough water, we’re eating at different times than when we normally eat during the week — we eat very late at night, and then wait a very long time until we eat our lunch meal, after perhaps a small kiddush in the morning… there is a lot of variation in the way we eat on Shabbos. All that in and of itself will often lead to some sort of bloating or “water weight”. That’s why what ends up happening, after Shabbos and/or Yom Tov are over, the weight tends to go back down, and our clothes go back to fitting us how they normally fit.

And it’s not just the way we eat on Shabbos — but it’s also the way we sleep and the way we feel about ourselves. If you are a person who tends to get stressed when it comes to Shabbos or Yom Tov, even the stress can cause us to get bloated from all that gas our “butterflies” are creating or retain water and look a bit rounder than usual since stress releases cortisol which causes water retention.

The takeaway is as follows: when you look in the mirror and you see that you are a bit rounder than usual, a little bit less “ideal” than how you want to look, just to recognize that this is NORMAL. It’s normal for there to be a fluctuation. It’s normal for there to be some up and down. Whether it’s coming from stress, lack of sleep, the types of foods your’e eating, the schedule of your eating, the amounts you’re eating — this is TEMPORARY. This is not a permament way that you look. It’s not like you suddenly put on 10 pounds…and it will go down.

Now, you may ask, “but 2 pounds of water still equals 2 pounds. What difference does it make where the weight is coming from?

The danger in this is in our thinking when we wake up on Shabbos morning or the day after Shabbos, or the day after Yom Tov, and suddenly we look in the mirror, and our skirt doesn’t close as well as it usually does, the shirt we’re wearing doesn’t lie as well, our faces feel a bit fuller…and we look in the mirror and think, “Uch, I’m so fat. I’m SO fat. Uch.” And then everytime we pass ourselves in the mirror, that’s what we think — Uch, I’m so fat. And everytime we tug on our skirt.

When we feel that our clothes are snug on us, we’ve been trained to think that we’ve gained weight and there’s something wrong with the way we’ve been acting and eating, and something has to change.

Usually what ends up happening is people tend to go to the oppposite extreme. Oh my gosh, I have to be so good about what I eat today, I have to be so careful about what I put in my mouth, I have to find a new diet now (incidentally, many low calorie diets actually cause water retention)…when in reality what we need to be doing is being patient and returning to our regular eating habits and allowing our bodies to settle in a healthy place.

I want to share with you that I myself still struggle with this from time to time. It’s hard for me to wake up on Shabbos or Yom Tov morning after I’ve planned out my outfits, and when I look in the mirror I see that what I wanted to wear isn’t going to fit me well today, and so I have to choose something that’s a little bit roomier. Something different than what I wanted to wear. And the first thing is to just accept these feelings. To recognize that it’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to want things to be different.

It’s when I’m desperate for things to change and I need it to happen NOW — THAT’S when we get in this war with ourselves of “I hate the way I look and need to go on a diet right now.” “I can’t do this intuitive eating thing anymore.” “There’s something wrong with me; I need to be fixed.”

THAT’S when we have those negative thoughts. (These are the same thoughts that lead to binging!)

Once we can accept that it’s okay to WANT things to be different, only then can I tell myself that things WILL be different. And I can have patience until it happens.

This, too, will pass. And when we continue to take care of ourselves, and we continue to be mindful of the way we eat, and eat in a way that feels good for us, and move our bodies in a way that feels amazing — then we’ll know and trust that — not that our bodies will suddenly become the image we want them to become — but rather that the way we feel about the changes our bodies may have gone through over Shabbos or Yom Tov are temporary changes, and we will go back to ourselves.

When you are feeling down about the way you look, there are some things you can do to really pick yourself up. What I mentioned about letting yourself feel the feeling is great. For all you practical, down to earth ones, here’s something very physical you can do: And that is — to wear clothes that make you feel really, really great.

It doesn’t have to be that outfit that you had planned to wear. It can be something else with a little bit more room. Really dress yourself up: put on makeup, put on a sheitel or tichel that you really love. Stand up a little bit straighter. Put a smile on yourself. Use your favorite cream and/or perfume. If you don’t own anything that you feel amazing in, it’s time to make that investment. When we feel amazing, we act amazing. We gain confidence and security and are way more effective as a mother/wife/human being!

So even though these aren’t “permanent” fixes, they will give you the space to stay in the moment and accept and love who you are right now in order to make smart, balanced choices.

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