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Beating Kevin

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Today, my Weight Watcher leader asked our meeting: what was your motivation for coming to Weight Watchers? And she added: how has your motivation changed since you started Weight Watchers? This was a surprisingly hard question to answer. Why do I keep coming? My meeting is on Tuesdays, my days off. Wouldn't I rather have a calm quiet morning at home? I do love my group, but haven't I learned what I need to learn?

So I had to time travel to remember what 16 year old Dahlia felt like when she first stepped foot in Weight Watchers. I was sweet and friendly. Obviously, I was overweight. I was not overly ambitious and I didn't think I was very smart or capable. My self worth was low.

Many of us have stories of being bullied as kids for being fat. In 5th grade, the nurse was weighing each of us and checking our hearing. You remember those tests where you had to raise your hand when you heard that ping? Anyway, nurses did this terrible thing where they said your weight out loud in front of other kids.  I dreaded this every year. When it was my turn, she announced in front of my group that I weighed 110 (as a 9 year old). One schmuck made sure to tell the other kids who weren't there and I instantly felt ashamed. I continued to feel that shame until my 2nd weigh in at Weight Watchers. This time the woman who weighed me in said only to me after my first week on program: "You have lost 8 pounds." I couldn't help but cry.

I kept going to meetings. I gained incredible tools and losing weight just felt good. But something else happened. I began to love myself. Really think the world of myself. I had suddenly proven that Dahlia Bernstein was strong and successful at something. I would wake up in the morning and I couldn't wait to be me. And that was so different from how I felt before when I was envious of everyone else and thought that there was something inherently wrong with me.

I had transformed. I think of it like Jacob in the Torah who wrestled with the angel. They physically fought and Jacob limped the rest of his life as proof that he had struggled.  While I do not walk with a limp, I have the stretch marks to show how hard I have worked. After the struggle, Jacob begs the man not to leave without blessing him. And so he does: "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome (Genesis 32:21-31)." Israel means "struggles with God." Jacob was a changed man, with the name change to prove it. But something always bothered me.  You would think that the Torah would only call him Israel from that moment on, but that is not true. The text oscillates between the name Jacob and Israel. I have always hated this inconsistency, but it makes perfect sense to me now. Just because we have achieved something, it doesn't mean the work is done. The struggle continues.

Since my initial Weight Loss, I have joined and rejoined at least 4 times because I'm a Weight Watcher. I watch my weight go up, I watch my weight go down.  I am now at goal and I am holding on tight. Sometimes it feels like my control could slip away at any moment. I should give myself more credit, but this is hard. This is a struggle. I wish that I could say that I learned it once and therefore never make those same mistakes, but this is just not true. When I feel panicked I immediately want to eat something chocolaty. But I refuse to go back to a place where I don't love myself. That self worth is too precious. My weight may go up but I know what I have achieved and know that I can get myself to where I want to be again.

It's clear to me now: I continue to go to meetings because I discovered the best version of myself and I'll be damned if I'm going to let that go.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Is it worth it?

Sticking to the plan is hardest for me at night. I could have had the healthiest day of eating and then get thrown off of my game by forces that compel me to put food in my mouth. Usually it's to sooth an emotion like boredom, frustration or anger. Sometimes I'm feeling happy and I just want more of it. And what better way to increase my happiness than to eat 2 Weight Watchers mini bars, a frozen brownie, popcorn (you need something salty to counter the sweet), and one of those delicious chocolate chip cookies from Costco (back to sweet)? By the end of my rampage, I have consumed everything but the kitchen sink because I have become a mad woman for 1/2 an hour. It's as if there is a buzzing demon voice telling me that I'm not satisfied and I need to find what's next to assuage my angst. And when the 1/2 an hour is up I feel disgusted and ashamed.

These truly are forces for evil fighting against my scale. Now, because I have found some great tools at my Weight Watchers meetings, sometimes I can muster up another voice asking me:"Is it worth it?"  Unfortunately, the buzzing demon wins often and it is a constant battle of good and evil inside my brain.

I remember when my meeting leader wrote that phrase, "Is it worth it" on a big poster and drew a heart around it. Sometimes the answer to that question is yes (cheesecake on my birthday) and sometimes it's no (eating peanut butter out of the container with a teaspoon). Seeing that little message was a eureka moment and I took a picture and set it as the wallpaper on my iphone. Believe it or not, it reminded me of a Jewish teaching that usually pops up around the High Holidays when I am preparing sermons.

Maimonides (a famous 12th century commentator) writes that a Jew must view herself and the entire world as equally balanced between good and evil, and that her every word, thought, and action can tip the balance towards good or evil. Each of us can have a tremendous impact on the world and on ourselves.

Well....that is a little overwhelming to think of myself as having that much power. Talk about pressure. But let's think of the implications. Each and every moment has the ability to change the future. The immense injustice in the world can make us feel helpless to change anything, but this teaching says that important change starts with the very next decision you make. That is empowering and I think that the same principle goes for weight loss.

When I first began my weight loss journey 14 years ago, the idea of losing 40 pounds seemed impossible. But Weight Watchers told me, start with a smaller goal and 1 action step. Lose .8 and get a bravo. Lose 5% of your weight and get a cute little 5% key ring. Make one change this week in your diet. Introduce one fruit that you don't normally eat. Walk for 10 more minutes than you did last week.

It also erases the past. The only thing you need to think about is the decision you make right now. It doesn't matter how many times you have put the pounds back on. This is the moment to make a change. Not tomorrow or Monday, right now, and only you can do it.

In essence, it all comes down to this moment. Growth and change only happen through small decisions made in the present. Sometimes I say that I will never be able to keep up a healthy lifestyle of eating, but I'll let future Dahlia worry about that. Right now, the only thing I have to ask myself is, "Is it Worth It" and I'll go from there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Now that Passover is behind us, I'm left with a quandary... what should I do with my leftovers? This random collection of goodies includes a macaroon crust cheesecake (my Seder was dairy), 5 or 6  of those sloppy fruit on the bottom yogurts, chocolate covered almonds from Costco, and a lot of kosher for Passover ice cream. I'm trying to get back to my tried and tested habits and these distractions will not help....But I feel torn.

Aaron, my husband, and I are not big fans of wasting food. I think of that scene in Dirty Dancing where Baby's mother stares at her leftovers and  asks her daughter if there are still starving children in Europe. In fact, there is a Jewish concept called Bal Tashchit, a prohibition against wasting that which has the potential for good in the world.  If I was going to boil it down to one word, it would be GUILT.

This week also happens to coincide with Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance day and my mind goes to the 6 million Jews and those others who were murdered, starved, and deprived of their humanity and my problem is over abundance??? I feel like such a shmuck!

On the other hand, I must treat my body with dignity and I am not a human garbage disposal. 

So this is what I'm working through:

1. Having leftovers in the house isn't good for my health and success on the scale.
2. Throwing out the food spits in the face of those who have been hungry and those who are currently hungry. 
3. There is an inherent Jewish value in maximizing the usefulness in the world.

So, what should I do? I'm trying to find the synergy of my values so I looked at the bottom line:

1. Some of the food does not entice me (especially the yogurts) and Aaron likes them and will eventually eat them so they can stay.
2. Some food can be donated to someone who is hungry. Aaron often brings food into the city with him to give to those who are asking for something to eat. Please don't get me wrong. We need to be wary that were not treating anyone like a human garbage disposal. But if the food can do good, then we'll find a way.
3. Some food I will have to throw.

And if feeding the hungry and not wasting is truly on my mind, then I have to make it a real priority. There is an amazing organization, called Leket, that collects perfectly good fresh produce that farmers are about to discard and cooked food from events and distributes it to the hungry in Israel. I just donated to them. Here is the link if you want to donate.

Happy Hametz!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trepidation and Exaggeration

Eating matza all week is doing a number on my scale and my kishkes. After 2 Seders, at least 8 cups of wine, and too many matza balls, I was 110% sure that I gained 5 pounds. I almost didn't go to my meeting because I just didn't want to see it on the scale, as if my full 40 pounds had come back.

Well, I went for 2 long jogs, sucked it up, and went to my meeting... Magically, I was only up .8. It felt like a miracle. Not as big as a sea splitting, but close.

I can't help thinking that we make way more out of a situation than what is actually there and the fear can be crippling and keep up from moving forward.  This is what I saw when I prepared the Torah reading for 7th day of Passover. The Israelites are fleeing Egypt ( in Hebrew, Mitsrayim can also be translated as narrow place). We read  "And the Israelites looked back and Egypt was chasing after them (Exodus 14:10)."  It didn't say that they saw Pharaoh and his army, which would have been more accurate. They, in all of their fear and trepidation, imagined that the entire nation of Egypt was pursuing them.

It reminds me of a teaching from the sages that God created everything on Earth except for exaggeration. Human beings created that. Not that we don't have real obstacles to success, but sometimes we blow our slip ups out of purportion and allow fear to halt our weight loss and our success. How many times did I stop going to meetings because I hated seeing gains on the scale? As if not going was going to make the gain disappear. I imagined stepping on the scale at a meeting and feeling this huge wave of disappointment wash over me.  It was easier and more pleasant to just stop looking, stay home, and whine about it to my friends.

What have I learned? It's better for the journey to push through the inevitable disappointments and fears in order to stay on course. I need to remind myself that my mind blows that fear out of proportion. God said to Moses, "stop whining and move on forward ( Exodus 14:15)" and that's what I take away. My mind is the biggest obstacle to success. It has an easy time exaggerating my failures and it glosses over my successes and it makes me want to shut myself in.

It is time to stop feeling like all of Egypt is on our heels every time we try and break free and time to start remembering that we have extreme power behind us on this journey out of our narrow places.