Sunday, October 9, 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Loose - What I Learned this Yom Kippur

Photo Courtesy From NYU Local
"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." It's a line from one of my favorite shows, Friday Night Lights. Until yesterday, it was just a line that football players said.  Today it means a whole lot more.  

Saturday I just finished celebrating Yom Kippur.  For those of you who don't know, Yom Kippur is the most significant day on the Jewish calendar.  It is the day when we atone for sins committed over the past year and ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged.  Depending on your level of observance, it is customary for most people to fast and it is the one day of the year when almost all Jews attend services at their local synagogue. 

Before I talk about my experience this Yom Kippur I need to give a little back story to some realizations I've made as a dietitian these past few months.  Through different readings and lectures, I've come to learn that I am a firm believer in intuitive eating and the idea of Health at Every Size® (HAES®).  To learn more about each of these ideas I would recommend you read the following books, Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size®.  What I like about both of these approaches to eating is: 
  1. They reject the dieting approach to weight loss
  2. They honor our hunger
  3. There is a focus on healthy behaviors rather than what a scale says
  4. They improve our relationship with food.
If you want to read a great recap of HAES vs. conventional weight loss ideas, read these two blog posts here and here from a debate at this year's Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE). It will make you think about how our society thinks about weight loss.

Let's get back to Yom Kippur.  I have been wrestling with the question, "What do these High Holy days mean to me?"  As the sun set on Friday night my wife and I asked each other our yearly question, "Are you going to fast this year?" Based on my experience with Intuitive Eating and HAES, I thought I gave my wife some great advice.  "If you are going to focus all of your thoughts on food, you will lose the meaning of the day.  How will you be able to think about forgiveness and atonement if you are obsessing about when the fast will end?" I was proud of my advice and my wife for deciding not to fast.

I myself, though, didn't take my own advice.  I was convinced that I could fast and be open to inspiration.  I woke up in the morning and prepared to go to temple.  During services, our Rabbi gave a very thought-provoking and inspirational sermon.  I was listening, but not really listening.  I was thinking about food.  I was not receptive to my own inspiration because I was thinking about food.  So I channeled my Intuitive Eating gurus and thought, "Reject the diet mentality. Honor your hunger!"  I came home and ate.  There was no guilt, no shame, no negative self-talk.   The hunger was gone and believe it or not, the inspiration that was planted by the Rabbi and by my experiences from FNCE grew.  

After lunch, my wife and I walked with our kids to a family service near our house and inspiration continued to grow.  I remembered something my wife said to me  during our discussion the night before, "I fast and I feel so bad that by the afternoon, I eat.  I spend the whole morning fasting and waiting to fail."  What a horrible feeling as a Jew to fail on the holiest of days.  I thought to myself, reject the diet mentality because for my wife and I, the fast is not meaningful, it is a diet!  A diet that we are destined to fail. 

How can we truly atone, reflect and look inward if we are fasting?  My expertise is with food, nutrition and not with Jewish law.  I know that this notion of not fasting will offend some who are more observant, but for me, I've learned that if I honor my hunger and reject my diet mentality, I will be open to the inspiration of the day.  I will be able to really look inside and atone my sins of the past year and make amends to do better the next year.  Next year there will be no discussion with my wife.  We will not fast and we will not feel guilty for that choice.

"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."  By avoiding the fast, my eyes were clear, my heart is now full and I know that this year, I can't lose! Shana tovah, u'metukah.  A sweet and happy new year.

I welcome your comments! 


  1. Hi Aaron. I enjoyed these points and agree with them wholeheartedly...on any other day. As a Jew, I wonder if our hunger can help us get a deeper or different understanding of ourselves and our relationship with G-d. I agree that focusing on food devalues the fast, and honoring our hunger is important. That being said, I think on such a special day, we can honor it by redirecting those urges to grow and learn...honoring it in a deeper way. Just a thought.

  2. Thanks for the comments. You make a good point. I am pleased that your fast is meaningful and can help you learn and grow.