Op-Ed: I Don’t Have Time, The Food Yetzer Horo, I Should Be Learning, These Are Just Excuses

by Shmarya Richler

Last week I was interviewed on a local radio station. One of the questions the interviewer asked me was “How do I stay motivated and what can I tell people to help motivate (and stay motivated) to take care of themselves”. I answered that in my case it’s the blood pressure pills I don’t have to take. I didn’t have much time, the interview was 9 minutes, to offer advice to the listeners so I answered that everyone is different, and motivation can come from many different places.

Before we can talk about motivation let’s talk about some of the impediments to eating healthy and exercising. If we can get past these impediments, then we are on the path to being motivated and staying motivated. As I pointed out in my previous article the Rambam in Hilchot Deot mandates exercise and healthy eating. This means that you have the ability to fulfill the Mitzvah.

All MItzvohs have certain properties and requirements for fulfilling the Mitzvah. For example, Tzitzis have to be of a certain measurement. The mitzvah of Matza is fulfilled by eating 2 olives worth. The Mitzvah of Shabbos is much more complex and has many parameters. The 39 Melachos and their subcategories etc. You get the picture. On the other hand, there is one thing that each Mitzvah has and is common to them all. It’s called a Yetzer Horo. Therefore, exercise and healthy living, being a Mitzvah, has a Yetzer Horo.

How do you battle this Yetzer Horo? When it comes to exercise the yetzer horo has many arguments. I’m too old, it’s too cold, it’s too hot, and the ever convincing “I can’t”. And then there is “I don’t have time”. And sometimes it comes to you as the Rebbe says in Hayom Yom “in a silk kapoteh”. This one is crafty. “You are going to spend a half hour exercising, ess past nisht, you should be learning chasidus, or at the very least, some nigleh”.

Then there is the food yetzer horo. This one is tough. It doesn’t have to do much convincing. The availability of so many different types of food, restaurants, pizza shops, sushi bars, and the well stocked deli counter. Tap the credit card and eat. We try to eat healthy but that extra piece of cake beckons. We know we must watch what we eat, after all that visit to the to the doctor is coming up. And the “I can’t” is there also. We try but get discouraged when the scale doesn’t move. It’s impossible, the yetzer horo tries to convince us.

What counter arguments can we give to this yetzer horo? Here are a few suggestions.

“I don’t have time”

It’s true, you don’t have time. You have small children, you are running a business, you have a long commute to work. I’m not going to tell you that I know many people with all the above, yet they find time to exercise. I can’t tell you about time management. I would be a hypocrite because I am a world class procrastinator. What I can tell you is that the 30 minutes per day you spend exercising will give you back one hour during the day. That means you gain 30 minutes in your day. Mental clarity, less tiredness, feeling better physically etc. Or, as a runner I met recently said so eloquently “Exercise allows you to squeeze 25 hours into a 24 hour day”. So, next time your yetzer horo gives you this argument tell that to him in my name. You will be fulfilling the dictum “B’sheim Omroi”.

“I should be learning”

This is an easy one to counter based on better mental clarity alone. The quality of your learning will be so much better. If that doesn’t convince you get some earphones and listen to a shiur while you are exercising. That way you can fulfill two mitzvahs at the same time. I have a friend who listens to the Rebbe’s farbrengens while on the treadmill. And what about my chavrusah you ask. Well, take him or her along and do some learning while on that brisk walk.

“The food yetzer horo”

This one is particularly hard to counter. Seven years ago, before I changed my lifestyle, I was a prisoner to this yetzer horo. I was the guy at a wedding who would try to sit next to someone who didn’t order the main dish. After finishing mine I would finish his. I would sit down to a tray of sandwich cookies and milk (the big tray) and consume so many that I would get nauseous. Then I would eat some more. So, I am talking from experience. Countering this yetzer horo takes a concerted and all-consuming effort. One of the tricks I used is something we runners use when running long distances. That is, we look back at how much we accomplished instead of looking forward. For example, after running two miles of a 10 mile run, we don’t say to ourselves “I’ve got 8 miles to go”. Rather we say, “I’ve already done two miles”.

You can apply this same strategy to battling the food yetzer horo. You are trying to lose weight. You start eating better. You drop a few pounds and are feeling better. Don’t say “I’ve got this many pounds to go”. Rather say “Look at that, I’ve dropped a few pounds”.

Another trick is to eat from a smaller plate realizing that the brain registers fullness only 15-20 minutes after eating. So, a smaller plate dictates a smaller portion.

One of the best defenses against this yetzer horo is that the better you eat the better you will feel. Try it for a week. See how much better you feel. If you feel better, then the yetzer horos arguments for eating two bags of potato chips falls flat. You know that you won’t feel good after eating them. The important thing is to start. Once you start and are feeling better things get easier. I know because I am now a benoni when it comes to sandwich cookies. They still call out to me in the grocery store, but I am able to push the thought away just like the Alter Rebbe describes in Tanya.

So, let’s get back to motivation. Everyone is different. For some of us motivation will come from being in better health. For others it may be the good feeling. And then there is the motivation from knowing that exercise helps to prevent heart disease and strokes. Or helping to lose weight. So, start. Take brisk walks, use a bike, got to a gym etc. Get you heart beating faster. Limit, but don’t eliminate completely, the unhealthy things you are eating. Eliminating something completely sets you up for falling back. Don’t go on a crazy diet. Take a slow measured approach. Don’t put numbers on things. When I started eating better, I had no specific amount of weight I wanted to lose. I just wanted to eat better. Putting numbers and unrealistic goals will only set you up for discouragement when the goal is too far away. And remember that you are your best motivator.

And remember the three P’s: “Patience, perseverance, and perspiration”

Have a healthy summer!

To reach out to the author, email: health@richler.org

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