Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5766 - May 10, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

But She Can't Be Fat
By Bayla Gimmel

There is an expression that goes something like, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." I am afraid that what I am about to share with you will put me squarely into the category of the confirmed foolish, but I feel it is so important a subject that I am willing to take that chance.

Someone mentioned that a former schoolmate of my son has recently gone into shidduchim. He is a very good boy. Since I know many wonderful girls who are also at that stage in life, my ears perked up. I asked what type of girl this young man is looking for. I was directed to a member of the young man's family who is doing all the research and making all of the arrangements.

In answer to my question, I received the following rather terse answer: "The usual. Fine character, good family, the right schools. Looks aren't so important, but she can't be fat." It wasn't much, but he said it all. And this young man is not alone.

I grew up in the aftermath of World War II when survivors were subconsciously or sometimes consciously force-feeding their children. No one could blame them. They remembered that it was the fat children who had had the best chance of living through the unspeakably horrible ordeal that was then freshly behind them.

There was an expression that was used in those years to describe overweight children. They were called, "pleasingly plump." Today, pleasingly plump is an oxymoron. It does not please anyone to be overweight. Not the person with the weight problem, not the parents and certainly not possible shidduch prospects.

What are we doing about this? Many young women are naturally thin and they never have to deal with the problem. When it comes time to go out, they have relatively few issues in the "looks" department. They do have to concentrate on what to wear, how to fix their hair and how to apply their makeup in the most flattering manner.

But what about the girl who is overweight? Describing her as, "She has such a pretty face," or "She carries her weight well" just doesn't do it. The boy's family probably has a list a mile long and they are used to these code expressions for overweight. Chances are they won't do any further research.

Sometimes, if the weight issue doesn't come up naturally, the questioner may even ask, "Tell me, does she wear a size six?" If not, then not. The girl may have the best middos, be descended from the most prominent of families and have sterling recommendations from all of her teachers and friends. The conversation still ends with, "Well, thank you for your time. Good-bye."

So now we have the problem. Even 25 extra pounds today is a shidduch taboo. What is the solution? One thing that almost never works with an eighteen-year-old girl who has had a weight problem for as long as she can remember is nagging. Even subtle hints like, "Look at this great new diet I got from my friend," can result in a slammed door as the young lady leaves the room post haste.

There is an old joke, "It is easy to stop smoking. I've done it thousands of times." It is much the same with losing weight. Yo-yo dieting is frustrating and does not get you anywhere. Crash diets are very dangerous for teenage girls. They can lead to food obsessions, health problems, and even endanger a young woman's chances of having children.

There is no easy "fix." A post-seminary girl cannot expect to shed a quarter or a third of her body weight in the time that a shadchan stands on one foot.

I would like to propose that families of girls (and sometimes boys, also) who are overweight in childhood, consider changing their entire family's eating patterns. You can't single out the one chubby child and tell her/him "No more potato chips, brownies, ice cream and candy bars for you." It has to be a team effort.

Why am I bringing this up now? We are now post Pesach. During that one important week of the year, many of us are in the "from scratch" mode. We use very little in the way of prepared foods. Somehow, we manage to get through the week with simple desserts like baked apples, poached pears, fresh fruit salad, watermelon and frozen bananas.

For Shabbos and Yom Tov, we may bake some family Pesach specialties, but generally they are light chiffon or sponge type cakes, they don't have frosting, and since there are lots of people around the table, everyone gets a very small piece.

Why not carry this forward into the coming year? Junk food isn't good for anyone. It is empty calories derived from sugars and fats. Who needs it?

Let's redo our menu plans. I know that everyone and her sister serves potato bourekas with creamed mushroom sauce as the first course at sheva brochos, but why not have a fresh vegetable salad with low-fat toppings like fresh sliced mushrooms and sprouts instead? And for the main course, instead of fried schnitzel, how about a stir-fry of non- breaded white meat chicken strips with onions, celery, zucchini, carrots and lots of other vegetables?

Now for the side dishes. Green beans taste just fine steamed or prepared in tomato sauce. They don't have to be saturated with margarine. And potatoes can be baked and served right in their skins. They don't have to arrive at the table swimming in grease. You get the picture. We can all cut down on fats and sugars. It isn't just a way for the overweight among us to lose some extra pounds. It is a heart-healthy way for everyone to eat.

Now for another suggestion: The ideal way to lose weight is to exercise, and one of the best exercises is walking. If a young woman does get to her mid teens with a weight problem, she can find a walking partner and go out for a brisk daily early-morning or early-evening walk. I used this method almost twenty years ago to get rid of the extra poundage I had been schlepping around for years. My oldest son was six months away from the age that most of the boys in his yeshiva enter shidduchim.

I had put on ten extra pounds with each of my last four pregnancies and I was now huffing and puffing my way through early middle-age. My goal was to buy a nice, stylish dress for my son's wedding — and not in the fat lady's department. For forty-five minutes, every morning except Shabbos and Yom Tov, for many, many months, I put my youngest son in his stroller and walked briskly around my neighborhood. On rainy days, we drove to the nearby shopping mall and did our walk inside.

It worked! I'm still not reed-thin, but by the wedding, I was 35 pounds lighter. Of course, the walking wasn't the whole story. I slowly modified my eating pattern during that period and have been eating a more healthy diet ever since. Somehow, when you know that it is going to take a week or longer to walk off that box of chocolate truffles, they don't look quite as appetizing!

I know some wonderful overweight young girls who have gone into shidduchim with the announced attitude, "I'm an up front person. What you see is what you get." When their parents put out the word that they were looking, but the telephone failed to ring, they consoled themselves that they were still young and they had time.

It wasn't until their mid-twenties that they took a long hard look in the mirror and started slimming down. But the problem was that by that time, most of the men their age had already married. Of course weight is not the only thing that can stand between an eligible young lady and the chuppah. But when dealing with a delicate equation, why factor in a well-known drawback?

This is truly a very difficult subject, and I apologize to anyone and everyone whose feelings I may have hurt. But I feel very strongly that it was worth penning these ideas even if just one family takes these long term family eating- modification suggestions to heart and just one girl is spared the heartache of going into shidduchim at a weight that is considered unacceptable by today's rigorous—- albeit more- than-a-little ridiculous—-"standards."


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