How to Mindfully Eat a Latke on Chanukah

By Sara Solomon

latkes_shutterstockFor as long as I can remember, celery has been my favorite food. No kidding. I am more likely to pile my plate high with vegetables than any other food. My second favorite food group has always been dessert. This leads me to wonder, is it possible to have a healthy diet and also enjoy treats?

Our world today is bombarded by diet books, gurus and social media posts touting the best way to eat. Some ask us to cut out carbohydrates. Others tell us that sugar is as addictive as illegal drugs. Many suggest that we use points systems, powders and supplements to teach our bodies how to eat right.

This leads me to my next question. If we tune out all of this external eating advice, do our bodies know how to intuitively eat correctly? You better believe it! As a health coach focusing on mindful eating, I have the privilege of telling people on a daily basis that they are the experts on how to best nourish their bodies.

Mindful eating in a non-diet approach to eating. By tuning in to our body’s needs through meditation exercises and meditation practice, we are able to re-connect with our body’s innate hunger and satiety cues. For many people, it is life changing to understand what it feels like to be hungry and how to re-direct their attention when they are full.

I am often asked how mindful eating can fit in to an Orthodox lifestyle. With so many holidays, Shabbat, and semachot, there is always a reason to eat! The best way to start is by thinking about making small changes. Mindful eating is called a “practice” because it is something that we all have to continue to work on throughout the year.

There is no better time to start a mindful eating practice than Chanukah. I recently took a poll of clients and found that many are concerned about not being able to keep their eating under control with two crowd-pleasers: latkes and sufganiyot. They are by design both fried and very high in calories, and many of us have been told to take them off of our acceptable eating list.

While I am a big fan of baked latkes made with sweet potatoes and whole grain dough versions of sufganiyot, there are times when newer versions of old standbys just don’t hit the spot. Instead of depriving myself of foods I really love, I focus more now on eating them in moderation. It is equally empowering to pass on a holiday treat when I realize I am just not hungry as it is to eat the real thing with pleasure.

To help you in your first Chanukah mindful eating experiment, I have devised the perfect recipe for mindfully eating latkes at your next family gathering:

1. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. You can also take a few deep breaths without closing your eyes if that is more comfortable for you.

2. Think about how hungry you are on a scale of 1-10. If you are very hungry, give yourself a number close to 10. If you are not very hungry, give yourself a number close to 1.

3. Serve yourself a portion that fits with the number you have in mind, but try to serve yourself a slightly smaller portion than you would usually take.

4. As you eat the first latke, take in all of the flavors you love. Maybe it is the potato or the onion that peaks your senses. Try to chew slowly to enjoy these flavors.

5. Mid-way through your plate, take a break. Take another deep breath or two and note how hungry you are now. If you are almost full, take a few minutes to see if you still want to finish the remaining latkes. You might be surprised that taking extra time to eat left you full!

6. Alternatively, since you took a smaller portion than usual, ate slowly and savored that delicious latke, take a bit more if your food break left you with a rumbling tummy.

Most people find that once they are given permission to enjoy the foods they love, they eat less and feel more satiated. While I am always in favor of a pile of vegetables on my plate, I also do plan to mindfully enjoy real-deal fried latkes this Chanukah.

Sara Solomon is a health and mindful eating coach and founder of Your Inner Kitchen LLC. She is a Mindfulness Based Eating Awareness (MB-EAT) qualified instructor based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Visit www.yourinnerkitchen.org/retreat for more information about upcoming programs and mindful eating retreats.