Fretting About Fressing

Apples dipped in honey. And while you’re at it, dip the challah, too. Chicken soup with knaidel. Here, who’s gonna finish this last little piece of brisket? What? You didn’t try the noodle kugel? Don’t tell me you’re too full for my homemade honey cake and cookies — it’s Yom Tov!

While Rosh Hashana meals are meant to be sweet, to herald in what we hope will be a sweet new year, the result more often can be a day of belt-loosening and naps rather than the soul-searching that God intended. And after two days of fressing like this, weighing yourself can be an experience as bitter as Pesach maror. If we’re not careful, even the fast day that follows Rosh Hashana (Tzom Gedalia) may not undo our self-inflicted damage. Hey, I don’t know about you, but I already have enough chest-pounding planned for Yom Kippur; I don’t want to have to hit myself extra hard when it comes to the one that says, "and for the sin we have sinned before You with food and drink…."

But let’s be honest. Rosh Hashana is only the beginning — Judaism offers year-round opportunities to overdo it. After our New Year, Sukkot is only days away, and we’re dipping that challah in honey again as we sit in our lovely sukkot, celebrating God’s eternal providence to our people. And the cycle continues: Chanukah, with oil-slicked latkes and sufganiyot; carbo-laden Purim treats in our shalach manot baskets, which we better finish in a hurry because they’re chametz and Pesach is coming. (Pesach can be a Dr. Atkins dieter’s dream, since bread and pasta are verboten, but just watch out for all that potato starch in the cakes!)

And none of this even includes Shabbat! Each and every week, we are blessed with the beautiful, magical, spiritually renewing, and yet from a weight-watching viewpoint, still potentially lethal day. I’ll admit: for years, the most vigorous exercise I got was elbowing my way past the crowds at shul to the "Kiddush" tables, trying to have at some rugelach.

When I first became observant more than 15 years ago, I wondered how I’d cope with all this wonderful holiday and Shabbat food and not end up as big as Mount Sinai. As someone who used to think of "portion control" as something airlines did to annoy passengers, I soon learned it was an essential fact of life. I’ve mastered the art of abstaining from the "Kiddush" table, and I’ve greatly improved in my ability to keep my hands off a second piece of challah. But just put anything chocolate on the table for dessert and I’m a goner. Unless the chocolate has been molested by something horrid like coconut or nougat, I’ll have some and savor every bite. I just plan on doing an extra aerobics tape the following week. I think that’s a fine trade-off.

I estimate that over the years I have served close to 900 holiday and Shabbat meals for my own family and guests. (That’s a lot of chicken.) I’ve also found that as my cooking has become "lighter," my guests have been profuse with gratitude, even when I lay out something as simple as steamed snow peas and red peppers as a vegetable. Maybe it’s because we live in California and have to look at too many "beautiful people" at the gym, but no matter: I know that in the cooking department, light makes right, and people who know they are just hours away from another Yom Tov meal usually appreciate not being drugged by an overdose of shmaltz in the potato kugel.

And speaking of kugel, I have to go now. The aroma from the kitchen tells me that my kugel (only a quarter-cup of oil for eight potatoes) is about ready.

In any case, I’m not too worried about the Rosh Hashana meals. For one thing, I’ve never liked honey cake, or challah with raisins for that matter. After I take out the kugel, I’m going to bake a batch of my family’s favorite chocolate chip cookies.

After all, it is Yom Tov.

Judy Gruen is the author of “Carpool Tunnel Syndrome.” Her next book, “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout,” will be published in January by Champion Press.