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Lifelines: Weighty Deliberations

C. Saphir

I wasn’t fat, I just had a good appetite, and needed fuel to keep me going both in the beis medrash and on the court

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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HEAVYWEIGHT I would convince myself that my weight wasn’t really a problem — until I was faced with stark evidence to the contrary, such as when I found myself huffing and puffing up a flight of steps, or groaning as I got out of the car

B ack in my days as a bochur, I was a dream guest, the guy who would take second and third helpings of cholent and help the hostess by polishing off the last piece of kugel on the platter so she shouldn’t be stuck with leftovers.

I was also very athletic, one of the first guys to be picked on a baseball or basketball team. I enjoyed playing sports, and I played a lot — during bein hasedorim, in the evenings, and on Friday and Motzaei Shabbos. My husky frame did not hinder me on the field; on the contrary, it gave me power. In baseball I hit long home runs, in basketball I couldn’t be boxed out, and in hockey no one could body-check me.

As a kid and a bochur, I was never self-conscious about my weight, nor did I try to limit my eating. Here and there, my friends would tease me — “Hey, Bergstein, are you going for the Guinness record on doughnuts this Chanukah?” — but every bochur gets teased about something, so I didn’t take the ribbing personally. I wasn’t fat, I just had a good appetite, and I needed fuel to keep me going both in the beis medrash and on the basketball court.

It was after I got married that my weight started to become a bit of a concern, thanks to my wife’s excellent cooking. As a kollel yungerman, I still had a hearty appetite, but I was no longer balancing out my eating with strenuous physical activity. My kollel friends weren’t heading out to the park during bein hasedorim, and even if I’d wanted to find other people to play with, I simply didn’t have the time. Between my learning and my responsibilities to my wife and kids, there wasn’t any time for a game of baseball. The only time I went out to play was during summer bein hazmanim. After a year of not being out on the field, running after the ball caused painful cramping in my legs, but I figured that was an unavoidable part of getting older.

I wasn’t really fat. I was just… a little overweight. When I found myself struggling to close my belt on the last hole, I decided that it was time to lose weight, so I resolved to steer clear of cake. That resolution worked — for about six months. I lost a few pounds, which made it easier to close my belt, but eventually I lost my resolve and went right back to eating cake, which for me meant not one slice, but two or three.

“Hillel, you’re eating an awful lot,” my wife would remark on occasion. “It’s not healthy.” Here and there, she would also comment that I was gaining weight. “You used to look much better,” she’d tell me.

On the whole, however, she didn’t nag me about my eating habits or my weight, which was a good thing, because hearing comments from her just made me feel irritated. I put in a full day in kollel, plus I did plenty of errands and helped with the kids, and the last thing I needed was someone watching disapprovingly as I dug into my third piece of chicken.

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