A few months after the birth of my third child, I felt constantly exhausted. Even a good night’s sleep couldn’t cure the fatigue. When my doctor told me that the condition was likely the result of higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, I sank down into the proverbial pit of despair.
The gestational diabetes I had during my pregnancy was supposed to have vanished with the birth of my daughter, or so I had thought. Why was it sticking around? I had followed all the rules when I was pregnant. I refrained from excess sugar, exercised regularly, filled out the blood sugar charts, and took my vitamins. The advice the doctor gave me was ambiguous. “Just learn to manage your sugar levels and you will be fine.”
“But How?!” I asked.
The doctor told me to go to a website for Pre-diabetics. The recommendations on the various websites were just as ambiguous, with tag lines such as, eat healthy carbohydrates, make a workout schedule, and get your blood sugar levels checked regularly. Which carbs, I wanted to know, how much exercise? It all felt so overwhelming. While sifting through the heap of health information, I was also feverishly taking care of three young children, and in the process of moving to Israel. Needless to say, my health concerns got packed away and forgotten amongst the bustle of the move and adjusting to a new life in a foreign country.
We were greeted with an intense heatwave upon arrival in Israel. Subsequently, the last thing I was in the mood for was grabbing some free weights for a hard-core sweat session. What was worse, our downstairs neighbors rang the doorbell every time we ramped up the noise level louder than a humming fridge. If we failed to, “keep it down,” they would pay us a personal visit. They visited us often, so I became afraid to move, let alone do a proper workout.
So, I did what I needed to do to cope: Slept excessively, binge-watched, and stuffed my face with whatever takeout food I and my family agreed on for dinner. My weight increased, I was permanently exhausted, and I began to fear that my blood sugar would remain high, perhaps for the rest of my life. Little did I know, the start of my health journey was right around the corner. It began in the most unusual way, at a restaurant.
I passed up dessert. Not intentionally. Dessert had been ordered while I had taken one of my girls to use the bathroom. When I returned, I saw the remains of cheesecake on everyone’s plate, except for mine. A few mumbles of apology were made, but my feelings were hurt. A few weeks later, these same friends invited us to their home for dinner. When they offered me a piece of cake, I stuck up my nose and refused it.
A small voice spoke inside me. If you can refuse dessert out of spite, surely, you can refuse it for the sake of your own health! It was the slap I needed to change my ways. I spent the rest of the year, politely refusing dessert, not out of spite, but for the sake of my own wellbeing. The result? My blood sugar began to come down. While cutting out dessert was a good start, I knew there was more to a balanced diet and I was determined to find it.
As luck would have it, I met Debra Waldoks on the first day of Ulpan. I learned that we lived in the same neighborhood and that our children were of similar ages and even in the same classes at school. Then I noticed her delicious snack, a buckwheat salad with sliced tomatoes, fresh dill, and oven-roasted sweet potatoes. “I want some,” I joked, but my mouth was practically salivating over the sight of her food.
The next day she brought me a container of homemade food. It was scrumptious. That’s when I learned that not only was Debra a good cook, but also a registered dietitian. I wanted the wonderful surge of natural energy I was feeling to continue, so I set up a consultation.
Debra helped guide me away from foods with shallow health claims, such as sugar stuffed cereal bars, low-fat candies, cakes, and my personal bugaboo, diet drinks. Instead, she taught me how to make delicious recipes out of lean protein, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. One of my favorite quotes from Debra is, “count nutrients, not calories.” And that is what I have been doing ever since.
A few years later, after I had found a healthy balance in my diet, it was time to incorporate fitness. My luck struck again when I met Sabrina Perl at a mutual friend for Shabbat lunch. I loved her holistic approach to diet and exercise and booked a session.
Sabrina worked with me to reach my fitness goals. Her mantra was, “fitness is something you need to enjoy, not dread.” I stopped doing workouts I found tedious, such as Zumba, and tried instead a combination of aerobics and strength training. The muscles began to build and build.
Sabrina also showed me a more nutritious way of sweetening my food, by using fruit. Now I add apple slices to meatballs, chopped dates to my yogurt, and dried cranberries to squash. It satisfies the craving for something sweet while being super delicious.
Good fortune, or should I say, divine providence struck again when my husband’s cousin, Justine Friedman, joined our family in celebrating our daughter’s Bat mitzvah. While we chatted and danced, I learned that she had practiced as a clinical dietician in South Africa and was looking forward to doing so again in Israel.
We saw each other again during a much more sober family gathering when she came to pay her condolences after the loss of my father-in-law. Generously, she asked me if there was anything she could do to help us. I thought of all the food I was consuming from the delicious meals people were bringing over. I blurted out, “can you help me navigate all this food?” She chuckled, “it’s a common struggle.”
Last month I saw she was giving a lecture on how food can nourish our spiritual side. Eager to learn more, I joined one of her zoom lectures on Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for the Trees. Justine spoke about the word Tam, which is Hebrew for ‘taste’. The letters of tam can also be an acronym for Tov=good A'rev=sweet Mo'il=beneficial. She advised us to pause before eating to gaze at the colors and textures of the food and feel a sense of gratitude to G-d who has provided all the resources for this nourishment.
This concept struck me. I’m used to wolfing down my dinner and diving in for seconds. I knew that the nourishment from food should be used for something meaningful, but I never saw it as a spiritual act in and of itself. After hearing Justine’s talk, I realized I was missing out on the spiritual side of eating.
So, the next day, I decided to eat more mindfully. I made a breakfast of yogurt topped with nuts, a few date slices, topped off with a sprinkling of cinnamon. I took my breakfast to the table and placed it in front of me. I studied the shape of the almonds and inhaled the sweet scent of dried fruit. After saying a blessing, I slowly ate my breakfast, savoring every bite. As I chewed, I thought of how grateful I was to have the food and said an after blessing with as much concentration as I could manage. The results? I have never felt fuller.
My journey hasn’t been a straight path. I’ve taken some detours, walked some dark alleys, made a few U-turns, and eventually found my way. There are three lessons I have learned about my health that are indisputable. I must eat well, exercise regularly, and be mindful when I sit down to enjoy a meal. Wishing you the best of health.
Health Tips from the Professionals
Debra Waldoks: MPH, RDN- Whole food nutrition with a mind + body approach. Specializing in pre-diabetes, cholesterol management, mindful eating, women's health.
If you are looking to get healthier, do not start a diet! Instead, start a journey. See how it feels to eat healthier, nourishing foods, to eat with more mindfulness, and to move your body in ways that bring more joy into your life.
To begin your journey to good health you must:
A. Not undereat or restrict entire food categories (those 2 things are what define a diet)
B. Make sure you are comfortable and satisfied after meals and snacks.
C. Move your body every day in ways that feel good to you- such as walking, biking, short workouts, etc.
1. Eat more plant-based foods than animal-based foods.
2. Eat fewer processed foods.
3. Mindfully choose what and how to eat.
4. Allow for some "fun food" occasionally.
5. Honor your body by giving it the right amount of energy that it needs.
Please know that you cannot maintain weight loss by quick diet gimmicks. You will lose weight in the short term, but it is nearly guaranteed to result in yo-yo dieting, binge-eating, and/or weight cycling. So always ask yourself, "can I do this forever?" If the answer is no, rethink the health plan and try something you find more manageable.
Debra Waldoks is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with 15 years of experience in public health, nutrition counseling, and higher education. She currently works in Israel, both as an adjunct lecturer at Hebrew University and in private practice in Modiin (& via telehealth) as a nutrition counselor.
To learn more about Debra’s practice please visit:
Sabrina Perl: personal trainer, women’s fitness specialist, nutrition consultant.
Consistency is key! Start slowly by adding in one healthy habit at a time instead of focusing on breaking bad habits. Like, sleep one more hour a day, or walk to school to pick up your children. Small changes can make a big difference in the long run.
1. Fitness is not one size fits: and is definitely not all or nothing. Doing too much intensity to start with, can lead to injury. Do what you can, as much as you can, and then add more in when you are stronger.
2. Drink lots of water. (Coffee doesn’t count!) So many people get cravings or feel the afternoon slump because they aren’t drinking enough water. Eight cups of water are the minimum. Most need 10-14 cups a day.
Sabrina Perl is an experienced personal trainer and nutrition consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the health wellness and fitness industry. She has professional skills in coaching, menu development, group classes, cooking, and stress management.
To learn more about Sabrina’s practice please visit:
Justine Friedman -Clinical Dietitian and Mindset Mentor
All things that benefit us, such as goodness, sweetness are from G-d. When we activate the realm of spirituality through our physical acts and with proper intention, discipline, and perspective, it opens up a channel for us to allow for expansion into the spiritual realm. Allowing us to embrace the pleasurable world of physicality as G-D intended for us to experience it.
1. Sit down while you eat: Look at the colors and textures, smell the delicious aromas, savor the flavors and tastes.
2. Check in with yourself as you eat: Place down your fork from time to time and evaluate, am I full? If you are, stop and save (if possible) all leftovers for a different meal. Note- it is not a commandment to finished leftovers on your plate (or your children’s ) if you are full.
3. Take time while you eat to apricated all G-d has given you: G-d wants us to enjoy life and the things He has created. Taking the time to be mindful of all the blessings we have in life will not only help us be more grateful, but it will also aid in feeling full and satisfied with our meal.
Justine specializes in designing an individualized lifestyle plan for each client based on their nutritional needs and outlines practical tools for optimizing health not only through food choices but in how clients think and feel about food and their bodies. She has over 20 years’ experience as a clinical dietician and is passionate about achieving health for all her clients.
To learn more about Justine’s practice please contact her at:
On Facebook -Clinical Dietician and mindset mentor
Healthy snacks ideas from Dev:
Dried fruit with a handful of nuts
Freshly made popcorn
Sweet potato fries
Plain yogurt and chopped dates
Sliced vegetables with hummus
Cottage cheese with fruit and cinnamon
Dark chocolate with hot tea or coffee
Cherry tomatoes and a wedge of cheese
Edamame sprinkled with sea salt
Tuna and whole grain bread
Roasted cauliflower florets
Baked potato topped with cooked spinach and fetta cheese
Baked apple with raisins
Eggplant Pizza (Eggplant top with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese) Cook in oven for about fifteen minutes and voila.
Whitefish salad on top of cucumbers
Peppers stuffed with goat cheese
Canned beans salad, (canned corn, kidney beans, and black beans) add a dash of olive oil, salt, and apple cider vinegar.
Scrambled eggs with a side of kasha
Oatmeal sprinkled with walnuts and honey
Easy Sushi roll (Lettuce leaves rolled with smoked salmon and cream cheese)