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Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013

Seminar will connect mindful eating to Jewish ideals


Jews and a hearty appreciation for food tend to go together like pastrami and rye. And Bay Area residents — with our eyes on local and sustainable foods, of course — are certainly no exception.

But what happens when all that pastrami adds up and you start to worry about your sodium intake? Is there a way to celebrate traditional Jewish culture through food without stuffing our faces, or feeling the need to eat nothing but salad for a week after a latke-heavy Chanukah?

At the Hazon food festival, San Francisco–based therapist Ellen Resnick and Rabbi Nosson Potash of Chabad of Cole Valley will present “Healthy Weight and ‘Kvell-Being’: A Jewish Perspective Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness.”

Rabbi Nosson Potash

Rabbi Nosson Potash


Resnick, who has been studying the American obesity epidemic for more than 20 years and has been in private practice since 1999, said she jumped at the chance to be part of the festival. Her talk will cover some basic principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, which she said can help people feel in control and relaxed about food partly by knowing how to distinguish physical hunger from emotional need.

“The idea is to be mindful of how our thoughts and feelings affect us every time we eat,” said Resnick. “I help people learn how to pause, take some breaths and ask themselves three simple questions: What am I thinking? What am I feeling? And what is it I really need right now?” Those prone to overeating, said Resnick, will often find the answer isn’t actually food.

“Part of my job is to help people enjoy the ritual of Jewish food, but separate that out from the emotion of love,” she added. “Whether that means adjusting portion sizes or eating less shmaltz … In 2013, I think it’s important for us to find ways to connect with Judaism, and with each other as Jews, other than through unhealthy foods.”

Ellen Resnick

Ellen Resnick


Co-presenter Potash will provide a biblical and kabbalistic context.

“Jews and food go back all the way to Adam and Eve; the first commandments that were ever given to man had to do with food,” said Potash. “And according to many commentaries, that was less about what type of food they were to eat; it was about how they were going to go about eating it. It’s the idea of pausing and taking a moment to reflect, being mindful about what eating is for.”

Potash described himself as a scholar of the Kabbalah in addition to Hassidic philosophy, and believes that its teachings about spirituality have a lot to offer by way of guidance about eating.

“I think people are slowly starting to realize that there are many layers that make up a healthy person, and part of what needs to be nurtured is spirituality,” he said.

“I think that can be tied in with the kabbalistic idea of the holy spiritual sparks that are found in everything, which obviously includes the food we eat. Eating mindfully isn’t just a means to having a healthy body. When we achieve a healthy soul, that’s an end in and of itself.”

Potash echoed Resnick’s contention that when we think we’re hungry, we often need something other than food.

“The consumerism there is in American society, the overeating and overindulgence, from a spiritual perspective, is actually because of that quest to tap into spiritual energy, to nurture ourselves with it,” he added. “This constant drive to eat is actually coming from the soul.”