The Fast of the 17th of Tamuz. No food, no water, from dawn until nightfall. The start of an annual three-week period of mourning for the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temples in Jerusalem.
On my way to work this morning I listened to a BBC World Service feature about hoodia (listen here), a natural appetite suppressant derived from the leaves of a cactus which grows in South Africa's Kalahari Desert. The program focused on intellectual property issues (calling Ron Coleman!): Are the San Bushmen, who have known about the medicinal properties of hoodia for generations, entitled to a share of any profits derived from its commercial production?
Given the state of my stomach, I was less interested in patent rights and more focused on appetite. Logically, one would assume that Orthodox Jews should find dieting easy. Everything we eat must conform to the regulations of kosher food, requiring us to control our appetites constantly. I don't eat cheese with meat, or for six hours thereafter. I can't go out to eat except at kosher restaurants. No matter how hungry I am, I won't scarf down crabcakes or bread baked with lard. And to top it off, on a handful of days of the year we fast entirely, not a drop of food or drink passing our lips.
So why, oh why, is it so hard to stick to a diet?
I am convinced intellectually that sugars and starchy carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, etc.) are bad for my health. A couple of years ago I tried the Atkins program, more or less, and lost nearly 30 pounds while slashing my cholesterol and triglyceride levels.. But after a while I got fed up with artificial sweeteners, and my sweet tooth never lost its potency. I've regained nearly half of my weight loss.
I want to eat healthy food. I know it's good for me, and I feel good when I do it. But I just can't stick with it.
Yet I can easily shun all forms of non-kosher food without a single slip, and I can go a whole day without a sip of water on fast days like today.
A related question: Is it easier for Orthodox Jews to give up smoking, since we are always forbidden from smoking for one day each week?
Or is it always easier for us to abstain from violating Shabbat or kashrut than to take care of our health?