Josh Howie

The kindness of my keto mentor

Josh Howie's on a diet - and a friend is helping


Delicious vegetarian pizza with champignon mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella, peppers and black olives, isolated on white background

August 25, 2022 12:12

There was a pretty cringe moment at my son’s bar mitzvah. After one of the hired hiphop crew thew off his top during a routine, I decided to copy him. Now I could blame alcohol, a psychologist might even add that I was desperate to regain attention after being usurped by my offspring, but in my head, I was simply convinced it’d be funny. And the reason it’d be funny was because in contrast to Mr Dancing ‘This is SPARTA!’ Abs, I had a big belly.
Comfort-scoffing Mars bars and ordering pizzas at two in the morning during lockdown to recover from the trauma of home-schooling accelerated my middle-aged spread, and in my reflection walking past shops, I started noticing my stomach appearing before the rest of me. The day before my little strip I’d tried on my wedding suit, and was barely able to pull the trousers all the way up, let alone budge the fly, necessitating an emergency trip to Zara.
So there was another factor at play as I lock and popped across the dance floor; I was leaning into my new plus size status. I was announcing that this was my new rotund self and I’d eat whatever I wanted. It’s not exactly that I was happy about it, but I was stuck, and this was the path I was now on.
And yet here I am, two months after that evening, and I’ve lost two stone. Now I know what some of you are thinking, and yes it’s very frustrating, I have missed the window for being able to return the suit to Zara. Others may be wondering exactly how I did it, and if Judaism played a part? Alas, no.
Even with all the focus on the laws of kashrut, and as central a role as food plays in our culture, I’m not sure there’s much in the written tradition that anticipated processed food. Maimonides wrote, “one should only eat until one’s stomach is three-quarters full” but I’d always interpreted it as, “As long as I don’t also eat this fourth and final jam doughnut then all’s cool.”
With the only diet guaranteed to work on Jews being the bacon/ shrimp diet, where all you’re allowed to eat is pork and shellfish, I did the next best thing, keto with intermittent fasting. In keto you’re essentially just eating meat and veggies, which for this Ashkenazi man was a nightmare. No carbs, no sugar, no fruit. No challah! No latkes! No rugelach! No matzah ball…actually I was alright with that. Even the healthier Israeli route was no help. In Deuteronomy when Israel’s introduced as “a land of wheat and barley, of grapes, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olives and dates” there wasn’t a keto Jew putting their hand up to say “What about me? I’m expected to just live off just olives? Is there at least any avocado mayonnaise?”
At least you’d think we’d have the fasting element sussed. For any veteran of Yom Kippur, surely not eating between 8pm and 12 the next day would be a doddle. But it’s actually the other way around. The Day of Atonement is meant to be tough to help you appreciate what you normally take for granted. This year though, without the sugar cravings, it’s just going to be another Wednesday. And as opposed to fasting for sin loss, the only fasting for weight loss in the Tanakh is the Fast of Esther. Esther fasted for three days to ‘get the courage’ to approach the king to save us, but reading between the lines she was probably just trying to look her best. Not exactly a “body positive” message.
If the how of my weight loss isn’t particularly Jewish thenthe why is. Tzedakah. Soon after the barmitzvah, my friend Mark was telling me about his diet and when I expressed a cursory interest he sent a bunch of links and then turned up at my house the next day to drop off a bunch of alternative products. He kept checking up on me to see how I was doing and offer encouragement.
By showing an interest, by caring when I wasn’t doing the same, by investing in someone else’s future, it provided the impetus for me to start doing the same, if only do his efforts justice. It was tzedakah in its truest sense; actual involvement, where help is not just done too, but done with. He kickstarted me onto a different path, and he did it purely because he saw that he could make a positive impact on someone else’s life. A chance conversation, a bit of kindness and effort, and an entire life altered. Who knows, he might’ve gifted me an extra ten years.
All of us have the ability to change another person’s life for the better, all of us have the ability to change our live’ for the better. And whichever person you are, I hope you get to meet the other, or to be the other. In the meantime my diet’s just finished. And the first thing I did was stuff my face with a jam doughnut. Just the one! (Okay, two).

August 25, 2022 12:12

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