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Maimonides Says Change Your Habits, Not Just Your Diet

Maimonides, the Jewish sage and medical doctor, wrote extensively on nutrition and wellness. His writings are now being incorporated into contemporary medical studies on healthy living habits.

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With a few weeks until summer, numerous new diets are popping up to offer a quick fix. But there’s a reason most diets fail – it’s just too easy to fall back into old habits. Even if you want to lose weight because of a health scare or for an upcoming family celebration, that inspiration often fades as your grandiose dieting plans lose steam. You can only rely on your own motivation for so long.  Even if you do lose weight, maintaining that success is unlikely.  Today’s nutritionists and psychologists teach us that we need to change our habits, not just our diet, but this strategy is actually rooted in traditional Jewish wisdom.

Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish sage and medical doctor, wrote extensively on nutrition and wellness, and his writings are now being incorporated into contemporary medical studies on healthy living habits. After years of studying his writings, I see that Maimonides believed that long-term weight loss success is dependent on more than just motivation; working your mind along with your body is essential. Weight loss and optimum health are more than simply issues of food and diet; changing our habits – our learned behaviors – is possible and effective when they are done at the right pace.

Motivation simply relies on inspiration and will power. Even if you are highly motivated, you still have to contend with old, stubborn habits. In order to achieve long-term success, changing those habits is essential. Habitual change causes a subconscious inner change. The outer action may be exactly the same every time you repeat it, but the subconscious accumulation of every minor experience and feeling associated with that act gains momentum each time it is repeated. Eventually, your new habits will replace your negative habits.

Maimonides distinguishes between ‘habit’ and ‘motivation’. He writes:

“Positive behavior characteristics are not acquired by doing great (positive) acts but rather by repeating positive acts. For example, giving $1,000 to one charity will not accustom a person to being generous, whereas giving $1 to 1000 different charities rehearses the trait of generosity in that individual. That repeated action of giving regulates that person to continue giving.  By repeating an act many times, an established behavior or emotional pattern is formed. In contrast, one great act does do some level of good, but the motivation may disappear shortly thereafter.” (See Commentary to Avos 3:18)

Specifically with regards to health and wellness, Maimonides writes, “One’s usual custom and habit is a fundamental principle in the maintenance of health and the cure of illnesses. One should not change ones habits all at once.” (Regimen of Health 4, 15)

Here, Maimonides teaches us about human nature: to change a bad habit, the key is to take simple steps.

The success that many people had losing weight based on my book, “The Life Transforming Diet” was the result of adhering to the wisdom of Maimonides and his principles of behavior modification. As I continued my research, honing in more specifically on habits, I designed a five-week plan that comes just in time to prepare for the summer.

This plan for establishing habits for healthy living will set you in motion, as Maimonides discusses, to change those old, stubborn eating habits:

  • Habit 1 – Week 1: Swap out one meal each day with a Light Meal that’s 250 calories or less, like fruit, salad, eggs and toast or cereal with milk.
  • Habit 2 – Week 2: Make one meal each day a Concentrated Food or “CF Meal” of protein + veggies only. A glass of red wine is also allowed!
  • Habit 3 – Week 3: Make one meal each day a “V-Plus” Meal – the V is for veggies! Eat as you normally would (including healthy grains), but for seconds, it’s veggies only.
  • Habit 4 – Week 4: Add in Exercise with just 10 minutes of cardio, 3 days/week to start
  • Habit 5 – Week 5: Between meals, start Snack Substitution: try water, veggies, low-fat dairy, or fruit instead.

It’s crucial not to jump stages in this program. The goal is to introduce one positive habit each week. In the first week, you will make only one change. In the second week, you will continue with your first change, and then add one more – and so on. It is important to make only the one change every week, and keep the rest of your routine exactly the same. These are the steps to changing your habits forever. You can read more about the 5 habits and 5-week program, including diet diaries, motivation, sample meal plans and daily schedules at www.5skinnyhabits.com.

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Maimonides, the Jewish sage and medical doctor, wrote extensively on nutrition and wellness. His writings are now being incorporated into contemporary medical studies on healthy living habits.

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