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Dear Dr. Yael,

My wife and I have been happily married for over 50 years. So why are we writing to you? Well, let me explain. My wife and I were in lockdown due to Covid-19 for almost a year. Before Covid-19, although we are both retired, we were extremely physically active and independent of one another. We had separate hobbies and groups of friends. When the news about Covid-19 broke out, we were scared. Some of our friends even passed away. Determined not to catch the virus, we decided to lock down together in our condo for almost a year. Yes, just the two of us, alone together, for almost a year. It could have been a recipe for disaster. It should have been a recipe for disaster. Instead, we discovered that recipes were our mutual passion.

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We discovered that we both love to bake. So, over the course of almost a year, together we baked – a lot. Homemade cheesecakes, rugelach, baguettes, and more. I became obsessed with artisanal bread. My wife was constantly trying new recipes she found online – her cinnamon buns are min hashomayim. We bonded over all-purpose flour and sourdough starters. It was like we were newlyweds again. We honestly had the best time being home together despite it being a crazy time for the rest of the world. Our love for one another grew with our love for cake. Unfortunately, so did our waistlines.

So now, although my wife and I are both the happiest we have ever been in our relationship, our joint weight gain is seriously depressing. None of our clothes fit and I can’t even bare to look at myself in the mirror. What is even worse is that my knees are suffering. I have always suffered from osteoarthritis in my knees, but my weight gain has seriously exacerbated the pain. I feel like I’m powerless to stop gaining weight because I crave the connection that baking bread brings to my wife and I as a couple. Dr. Yael, I need your help!

Zaidy the Baker

 

Dear Zaidy the Baker,

Thank you for your letter! I would love to share some of my ideas and get your help with a recipe in return! Homemade artisanal bread sounds delicious! It is amazing that you and your wife were able to turn what could potentially have been a stressful time into one that positively impacted your relationship. I always recommend to my patients who are married couples to find a mutually pleasurable passion that can bring them closer together. I’m so glad that the two of you discovered something that has deepened your connection to each other.

While your passion for baking has brought you together, it seems to have had an unexpected side effect that is troubling you. You are not alone. Unwanted weight gain is something that has upset many of my patients this past year. In fact, I’ve created a term for it – ‘The Covid 19’ (as in pounds gained, like the ‘Freshman 15’!). Now that lockdown is over and you are finally free to move around and take a break from baking, hopefully you will lose the weight. Until you get back to your ‘normal’ size, accept the size that you are now. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Recognize your body for the amazing miracle that it is. Your body and all its functions are a gift that Hashem has given you. It may not appear the way you want it to right now, but it is yours to use and love because it was created in Hashem’s image. Also, while you may not ‘love’ the way you look right now, think about the fact that your wife loves you for who you are.

You mentioned reluctance to give up baking because of the connection it has brought to your marriage. Maybe you can channel that passion for food into something that is healthier for both of you. Deliver some of your baked goods to seniors in your community. Try healthy versions of the recipes you love. If you are extremely serious about losing weight, I suggest you enlist the help of a licensed dietician or join a weight loss program. Focusing on a goal, such as healthy eating, rather than on what you perceive as a problem, will give you the positivity and motivation to succeed. If you and your wife share this goal, that can bring you even closer together.

And finally, regarding your knee pain, I highly suggest you consult a doctor or physical therapist. I asked my physical therapist, Dr. Zvi Gutman of Gutman Physical Therapy, for tips on how you can feel better. Here is his advice:

Knee osteoarthritis is a progressive disease caused by inflammation and wearing away of the cartilage and bones on the knee joint. It gets worse over time and is affected by weight gain, as well as other factors such as genetics and activity level. Physical therapy can help slow the progression of this disease and helps reduce pain and discomfort. Speak to your physician to see if physical therapy is right for you.

Stretch! Your body is not used to moving and your muscles have probably gotten tight over time. You will need to warm up your muscles before any physical activity, including standing in the kitchen for prolonged periods.

A great exercise that you can do on your own is called a pillow stretch. Here’s how to do it: Sit up straight in a chair. Place a pillow between your knees. Squeeze your knees together, squishing the pillow between them. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax. Do two sets of 10 repetitions.

Walk! I always recommend walking to my patients with knee arthritis. It is a low-impact activity that does not put too much stress on the joints. Walking can help your knees from becoming overly stiff.

If you live in the New York area, feel free to call Dr. Zvi Gutman at 646-481-7854 or email gutmanpt@gmail.com. Gutman Physical Therapy has male and female therapists, makes housecalls covered by insurance and accepts Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance.

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.