Every year, around the day I start noticing people walking around with smudges on their foreheads and come thisclose to telling them they have a little dirt on their face, I begin to hear my friends tell me what they’re giving up for Lent. Among the goods and habits made off-limits: Chocolate, soda, candy, gum (almost always accompanied by their wondering aloud, “But is gum considered candy?”), fast food, fried food, carbs, snacking between meals, eating after 7pm, casual drinking, binge drinking, etc. This year, Facebook and Twitter have joined the list, but social media is still not nearly as common as food resolutions. Quite often, when they talk about giving up, say, Snickers, it’s accompanied by the out-loud wish, “Maybe I’ll lose some weight!” (One girlfriend just emailed me to let me know she started Jorge Cruise's no sugar/no carb diet on Ash Wednesday and has "been hungry ever since. Send me a bagel please!")
It reminds me of the whole fasting-on-Yom-Kippur thing. On the holiest day in the Jewish religion (it's like our version of weekly Confession, but rolled up into one long 24-hour period of reflection) we look back on our transgressions over the past year and, in true Jewish form, punish ourselves via food. As in, we don't eat. In the past, some of my Jewish girlfriends have fasted because they felt it was a sanctioned way to avoid eating for the day. A diet kick-start, essentially. (More proof I'm not making this up: In 1999, The Renfrew Center (you may know of it from the documentary THIN), issued a press release, "Jewish Women Worldwide Warned of Health Risk on Upcoming High Holy Day - Rabbis and Health Experts Caution Fasting on Yom Kippur Can Harm People with Eating Disorders.")
To me, this is really similar to diet-conscious Christians giving up carbohydrates and alcohol and sweets for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. I mean, I've flat-out heard people say, "I'm going low-carb for Lent."
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of other U.S. holidays, along with fun and inventive ways to potentially turn them into weight loss tools. Because really, nothing says celebration like a two-pound water weight loss.
The holiday: Passover (aka The Atkins Diet)
The Torah says to abstain from any food with leavening for seven days in honor of our Jewish ancestors who, as they escaped slavery in ancient Egypt, were forced to flee their homes before their bread rose in the oven.
Potential weight lost: 4-7 pounds, depending on whether you’re just avoiding dry cereal or actually shooting for ketoacidosis, wrapping cheeseburgers in lettuce wraps
The holiday: Ramadan
During this Islamic month of fasting, meant to teach patience, modesty and spirituality, participating Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn until sunset. Every day, for an entire month.
Potential weight lost: You can drop 20 pounds in just one month and potentially fit into a single leg of your jeans! Just remember to get up from seated positions very slowly, because remember: Fainters may be taken to the ER and you know what that means…fattening hospital food!
The holiday: Veteran's Day
In honor of those who serve and protect our great nation, why not try eating the actual MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat ) our soliders are often forced to live off of while in combat? These self-contained, individual field rations each provide about 1,200 calories each, must be able to withstand parachute drops from 1,200 ft, and have a shelf life of three years. Yummy!
Potential weight lost: If you start on Veteran’s Day and continue for 21 days, you could drop two dress sizes and finally fit into the skinny jeans that have been languishing in your closet since Desert Storm!
The holiday: St Patrick’s Day
Sanctioned drunkorexia? We’re in!
Potential weight lost: You might actually gain a pound or two from bloat; more if you succumb to a late-night Lucky Charms binge
The holiday: Election Day
After months of hearing the same crap over and over from the candidates, you’ve probably lost your appetite by the time early November rolls around.
Potential weight lost: 1 pound
The holiday: Columbus Day
Celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, which occurred on October 12, 1492, by running nonstop from morning ‘til night, symbolizing the chasing of the Indians from their rightful land. Do not eat to avoid cramping.
Potential weight lost: May vary, but you’ll definitely burn at least 1,000 calories, which is way better than an hour on the Stairmaster.
The holiday: Christmas
Take the time during this most cherished of holidays to focus solely on eating, or rather, controlling the amount of food that enters your mouth. One idea: Eat nothing but the low-cal cookies available exclusively through Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet. Sure, the Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate and Banana Diet Cookies taste like dirt, and your grandma will feel cry when you resist her Peanut Butter Kisses, but think of how fabulous you’ll look in your new Snuggie.
Potential weight lost: 3 pounds, plus the weight of your soul.