While Jewish mothers are known for urging their families to eat more, Orthodox Jewish mother of three, Atara Weisberger is known for helping people eat well. Personal trainer, nutritionist and co-founder of Passaic, New Jersey gym, The Tribe, Weisberger has been into healthy-living for as long as she can remember.
A Minneapolis native, Weisberger grew up in a Reform family full of doctors, so a proper diet and exercise was just a way of life. In high school, Weisberger excelled at track, cross country, and cheerleading. As a freshman in college, she began teaching a fitness class on the side, not anticipating she’d one day make a career out of it.
Her passion for Judaism started later in life after a friend who had become observant in college attempted to get her to explore her heritage too. After years of sending Weisberger Jewish books and articles she wasn’t interested in, he recommended a trip to Israel where she spent a month engaging with Torah texts and Jewish rituals for the first time. She was hooked and decided to study in seminary for over a year in order to deepen her knowledge.
Weisberger saw that her proclivity towards healthy-living fit perfectly into a traditional Jewish philosophy. “It’s a mitzvah to take care of your body as a house for your soul,” she explains. She contrasts this model with the one that she grew up with in the secular world where the idea is to take care of your body for its own sake.
Though she believes that Jewish law promotes nutritious eating and exercise, the Orthodox community is not always as careful about this mitzvah as they could be. She believes that some parts of the religious community have pushed back against the “body worship” that exists in parts of the secular world and have gone to the other extreme. Another challenge that observant Jews face is a month chock full of fall holidays, where many families not only serve large amounts of food, but also spend hours sitting near the food – a combination which makes self-control difficult for many people.
Weisberger’s passion, as a certified nutritionist and personal trainer is to show the Orthodox Jewish community that a healthy diet and exercise is both doable and rewarding. She dreamed of creating a space that not only nurtured that kind of lifestyle in a holistic way, but also allowed Orthodox women the freedom and privacy to dress and move as they wanted to as they exercised. In 2015, she opened up The Tribe Athletics and Fitness center with a friend in order to bring her dream to fruition.
I asked Atara to share some of her nutrition and exercise wisdom with our readers – many of whom are ready to lose the holiday weight. “The biggest mistake people make with how they eat is the ‘all or nothing’ thinking,” she explains. “If you say I’m never eating this again and then you do, it’s very hard to feel successful. Focus on what you can have instead of what you can’t have. Focus on wanting to feel better, not worse at the end of the meal. A doughnut might make you happy in the moment, but how do you feel twenty minutes later? A bowl of pasta might be delicious as you eat it, but are you starving an hour later? When you think about what foods leave you feeling good and healthy afterwards, those are the foods that are probably best for your body.”
Weisberger also says that people, especially women, make the mistake of living by a scale. Better to measure body fat and come up with a big goal you want to achieve based on that, and then break it down into small steps. The biggest issue with most diets is that they are one size fits all. Instead, Weisberger recommends writing down everything you eat and tuning into how the food makes you feel.
In terms of exercise, Weisberger instructs people to walk more. And if you’re over 35, be sure to get strength training in if you don’t want your metabolism to drastically slow down. If you wish you had a place like The Tribe in your hood, fret no more. In the coming months, The Tribe will be offering virtual classes as well.