The Sephardic Community of Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Rambam’s Principles of Health: Portion Control

It is not so much what you eat (quality) but rather how much you eat (quantity) that matters. In his non-fanatic and sensible approach Rambam asserts that it is better to eat a little unhealthy food than to overeat from healthy foods:
All physicians agree that eating a small quantity of bad foods is less harmful than overeating good and healthy foods. When a person eats bad foods, without satiating oneself, the foods are digested well, the organs obtain nourishment from any element in the food that is beneficial and whatever is unhealthy is expelled from the body. In this case, either no harm occurs or the harm that develops is not recognizable. However, over-eating even the best foods can never, ever result in good digestion. (Rambam, The Preservation of Youth 1:1, p. 23)
There seems to be a contradiction in the writings of the Rambam regarding the effect of eating unhealthy foods. His statement “As long as one exercises plenty, doesn’t eat until he is (overly) satisfied, and keeps his bowels soft, he will suffer no illness, and his strength will increase even if he eats unhealthy foods”, is followed by “Most illnesses come upon a person because of eating unhealthy foods…”. This contradiction can be solved as follows: If we do not pay attention to both quantity of food and exercise; eating unhealthy foods will eventually lead to illness. However, when we make sure to exercise sufficiently in addition to being careful with portion control, we create a special synergy that protects our health. Food quality is still important, yet, if we eat the right amount of food and exercise, then we do not have to be as concerned with the quality of food, and can enjoy a bit of chocolate and other “junk foods” occasionally. Rambam’s approach is quite extraordinary, as most health and weight programs are much more rigid and mainly focused on what to eat or not to eat. Rambam teaches us that beneficial eating and lifestyle habits take precedence over food quality. This principle is supported and affirmed in his medical writings.
Excerpted from Safeguarding Health by Rebbetzen Chana Bracha Siegelbaum from


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