Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Orthodox eating disorders

The Washington Post is running an interesting article on eating disorders amongst the Orthodox. It claims that Israel has one of the highest rates of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating in the world, and that studies seem to show that in the frum community, it is even higher.

Why would this be? The obvious answer is that young ultra Orthodox girls trying to attract the best grooms are expected to stay very thin; we've written about this recently. But some patients seem to see "eating disorders as a more culturally sanctioned form of rebellion in a religion where smoking and drinking are discouraged". And there are also issues stemming from the religion itself - not just the culture: the increased emphasis on food and food rituals in Judaism seems to be a "breeding ground" for an eating disorder.

Along similar lines,

Leaving treatment and re-entering the tight-knit Orthodox culture also presents hurdles. For many, fasting on Yom Kippur or another holiday could cause them to relapse, but patients worry about judgment from others.

[Hillary] Waller [who is in fact Conservative - MS] felt guilty one holiday as she loaded her plate at a salad bar shortly after leaving treatment. She felt isolated from the community, unable to join in the ritual fast with the rest of her congregation, until she realized her greater sacrifice would be eating.

"For me it became the opposite. I had to give into all the things that everyone else had been giving up," Waller said. "That was the lightbulb that reconciled the Jewish dilemma I was facing with needing to be in recovery."

Eating disorders are traditionally associated with attempting to control at least one facet of one's life when life feels out of control. I wonder whether it is not a coincidence that eating disorders seem to be (even) more common amongst women in the religious world, who live in a relatively regimented society, with fewer opportunities to rebel or express their individuality than their secular peers.

1 comment:

Barrie said...

Holiness is commanded in our holy torah. HaShem said, "Be holy, as I the L-RD your G-d am holy." What does starving oneself to "gain a spouse" have to do with holiness? It has everything to do with worldliness and secularism. As Jews, we are to be a light unto the nations and show them the way to holiness and truth. This is done when we keep the Torah in its pure holy form of its written commandments. Vanity is not a part of the holy torah. It is not wrong to look pretty, exercise and eat right to gain a spouse, or to do this just to feel good about oneself. But encouraging one's child to keep themselves very thin so they can gain a great spouse (by whatever means) is unkosher and certainly ungodly. In the Torah we are commanded to love one another, to honor our parents and to help others, etc. There are many commandments regarding those issues. Forcing someone verbally or nonverbally or by whatever means to look a certain way so they can gain a spouse has nothing to do with the laws of the Great G-d of our ancestors.