Rabbis Sound Alarm Over Eating Disorders

The NY Times ran an article yesterday “Rabbis Sound Alarm Over Eating Disorders” that brings to light the suffering of many young women in the Orthodox world that are suffering from eating disorders. This paragraph jumped out at me.

“There are a lot of mixed messages,” said a 27-year-old woman from a strict Orthodox community in Brooklyn, who once carried less than 100 pounds on her 5-foot-6 frame. “My grandmother would see me and say, ‘You look so good, you’re so skinny — come eat, eat.’ ”

Our world revolves so much around food and celebratory holiday and Shabbat meals, but unfortunately there is a lot of focus put on the girls to be skinny. One of my Boro Park charedi cousins once told me “you can never be too rich or too skinny” and she totally believed it.

I find it interesting though, that this obsession with being thin does not seem to apply to the boys. Very few mothers of girls are asking the boy’s waist size or weight when they are discussing a shidduch.

Size shouldn’t be a consideration in shidduchim – health is more important. Let me tell you something, being pregnant takes a lot out of a healthy body – if the body is starved of nutrients beforehand in order to maintain that size 2 that got a girl married – that will only lead to problems in the pregnancy and perhaps long term.

We need to focus on health, and how to maintain good eating and exercise habits – but how are we going to get this message through to those who need to hear it? How are we going to help those already suffering from eating disorders as a result of the peer pressure? How do we remove the shame and stigma associated with mental illness in our communities? How can we teach self-acceptance to those who are unwilling to learn?

8 responses to “Rabbis Sound Alarm Over Eating Disorders

  1. 1) many girls fear gaining 15 or more pounds during seminary year in Israel.
    Combat that with teaching healthy eating habits long before they go, teach them to walk, walk, walk everywhere (no gym membership required).
    2) shadchanim from what I read focus on superficialities (like looks, plastic vs linen tablecloths used in the mother’s home, even what size dress the mother of the prospective kallah wears- I am not making this up).

    • walk walk walk????
      what happened to sports?
      That was the difference between grade school and high school in my day. In eighth grade we could stay out all day playing machanayim if no teacher called us in. In ninth grade I took out a ball the first day, and everyone started looking at me like I was wierd.

      • I feel so terrible thinking about this attitude towards sports because sports literally saved my life as a kid. I was so shy and withdrawn with such low self esteem until one gym teacher convinced me that I actually could throw a ball if I only tried. Lo and behold she was right. Sports gave me confidence in my body which spilled over into socially.

  2. Forgot to add to point 2, maybe time to rethink the role of a shadchan- what information should kallahs and chossons be seeking from shadchanim that determines whether the couple are suited? Maybe friends/family/networking is a better shadchan model than professional shadchanim?

  3. Your chareidi cousin is quoting the Duchess of Windsor? What a surprising choice of a role model for a Boro Parker.

  4. Eating disorders are on a spectrum – from mild dieting to severe anorexia/bulimia and self starvation. There isn’t an easy fix or an easy answer. The reason for that is – it depends what is the root source of the eating disorder. Some of it is a warped sense of self, but sometimes it comes from something more – a need for control.

    I think the question you asked is far more valuable – how do we reduce the stigma of mental illness in the community? I think for starters, those who have struggled with eating disorders and have over come – need to talk about it. They need to go to the schools and talk to the students. Students need some forum to talk out their issues. They need to know it’s ok to talk about whatever they need to talk about, to ask their questions without judgement.

    • Hey Shorty –
      If you know a place where people are willing to hear (not listen, but really hear) from ED Survivors – let me know. I’ll hop on a plane to speak right now.

  5. I remember in high school, we had a lecture. we were all really interested in it. in fact we were concerned about a couple of girls after we listened.

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