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Navigating the Jewish Holidays with an Eating Disorder

By: Sarah Bateman, LCSW, Jewish Community Liaison for The Renfrew Center

Posted on September 14, 2020

The Jewish Holidays can be stressful times for anyone. There are multiple large holiday meals that require extensive preparation, copious amounts of food, and a lot of time spent around the table. Religious observances include prayer, rituals, and the abstinence from use of electricity and electronics. There are also days that require abstaining for food and drink for 25 hours.

This can all be challenging for someone who does not have an eating disorder, but even more so for anyone who struggles with an eating disorder or disordered eating. Not using electronics can be difficult for anyone who is used to the constant connectivity of cellphones, internet, music and other devices that are not used on Sabbath and holidays. For someone who struggles with mental health, depression, and anxiety, the absence of these resources can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

I'd like to encourage anyone who is worried or stressed or just feeling overwhelmed in general about the Jewish holidays to see if you can break down your concerns and identify specific triggers. See if you can come up with what is worrying you the most and if you can set a goal around that concern.

Worried about the honey cake on Rosh Hashanah? Maybe that can be your dessert and you can allow yourself to enjoy it. Worried about the meals in general? Maybe you can break them down, write down the components and see how they fit in to a healthy meal plan. Maybe the Challah, the ritual bread that you blessed, can be part of your carb exchange and the chicken and gefilte fish can be your protein.

Worried about not being able to call a friend or use the internet? Maybe you can set a goal to do something you've been wanting to do, such as getting together with a friend, or fulfilling a ritual in a way that is meaningful to you, is in line with your values, and helps you tolerate the emotions you are experiencing.

But also keep in mind life and health come first in Judaism, and no ritual is meant to be observed if it will cause you harm. If you think fasting might trigger you to use eating disorder symptoms, then speak to a rabbi or professional to discuss your concerns. If you feel isolation can be dangerous or harmful to you, then remember that life and health come first in Judaism, including mental health, and use your phone to reach out for help.

Remember that you are not alone, and there are many resources out there, like those offered here at The Renfrew Center. Please reach out if you are struggling and don't wait for it to get worse.

Sarah Bateman, LCSW, has been practicing social work for more than 10 years. As The Renfrew Center's Liaison to the Jewish community, she ensures that individuals with eating disorders in the Jewish community are able to receive culturally sensitive treatment and that their unique religious needs are met. Ms. Bateman has a private practice with offices in New York and New Jersey, provides training for professionals and lectures in schools while working to raise awareness and understanding of eating disorders in the Jewish community.

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