KOSHER DELIGHT - YOUR JEWISH ONLINE MAGAZINE!
Eating Disorders: The Secret War
By Rabbi Shea Hecht
I recently spoke to a man
from out of town that was looking for a shidduch for his
son. Of course, I inquired as to what were the important
qualities that his son's prospective life-mate should have.
When number one on the list was that the girl be "skinny" I
wondered to myself: Is this the son's obsession or the
parents' obsession - and have they passed this "skinny"
obsession on to their daughters...?
If statistics can be believed, we have a serious problem.
The American Psychiatric Association reports that up to 7%
of all girls will struggle with an eating disorder in their
lifetime. That means that out of my daughter's class of
thirty girls, two of them will watch their physical and
mental health slip through their fingers because of a
destructive relationship with food.
Eating disorders overwhelmingly afflict women and appear at
adolescence. This illness takes the form of an obsession
with consuming or avoiding food to extremes that devastate
physical, mental and emotional health. It's easy to dismiss
an eating disorder as a meshigos, a willpower issue or what
have you. The truth is that an eating disorder has the
devastating ability to undermining all elements of a young
woman's life - more so, perhaps, than any other health
For a young woman who is struggling with these issues, her
outlook on work, school, family and her self image depends
solely upon what she has or has not eaten. The notion that
she could make sound decisions regarding shidduchim and
marriage should be dismissed altogether. It's not merely
that the eating disorder is an ugly footnote in the story of
her life. Rather, every chapter of the girl's life is a mere
footnote in a horror story where food, eating and self image
are themselves matters of life and death.
While many factors contribute to the onset of an eating
disorder, popular culture is certainly very influential. We
are constantly bombarded with ads and messages that both
overstate the importance of physical perfection and paint an
unrealistic, unreachable image of "beauty". There's little
question that a young woman's exposure to popular and
celebrity culture can strongly affect how she feels she is
supposed to look, and ultimately contribute to an eating
Even more influential: parents who are overly critical of
their children and intentionally withhold affection risk
their children developing overly harsh and critical view
about themselves. For a young lady who is unable to devise a
strategy to deal with a wounded feeling of self worth,
obsessive control over her diet and personal habits make an
Adding to the suffering is the invisible nature of an eating
disorder. Where someone fighting an addiction or illness can
find the support of their loved ones, a young woman with an
eating disorder usually struggles alone. They are "masters
of disguise", meticulously hiding any sign of their behavior
and suffering in extreme secrecy.
Our well-being is our only resource that ensures that we'll
be able to fight another day for what we want and need. With
a healthy mind and body we can realize our potential.
Without it, we are unable even to hold the good things
already in our hands.
Especially today, as popular culture has infiltrated our
communities, we owe it to our young women, our families and
community to watch for signs of eating disorders. If we can
identify the red flags in our daughters' behavior and know
where to find effective help, we can fight to keep them safe
|Rabbi Shea Hecht
Chairman of the
National Committee for
Furtherance of Jewish Education .
His web site is:
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