The words that often come to mind when one thinks of Rosh Hashana are reflection, resolutions, family, Tifilot and food. There are many traditions revolving around food during this holiday, the most familiar being “dip the apple in the honey.” As this holiday approaches it is important to bear in mind that it can be incredibly difficult for those suffering from an eating disorder, as well as for those who suffer from disordered eating.
An individual who is experiencing disordered eating does not necessarily have an eating disorder; a person with disordered eating has food on one’s mind, is weight conscious, and uses some strange habits or rituals surrounding food. To put is simply, the person’s relationship with food is not healthy. Disordered eating is not a diet; rather it is when food consciousness plays a large role (thinking about weight, exercise, food) before it crosses a line into becoming an actual eating disorder. An individual with an eating disorder is psychologically and physically harmed by the obsession s/he has on weight, food, and body image—all as a result of psychological pain.
Holidays are especially hard for those suffering from both disordered eating and eating disorders because of the large number of meals and the oftentimes plentitude of company. Individuals suffering in the Jewish community deal with a “Thanksgiving type” of meal every Shabbat. I recall discussing this in treatment and staring back at the shocked faces of my peers, whose sympathy could be felt in the air: large meals = terrifying. On Rosh Hashanah it’s even more difficult as there is so much symbolism surrounding the food; dip the apple in the honey for a sweet, new year…eat fish to represent being fruitful. For those suffering from an eating disorder, the last thing they want is to put more focus and meaning on food. Conversations around the table usually compliment the cook, as is typical with most family gatherings. I remember cringing every time there was a mention of food during a meal; all I wanted to do was to get through it bite by bite, without having to think about how the food was made or what recipe was used.
Additionally, Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection, when we look back upon the past year and see what we did wrong and which areas need improvement. For those with eating disorders this is an unbelievably daunting task. There is such a sense of guilt and hopelessness for those who are suffering and being forced to think about one’s soul can simply heighten those emotions.
The following are some tips for those suffering from an eating disorder for Rosh Hashanah, as well as their families or loved ones:
• Understanding. For those suffering, it is important to understand that those around you simply want to have a time of celebration, focusing on the positive and good things for the year to come. They are not trying to hurt you, and most likely want to support you. For loved ones, it is essential to understand that your loved one is anxious and fearful about the holiday. Because this year is a three day holiday, please know that the idea of so many large meals can be terrifying, especially if family is around.
• Make a plan. Having a plan in mind for meals as well as down time can be helpful. This can be a meal plan, or a plan of what distractions can be used during the meal. The idea of multiple mains and sides often causes individuals to be overwhelmed. It is best if you can figure out what types of food you need to eat and then build from there. Additionally, holidays and Shabbat can be anxiety provoking because of all the down-time, when eating disordered thoughts begin to creep up. It is, therefore, a good idea to have a plan of what to do in the afternoon.
•Try to connect spiritually. This holiday is not essentially about the food and its symbolism. As we know it is truly about self-reflection and the hopes for the year to come. Use this as a time to put your hopes of a healthier future into your thoughts and Tifilot.
• For individuals experiencing disordered eating, try to use this holiday to reflect on what this disordered eating is replacing and why you feel the need to use rituals and so sternly watch what you’re eating. Perhaps it is time to fill the void in your life that it is helping fill with something healthier.
I wish you all a K’tivah V’Chatimah Tova.
For more information on disordered eating or tips on getting through the holiday, please send an email to informationTVC_gmail.com
By Temimah Zucker