Eating Disorders in Jewish Communities

Eating Disorders in Jewish CommunitiesEvery culture has its own rituals that help continually tie together individuals in that specific community. In the Jewish community, there are wonderful traditions that are celebrated by all participants; however, some of these traditions can lead to the development of eating disorders in Jewish men and women. This, coupled with some additional cultural pressures, has led to a rise in the prevalence of eating disorders in the Jewish community.

Food and the Jewish Community

As is the case in many communities, food plays an important role in the Jewish community, and food practices are generally based around the religion itself. In many cases, however, these traditional food-related traditions can lead to eating disorders. Some of the many religious practices that can fuel this type of condition include the following:

  • Shabbat meal – Shabbat meal is a weekly Sunday meal that is comparable to a Thanksgiving feast. It is expected that those participating in this meal honor the event by eating a hefty amount as a means of celebration. For some Jewish individuals, this can be overwhelming, and as a result, they might binge on food during the Shabbat meal and then purge shortly thereafter.
  • Yom Kippur – Yom Kippur is a major religious holiday for the Jewish community where participating individuals spend 25 hours fasting and praying. This fasting behavior is said to have the potential to spark eating disorder tendencies in Jewish individuals, as fasting is not only related to not eating, but also related to a display of religious respect.
  • Halakhic Judaism – This specific type of Judaism promotes habitual eating patterns, such as washing hands before eating bread, repeating blessings before and after meals and consuming only specific kinds of food. Treating food in this way can promote compulsive behavior, such as an eating disorder.

Those practicing specific forms of Judaism are more likely to develop eating disorders as a result of this community’s traditional practices, such as Shabbat meal and Yom Kippur.

Getting Help for Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community

These religious holidays are not the only ways in which the Jewish community is exposed to risks of eating disorders. Many common pressures, such as the pressure to marry early, fight suppression and attempt perfectionism, also fuel these kinds of behaviors. It is important that individuals who have eating disorders reach out for help. They can do this by speaking with their primary care physicians, researching treatment options online or talking with their families about their health concerns.

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