schoolpsychnerd: (Chu)
schoolpsychnerd ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd) wrote2016-04-20 06:32 pm

Jewish Dietary laws and recovery

I had originally wanted to write this article to complain about how hard it is to navigate religous dietary restrictions with an eating disorder. I wanted to vent my frustration and hope that someone in a comment would give me a rule to follow that would absolve me of having to deal with it. However, while pursuing a friend’s facebook page, I felt inspired by a perspective that they shared of finding gratitude for things like missing far away loved one or sore muscles. That got me thinking about ways I’m grateful for the interaction of my religious dietary rules and my eating disorder.

I didn’t grow up keeping anything close to kosher or Passover kosher (bacon sandwiches were my favorite growing up). My Dad fasted during Yom Kippur when I was younger but by the time I was in high school his health didn’t allow it. Fasting on Yom Kippur didn’t give me an eating disorder, it did give me a window into the endorphin releasing effects of starving myself (thanks genetics!). I started keeping Passover kosher in college, not long after I’d admitted to having an eating disorder. I was making an attempt at recovery, which I try not to judge as half-hearted. Compassionately, I wasn’t ready yet and didn’t know how to give myself the space to recover at 18. I learned about kitniyot at that time, I was eating a crunch bar and another Jewish friend pointed out that I couldn’t eat that, it had rice in it (I knew HFC wasn’t kosher for Passover but I had no idea why). I took this and ran with it, wrapping myself in piety as an excuse to go back to eating iceberg lettuce salads. I started observing fast days outside of Yom Kippur during my last year of grad school/internship (though what wasn’t a fast day at that point?). [livejournal.com profile] dorchadas and I have slowly been phasing in parts of kashrut into our lives and we feel good about our current observances (no pork, no shellfish or bottom feeders) at this time. In educating myself about eating disorders, I’ve read a lot of stories about Orthodox or Hassidic people in treatment for eating disorders and how difficult it is. A core of eating disorder recovery is learning to be flexible with food, eat without rules. I don’t know if you know, but my religion has a ton of dietary rules. Some of them are from the Torah, others are ways in which we have built a wall around the Torah to keep from breaking the big rules.

Where does the gratitude come in? In my own inventory, I’ve seen a hyper focus on rules and rigid thinking. I’ve seen ways in which I have built walls with armed sentries posted every 10 paces around the major “sins” I see in my life, the biggest of which was gaining weight. My recovery has given me space to examine my practice of Jewish dietary laws and how I turned those into walls. I get the opportunity (yay?!) to take a deeper look at what these observances actually mean to me. Does my fasting on Yom Kippur help make me feel more connected to G-d or am I more connected with myself and my need to punish myself? Does my Passover kosher observance help me to act for social justice and remind me to continually check my privileged or is it an excuse for me to join in the communal kvetching about all the things I can’t eat? Does not eating kitniyot make me mindful of the injustice in the world or am I going to get lost in the million things I won’t let myself eat because they MAY be kitniyot? Does my fasting on other days help me connect to the suffering of others through the remembered suffering of my people or is it a way for me to act out on my eating disorder? Do I observe these traditions for my own growth and spiritual enrichment or do I do them to “be a good girl”/get praise/avoid shame or judgement from others or myself? Often I know a lot of people, myself certainly included, don’t get the chance to reflect on what a tradition means to us. And it’s hard. For me it’s a huge fight with the rigid rule follower in me and the recovery side of me.

In my reflection, I’ve learned that too often, my observance is totally disconnected from any kind of spirituality. I cling to the rules like a child who isn’t ready to leave their best friend’s house yet even though it is clearly long past time for them to leave. I have gotten the opportunity to reflect on my practice of Judaism and look at what traditions bring me closer to the type of person I want to be, and what practices do not serve that goal. So instead of being mad at my eating disorder because I can't be like other Jews, I can accept that this is where I'm at, be grateful for the chance to examine how I do my faith, and change what I can. All in all, not too shabby as my Grandpa Megibow would say.