Fasting From Affliction: Reflecting on My Eating Disorder on Yom Kippur

I wanted to write this article for Yom Kippur describing a disconcerting problem and providing a solution for it that you could relate to. But I don’t have a solution: I have experience, strength and hope that this will touch one person.

To be perfectly blunt I have an eating disorder.

I have had a disordered relationship with food since I was about 5 or 6 years old. I’m not quite sure when or why it began, but it did. I began binge-eating food as a child to console feelings I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. I remember feeling pride while piling large gobs of cream cheese onto bagels. I was then quite torn when my pediatrician verbalized his concern towards my lack of discipline in eating which showed on the teetering scale.

As an awkward pre-teen I grew up having female friends who were much skinnier than I and took me into bathroom stalls to tell me so. Having my body (and self) image quite affected by these experiences, I made an unknowing vow that I would do anything possible in my power to never have these “fat” experiences or feelings ever again.

At the time, the Atkins diet was propagating commercials and caught signal on my radar. I was quickly counting carbs in foods and losing a lot of weight rapidly. I was getting comments, and buying new, smaller clothing, and was much similar in size to my friends in junior high. But I could still pinch skin on my sides and that wasn’t okay.

Not long after junior high I gave up Atkins and began using diet pills and other non-prescribed medications for every emotional ail. As you can imagine, this jaded my ideas about many things quickly. I hated myself, I hated my body. Self-inflicting seemed to be the answer which manifested itself via wrist-cutting, substance addiction and bulimia.

By some divine act I got sober and then stayed sober. I started getting healthy. I started playing sports again and hitting the gym. In college I continued playing sports and continued going to the gym. Then somehow I decided that certain foods were only allowed after a specific amount of exercise and foods restriction crept back. I continued to cope with transitions after college graduation by limiting meals and increasing workout.

As of late, it is rare that I eat a full normal meal, am consistently checking for fat on my body, and have many obscene and embarrassing food rituals and ideas. Having finished college with a major in Applied Science and a minor in Psychology, one would like to believe that logic would help me change. None of the information I hold matters however, because I live in constant fear of gaining weight which supersedes all.

I have been told that a personal strength of mine is insight, which I definitely owe to the 12-Step programs that I take part in. I have come to the realization that this obsessive thinking and behavior I have associated with food may be delusional – Lord, bless my dear family and friends for putting up with it! I also know that my purpose is to help those that are suffering and I can do that by telling you how I suffer. As described in previous paragraphs, I suffer from unknowingly imposing self-torture and sabotage in my life.

And what does any of this have to do with Yom Kippur you might ask?

On Yom Kippur, it is customary to observe this Day of Atonement by abstaining from food, drink, bathing, leather footwear and marital relations. This is done as an act of suffering in order to repent and become pure of our sins. The main purpose of this day is to become closer to God. We live this day differently so that we may feel spiritually connected.

I query as to how this 24 hours will be set apart, when already a majority of my days are spent tormenting my mind, heart and body by withholding food.

On this Holiest of Holy Days does it make sense to continue denying oneself that which is practiced on a daily basis?
I think not.

My hope for this Yom Kippur is that I, we as a people, can attempt to nourish our souls on this day instead. Can we fast from affliction so that we might halt the old revolving ideas and behaviors? Can we break the turnpikes that cease us from getting closer to God? I think this will be a hard and uncomfortable thing to do, but that usually tells me I’m a step in the right direction.

(Photo: Waleed Alzuhair)

Shana Rosenthal grew up in St. Paul. She is a recovering addict (among other things) trying to find her way back to Judaism and sharing her life experiences through writing.