Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Orthodoxy and Eating Disorders: Kosher Discipline to the Extreme

As someone new to full Jewish observance, I can tell you that the #1 practical lesson you learn from observance is discipline. This is also probably the hardest for people to learn, especially for us spoiled Americans! We take pride in not being "tied down" by rules, people, whatever. (Leaving aside the argument that we become slaves to "stuff" instead!)

However, there is a dark side to this kind of discipline in America, especially for people raised with this discipline from birth. As discussed on the OU.org website, Eating Disorder and Orthodoxy, this discipline can provide a fertile breeding ground for eating disorders.

The basic argument of the article: "Because Orthodox Judaism enforces a litany of rigid food rules and restrictions – no mixing meat and dairy, a bevy of off-limits foods and brands – Orthodox women who keep strict kosher learn from an early age to resist temptation and adhere to stringent meal guidelines. For the sake of religiosity, they become experts at saying no to foods that might otherwise appeal to them – and in some cases, such as on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av, to saying no to food, period."

My only problem with this article? Women are not the only ones who suffer from eating disorders! Like domestic violence, this assumption makes it even harder for male victims of domestic violence and eating disorders to come forward because they "aren't supposed to" suffer from these problems. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 7-10 million women suffer from an eating disorder, but so do 1 million men. That is certainly not an insignificant percentage of those suffering from these disorders!


  1. I'm not happy about how this article made it sound like kashrut causes eating disorders. I don't think we can conclude that from the fact that a group of Jewish girls in one place, at one time suffered from the disorders at a higher rate than the nation as a whole. Any number of societal, cultural, or genetic factors could account for the difference--were they all controlled for?

  2. Chavi and Sarah, I went to go do a little online research (haha, like I can get anything done online while my boys are awake) and I found this disturbing article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40607997/
    I wanted to leave a lovely comment refuting much of the article, but my brain isn't there right now. Help?

  3. Rivki, I agree that is a horrendous article. I thought the commenter "Miriam" did a great job of pointing out the flaws, so I'm not sure I have much to add. Did you see her comment? It's #6.