April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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If It Isn’t That Extreme Is It Even a Problem? (Spoiler: Yes)

Typically, when people hear “eating disorders” their minds jump to some type of extreme or something they may have seen on television; an image of an emaciated individual glimpsing at a distorted reflection. A character reporting that she—it’s always a she in the media—feels out of “control” and uses food to cope. Someone admitting to vomiting after a meal.

These images, while representing an authentic experience for some, are often far from the truth. I have made it my mission over the past many years to spread true messages about awareness. When I go to various schools or shuls (synagogues) to speak out, people tsk. They shake their heads, gasping when I share statistics. They react, discussing the heartbreak of eating disorders and what the disorders can do to people—how they can potentially cut someone’s life short.

And yet, when the presentation is over and there are cookies and fruit in the corner, someone loudly states, “Well if we were all here to learn about eating disorders I guess I should choose the healthy option!” and then reaches for the fruit—completely missing the point (that all food is okay and depriving oneself is actually the unhealthy thing to do.) This is when I take a deep breath and remember that revolutionizing the Jewish community, Western culture, even more so the world, will take time.

Because, you see, eating disorders are not just about the most extreme story you’ve heard. If anything, those stories can be rare. Rare is the story about the individual who struggles with anorexia nervosa, whose labs were abnormal, who dropped a significant amount of weight. This happens. This is incredibly serious. But this is one piece of the pie chart that makes up the diagnostic criteria and triggers that lead to disordered eating and an eating disorder. Rather, bingeing and the binge-purge cycle are more commonplace behaviors. Individuals many times do not lose weight, even when restricting, because bodies are all different. Some people can have perfectly normal vital signs and labs even when their body is in a state of chaos.

The “on paper” and made-popular-by-television depictions can truly prevent individuals from feeling comfortable to get the help they need. Men, women and children may not believe they are “sick enough” unless they look a particular way. There is often a fear of a hierarchy of eating disorders, related to what people deem is serious (restriction) to what is not (bingeing). A fallacy.

The other piece getting in the way of being able to come forward is the perpetual glamorization of restriction and restrictive and orthorexic mindsets; people will readily exclaim how terrible it is that so many people, including those at now increasingly lower ages, are struggling. And then they will proceed to talk about diets and “being good” because they chose low-calorie options and how they can only “touch that sliver of cake if they work it off in the gym later.”

I will be bold and tell you that this is part of the problem. The restrictive mindset, the glamorization of thinness may not cause eating disorders, but they perpetuate stigma, judgment and fat-phobia. They cause people to feel like they will only achieve worth and love if they look a certain way. They lead to loneliness and maladaptive means of coping.

These mindsets are not separate. It is not that eating disorders are heart-breaking but diet culture is okay. They are bound together and it is essential that we open our eyes to health not being about thinness. To exercise not being about losing weight.

There are men and women living in secrecy and with shame, or perhaps who have explicitly shared their struggles who sit with such discomfort when those around them simply do not connect the fat-phobic comments with disordered eating. We must wake up around how much this impacts those around us—how much it impacts how we value and think about ourselves. You are deeper than how much you exercise. You are valued. You are seen. Getting caught up in what you weigh or your size or whether a food is made with particular ingredients takes you away from other values that I’d imagine you would want people to use when they described you.

Fun. Caring. Kind. Passionate.

Not: Dieting. Thin. Accepted because I know he was at least trying to lose weight.

This is limiting and judgmental and it is time to bridge the gap. I ask you to think about this. Think about how you conceptualize health, movement and how you look. Support growth and do not put anyone down, including yourself.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, is the assistant clinical director of Monte Nido Manhattan. She works in private practice in New York City and will soon be seeing clients in Teaneck! She works with individuals struggling with adjustment, grief, body image, eating disorders and disordered eating. She speaks nationally on the subjects listed above. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com.

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