June 17, 2024
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Pesach Prep and Disordered Behaviors: Here’s What to Know

This morning’s activities included cleaning out our freezer and beginning to organize a box of food for donations. It’s that time of year again, folks: preparing for Pesach. In the weeks (and for some, months) leading up to Pesach so many of us begin to plan and prep. The cleaning, the cooking, the organizing.

This year, though different from other years, may not include vacations or trips but does still include this very detailed preparation. While other holidays require prep, of course, Pesach seems to enforce the need for us to turn our whole houses upside down, clean every inch of our homes, and prepare food in a way that is likely different for most of us.

The process of preparation can bring about anxiety, dread, and stress. Is it too early to clean? Do I still have any food that hasn’t expired from last year? Should I cook now or wait? Stress, as we know, typically needs an outlet. Below I have listed a few common experiences that come up at this time of year, with some recommendations on how we can best take care of ourselves:

1. Don’t turn yourself into the garbage pail. My dear friend Aviva Kochavi posted a quote with this sentiment years ago and it completely stuck with me, though I have trouble remembering the origin or speaker. Essentially, if you’re finishing food because you don’t want to throw it away, you are turning yourself into the garbage pail. Yes, we absolutely have a law of ba’al tashchit—not to waste food. This being said, it is important that you note when you’re feeding yourself solely to not throw away food that you will need to dispose of before Pesach. Do not emotionally (or physically) send yourself the message that you are on par with the trash can. Rather, identify where you can donate items or if you can prepare food to (safely) share with others, if items are unopened. While this may sound obvious, I believe so many of us resort to the “quickest” option; so try to explore alternatives that will allow you to feed yourself respectfully.

2. Notice compulsive eating and binge urges. Noticing how much chametz you have can lead to compulsive eating. This is because the feeling of needing to get rid of the food—and the fear of food deprivation once it is gone—can cause an individual to consume the food. This may occur in a panicked state or may lead the person to eat the food in a rushed manner, based on deeper feelings of fear as noted above, having to do with deprivation. This is a holiday when we actively remember, not simply recall, the deprivation we experienced and the manner in which we were hastily saved from Egypt. Feelings of haste and deprivation now can lead to altered engagement with food. It is important that we ground ourselves and use our wise minds, both elements of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Noting that emotionally we may feel overwhelmed by the planning and mindset and the financial aspects of the holiday and “losing food” if we do not sell our chametz. Logically, we know that this holiday is just a tad longer than a week of our year and that we are having these feelings based on expectations, past experiences, etc. And when we combine the two, we can practice self-validation while reminding ourselves of the alternatives, beyond the chaos and intense emotions of the here and now. Practice mindfulness—take deep breaths, notice your surroundings, pause and take breaks. Reconnect with yourself beyond this moment.

3. Restriction isn’t the answer. It never is! As we approach this holiday with food that is slightly different, let us remember that restriction won’t help. The pursuit of restricting yourself will not actually give you increased self-worth or happiness. Restricting will lead toward increased obsessiveness, self-blame, and is a gateway for the bingeing mentioned above. Remind yourself that there are options and speak to yourself with compassion: yes, it is only eight days and also, that can feel like a lifetime. Prepare but note that if having a plethora of food feels challenging (see point #2) that you can use the grounding tools.

Pesach is a time to celebrate freedom, to experience gratitude to Hashem and to remember that we would still be slaves today without His taking us out of Egypt. Do not enslave yourself to food preoccupation, when possible. We each may have our own struggles and challenges and I do not pretend that this is easy. And, take the time to see if you can challenge yourself to do it differently. Deep breaths. You are not alone and you can do this.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW is licensed in New York and New Jersey and is a Health at Every Size practitioner, working with those struggling with mental health concerns, eating disorders, disordered eating and body image struggles. She is a public speaker on the subjects above and is passionate about specializing in working with those within the Jewish community. Temimah is also an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, visit www.temimah.com 

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