May 18, 2024
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Positive Steps Toward Freedom

Pesach feels significant in my own eating disorder history timeline. While I don’t speak about it much anymore, part of what propelled me to become an eating disorder therapist was my own history; my early role in the field was speaking as an advocate and recovered individual telling my story. After recovering, I entered the field through a volunteer internship order to be sure that

I wanted to enter this world to help others. Sharing my own story was not really the main goal since the work that one does as a clinician must be about the client and not oneself.

Still, when I do think back to my own story, I recall that I left residential treatment the weekend before Pesach that year. I was privileged to have access to the treatment I needed, and my discharge was set before I even began, based on insurance, allowing about two days before my family left for a Pesach trip. The themes of liberation were not beyond me, but I can tell you that at the time I did not care: I was still very much immersed in my struggle and the path toward recovery is not linear, so although treatment is extremely helpful in many ways, it was a long journey until I was able to recover.

People — clients, students at high schools and universities, parents attending educational programming — tend to ask what one’s relationship is like with his/her body after recovery. We live in a world that glamorizes thinness and values an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. What can one expect from recovery? Is it truly possible to think differently from most of the world?

First, we need to define what we are aspiring toward: a healthy relationship with food and one’s body including recognition of hunger and fullness cues; recognizing what one is hungry for; achieving the point where weight and food do not impact mood or functioning; exercising for enjoyment and physical health (not as a compensatory behavior); not having foods or groups cut out unless related to religious restrictions, allergies or documented physical illness; knowing that sometimes we eat based on our emotions but we also have many adaptive coping mechanisms beyond food.

Is this achievable? Absolutely. Is it simple? Absolutely not. It requires detangling the ways self-worth relates to body image, unlearning myths related to bodies and health (there are many!) and recognition of the systemic impact of fat phobia and diet culture.

And so when people ask me what to expect in recovery, I share these definitions and also explain that it is about what one can add to one’s life, rather than living by rules; what movement would feel enjoyable to you, rather than focusing on exercise as compensation, compulsion or punishment. Reflect on what you WANT to eat, rather than what you are not allowing yourself to eat or what you feel compelled to eat. Understand how you can celebrate not only your body but your mind and soul, rather than focusing on what you want to change or on feelings of shame or getting lost in cognitive distortions. Yes, there are actions to stay away from and some recommendations to follow but recovery, overall, is about embracing and adding experiences that lead to living, rather than deprivation.

When Am Yisrael were rescued and taken out of Egypt, we were on a journey toward liberation, but this also included recognition of who we were as a nation, guided by Torah. The first mitzvah we were given was Rosh Chodesh, recognition of the new moon which relates to man’s relationship to time. It was a mitzvot aseh, a commandment to do. And while of course we were given so many mitzvot lo ta’aseh (commandments of what not to do) I think of this in relation toward freedom in recovery; finding a new identity on this journey toward freedom with a focus on what we can do—rather than beginning with deprivation.

As we think about approaching Pesach — about our brothers and sisters in Israel, about the theme of liberation, I encourage you to think about your own liberation and the ways you can move toward integration of what will help enhance your life, rather than what takes away from allowing you to sparkle, grow, connect and thrive. Chag sameach.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW works in New York and New Jersey with individuals ages 18 and older who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Zucker is an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a metro New York consultant at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com.

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