Why do so many Jewish girls have eating disorders?
A recent New York Times article shed light on the problem of eating disorders in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. While it piques our interest to see inside this curious, closed society, it hardly comes as a surprise—from privileged American suburbs to the Israeli desert (home to the world’s highest rate of eating disorders), where ever you have Jewish girls, you’ll find high rates of disordered eating.
Eat, bubbeleh, eat.
Is there another culture or religion more bound up in the rituals, traditions, and symbolism of food?
Sabbath dinners, Passover seders, latkes and pastrami and bagels with lox; sometimes it seems like the days of the week, the months of the year, the entire Jewish calendar is ladled out of a soup tureen. So many opportunities to muck up a girl’s relationship with food.
Then there’s the kosher laws. Watch the shellfish; ditto the pork products. Separate the meat and dairy, and the dishes for meat and dairy, and the silverware, cutting boards, and pots and pans. It’s a rigid, ritualized fixation on food and eating that some consider a perfect breeding ground for the obsessive behavior of anorexics, while the fasting days (usually followed by an extravagant fast-breaking feast) are a stepping stone to the binge and purge of bulimia.
Funny, you don’t look Jewish.
Look around you. Something like 1% of the population is genetically predisposed to the cultural ideal of long-limbed, slim bustiness. And it’s not the Jews. Jewish fashion designers—sure. There’s Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ralph Lauren, just to name a few. Jewish fashion models—not so much. But the founders of Weight Watchers, Nutri-System, and Jenny Craig—all Jews.
This is not just about a bunch of spoiled Jewish girls skipping lunch.
It could be the unattainable ideal of Barbie-like beauty, the pressures of an upper middle-class, high-achieving population group, the ritualized, food-centric culture, or even a genetic predisposition—the medical and mental health communities aren’t certain why Jewish girls have so many eating disorders. Data is limited, but there is one thing they all agree on: eating disorders are the deadliest psychiatric illness out there. They pair one of the lowest cure rates with the highest rate of mortality.