There is a reason Purim occurs right before Passover on the calendar. Megillah readings, costumes, carnivals, games, and hamantaschen put smiles on faces and enjoyment in the eyes of observers. It is one of the most joyous and fun holidays Jews celebrate. Then comes Passover…a very important holiday with tremendous historical significance as Jews celebrate their freedom from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago. However, the anxiety I feel leading up to Passover is real, as there are very strict laws and customs that we must follow as Jews; and, these rules are based around food.
Matzo, the traditional unleavened cracker of fiber-free white flour and water has basically the same ingredient list as Play Doh. In fact, growing up my family has referred to it as ‘cardboard.’ And on Passover, it’s used for everything from pseudo-French toast (matzo brie) to sweet casseroles (kugel) to matzo-meal based cakes. Passover cake and cookie mixes are typically made of potato starch alongside the ground up matzo, starch and more starch.
Even without having experienced an eating disorder there were two holidays which always gave me anxiety: Yom Kippur and Passover. Today is the fourth day of Passover, and the first two nights were the Seders, where my family sat around our beautifully set dining room table, read from the Haggadah, and then yelled, “Hallelujah! It’s time to eat!”
I couldn’t help but take in the aromas of a home cooked holiday meal along with a steamy, hot kitchen from the ovens having been on for days. I began salivating over traditional, comfort foods that I grew up eating.
The festive meal began.
It started with a huge bowl of Charoset passed around the table. I spooned myself a heap of this delicious chopped up apple, cinnamon and sugar mixture, and neatly spread it on a piece of matzo because a that’s what we do. After finishing this “appetizer,” and every crumb that went with it (and, let me tell you, there are a lot of crumbs from matzo!), it was time for the next.
“Do you want noodles in it?” my mom yelled to each of us individually from the kitchen as she poured matzo ball soup in bowls. A recipe passed down from my grandma, it was impossible to leave any ingredient out.
Next, she served us each a piece of gefilte fish brought on a side plate. Another very important part of our Passover Seder with rich tradition.
Let me say, I could have and should have stopped there. It was more than enough, and suffice to call ‘dinner.’
But, it was just the beginning. After the preliminary dishes were cleared, the actual meal began, which was buffet style. So, I grabbed my plate, headed over to the table where platters of brisket, chicken, multiple kugels, and roasted vegetables were so beautifully prepared and displayed, and I dove in. It was impossible to turn my eyes away from any of the dishes. And, I didn’t want to say no to any. They all looked so delicious, and were made with a tremendous amount of love.
But, my stomach didn’t love me. Like I did when I was younger, I overate, stuffed myself to severe discomfort, and, then, beat myself up for not having better control of my choices. Now, I would consider this a binge eating episode.
But, wait, I didn’t even get to dessert. What is a holiday meal without trays of baked goods, Kosher for Passover Mandel bread, cakes, and cookies?
I felt sick, uncomfortably full, bloated to the extreme, and ill from all the matzo meal–which never digests well.
That was just the Seder stress. The other six days of eating matzah, Kosher for Passover items, and a lot of unhealthy sponge cakes is never good for a diet. I have a system, and Passover completely interferes. It would be so easy to just give up, cheat, or completely disregard the rules. I realize I am not a strict observer, nor am I claiming to be. Since recovering from an eating disorder, I have had to make adjustments to my food practices related to religious holidays to help prevent triggers or relapses. I allow myself to continue eating a couple of my daily favorites, but, still, I make sacrifices, and it is not easy.
My regular daily diet consists of bagels, bread, cereal, and muffins. I have created a pattern that allows for my digestive system to remain balanced. But, not during Passover. During Passover, when eliminating leavened bread or derivatives of it, without doubt, I am constipated, bloated, and sick. But, the guilt I have for not following through, at least somewhat, outweighs my desire to maintain my daily rigidity (though, it’s a close call.) I hope I am able to continue respecting my family, traditions, and religion, despite my idiosyncrasies and rigid habits, not just for me, but for my children, too.
I tell myself it’s healthier to be able to adjust my diet from its norm than to have a balanced digestive system for one week. I can suck it up for eight days to pay respect to the Jews who suffered to give me what I have today–freedom. Because, again, food shouldn’t dictate our lives… but more religion, tradition, family, and friends.