The day I became a bat mitzvah at twelve years old, my parents enforced that I take on a new challenge and religious responsibility—to fast on Yom Kippur. This holiday was the most dreadful for me. Though I understood the significance of not eating or drinking on the Day of Atonement in Judaism, fasting was an unpleasant and gloomy day.
That was until I developed an eating disorder. At the time of my eating disorder, I was restricting my calories to the extreme, and grasped onto any excuse as to why I couldn’t eat—I didn’t like the food, I wasn’t hungry, I had already eaten, I was full, and so on. So to have a holiday that required fasting and signified I was an observant Jew was the greatest day of the year.
Since working tirelessly to recover and remain in recovery from anorexia nervosa, I have chosen not to fast on Yom Kippur. While it may be looked down upon in the practice of Judaism, I publicly share that I will be eating this Wednesday on a day my loved ones and community will be fasting. God too would prefer this choice over the other.
Like addiction, recovery from an eating disorder can have a number of triggers that can send me into relapse, and fasting or starving myself is one of them. Fasting facilitates my ability to exercise discipline and endurance. If I can master my urge to eat for one day, perhaps I can have better control the next day and the day after that and so on. Eating disorders are all premised around control and discipline, and when I prove to be successful in achieving a food or weight-related goal, I become susceptible to continuing this unhealthy behavior.
Therefore, when this article, “Rabbi: Anorexics Must Eat on Yom Kippur,” was just published I felt relieved and understood. The article explains that Rabbi Dr. Mevorach suggests several solutions to allow recovered patients to eat, since the price of not eating may come at a high psychological price. He warns of situations in which the patients believe their situation is better than it actually is, and since relapse is a common part of eating disorders, it’s best not to take any chances—even on the holiest day of the year.