Two women are intent on understanding the differences—and help you identify if someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder.
By Amanda Jowell and Atara Sternbuch
Eating disorders appear in every community, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity. Developing an eating disorder is attributed to both genetic and environmental factors, such as media exposure, stress, anxiety, and expectations one may have or one may put on oneself. While research has been conducted extensively among potential environmental factors that help protect against or trigger an eating disorder in more secular communities, this research has never been conducted among ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.
No one is immune to an eating disorder, and the only way to learn how eating disorders appear in our community is through research. Children as young as the age of 7 can develop an eating disorder, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. They affect people in our communities daily, even if we may have no idea a friend or a child is suffering from one. That’s why we feel so strongly that we learn more about how they appear in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.
Helping prevent eating disorders developing in your children takes active and mindful effort! First of all, refrain from talking about your/others’ bodies negatively, or about weight loss and excessive dieting and exercise in front of your children. Instead, have conversations that focus on personality, character traits and healthy, mindful eating. Second of all, be aware of particular behaviors that indicate your child may be developing an eating disorder. These behaviors include: weight loss or stagnation among growing children, increased levels of anxiety, new interest in cooking but not eating, self-conscious about/avoidance of wearing fitted clothes, and abnormal behaviors surrounding food and eating (such as cutting food into small pieces, only eating certain types of foods, eliminating other food groups, using a lot of condiments when eating like salt or mustard).
While we know about these signs and symptoms, there is much more to learn- particularly in ultra-Orthodox communities. And you can help! We are researching perceptions religious women have about eating, dieting, their weight, and their bodies. We are interested in general attitudes about eating in the community, regardless if someone has an eating disorder. We hope our research will be incredibly beneficial, as it will allow us to better understand thoughts about eating and weight in our community. We believe this information will aid us in creating better treatment and preventative measures for eating disorders.
In that vein, we earnestly ask all women identifying as ultra-Orthodox or Charedi (18 years or older) to participate in our research by filling out a quick survey. It is important that everyone—even those who have never been affected by any eating concern—takes this survey so we can best understand thoughts and behaviors around eating in our community. This survey is completely confidential and doesn’t take too long. We are so grateful for your participation, and urge you to do so to contribute to research that will better serve the community.
Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
About Amanda and Atara:
About Amanda: I’m in Israel as a Fulbright Scholar, and I recently graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology, a minor in Modern Middle Eastern studies, and a completion of all pre-medical requirements. I have spent the past 3 years counseling people with eating concerns; thus, I have extensive experience talking about these issues and working with people suffering from eating disorders. I also have ample research experience. I have spent the past 4 years throughout my undergraduate degree conducting public health and basic science research, and I took a research seminar at Harvard about eating disorders and religion.
Atara Sternbuch: I’m a student in the Haredi branch of Haifa University, School of Social Work and completed all the academic requirements for my masters degree. I have a bachelor’s degree in social work from Bar Ilan University. Throughout the past few years, I’ve worked with children and teens at risk as a social worker, and I have volunteered with Haredi women going through difficult divorces. I live in Jerusalem and belong to a Haredi community. Being a social worker from within the Haredi circle, I’ve been contacted many times and have helped people in my community with various mental health issues (including eating disorders) receive proper treatment. I am deeply passionate about researching and understanding the struggles of my community and contributing to better treatment.