The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community

Tackling issues often wondered about and little discussed…

Eating disorders are amongst the most serious of medical conditions with high rates of morbidity, including the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness.  It is important to note that within diverse populations, the stressors that may exacerbate an eating disorder can vary greatly, as can unique cultural factors which may serve as preventive or protective factors.  In recent years, more attention has been paid to these issues within the Jewish community specifically, as concerns continue to surface about increasing numbers of Jewish girls and boys struggling with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. 

An increasing rate of eating disorders is certainly not unique to the Jewish population – numbers are rising across the country regardless of ethnicity, religion or race.  However, the effective prevention, early identification and treatment of eating disorders within the Jewish community is dependent upon education and discussion that is socially and culturally relevant to those who are affected.  For example, the centralized role of food in Jewish heritage and traditions, including celebratory feasts and fasting, as well as stressors associated with the shidduchim, or traditional Jewish matchmaking, may influence one’s relationship with food and weight.

Research around eating disorders in the Jewish community has been done but studies regarding the prevalence are somewhat conflicting. According to one study, eating disorders affect one out of every 19 girls ages 14 – 16 in the Orthodox and Syrian communities, a rate that is 50% greater than in the general population.  Other studies have shown that while the incidence of eating disorders among the Jewish population may not necessarily be greater than that of the general population, Jews are often part of a demographic that would be more susceptible to eating disorders.  Orthodox women were found to have similar rates of eating disorders as secular Jewish women, however Orthodox women may be less likely to seek treatment given the cultural stigma that exists around the issue.  This stigma is a key reason why it has become so important to shed light on the topic of eating disorders in the Jewish community.   

On January 31st2010, the Center for Eating Disorders and the Orthodox Union will host a workshop in collaboration with Jewish Community Services and Hadassah of Greater Baltimore to address the topics identified above as well as the importance of self-esteem, body image and family communication in the Jewish community.  The free community event, Promoting Self Esteem & Healthy Body Image: A Program for the Jewish Community, is intended to help people develop a better understanding of the seriousness of these illnesses and help them identify risk factors and utilize prevention techniques.  This program is focused on addressing these concerns as they uniquely affect the Jewish Community and is geared toward educators, clinicians, parents, lay persons, and family members of affected individuals.

With a large Jewish population in the Baltimore area, we hope to provide the community with education about prevention strategies, risk factors for early identification, and the effective treatment of individuals with eating disorders. This workshop will include a plenary session from Catherine Steiner Adair, Ed.D,Director of Education and Preventions at the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MD.  Dr. Steiner Adair is a leader in the field of eating disorder treatment and the author of Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health, and Leadership. She has also published a supplement to this guidebook, titled Bishvilli- For Me, specifically to assist those in the Jewish Community to utilize these activities in a way that compliment their lifestyle.

The program’s keynote address will be presented by Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union.  He will be focusing on the issues of self esteem and eating disorders as they affect those in the Orthodox Jewish Community.  Eight other workshops will be facilitated by eating disorder professionals and mental health providers who have an understanding of the concerns of the Jewish Community.  For a full listing of presenters and workshop titles, download the Event Program.  Those who attend the program will have an opportunity to learn about and discuss the following subjects:

  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders
  • Identify early warning signs and risk factors of eating disorders
  • Become aware of the effects of eating disorders and related issues in the Jewish community
  • Understand how modern therapeutic techniques can be applied while maintaining respect for traditional Jewish culture and values
  • Utilize Jewish tradition, culture, spirituality, and rituals as resources for health and protective factors against the development of negative body image and eating disorders

Attendance at this event is free but pre-registration is required. Please call 410-938-3157 or email rsvp@sheppardpratt.org to reserve your seat. Download the FINAL PROGRAM BROCHURE for complete details and share the promotional event flyer with others who may be interested in attending.

photo courtesy of jewishharlem.com

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