Religion and Mental Health: Addressing Eating Disorders Among Orthodox Jews

Getting treatment for an eating disorder often requires the joint care of a therapist or counselor as well as a medical physician, if the disorder has progressed enough to cause bodily harm. But among some communities, acknowledging eating disorders (and mental health concerns in general) is difficult to do. The Orthodox Jewish community is one example, according to several doctors and counselors who specialize in eating disorders; they say that Orthodox Jewish patients are increasingly common, and that Israel has one of the highest rates of eating disorders worldwide. Because Orthodox Judaism includes specific dietary limitations and fasting, it can set up a slippery slope for those who struggle, and a fast may trigger a relapse for someone who’s recovered. Yet awareness is growing, marked by an increase in facilities, books, and documentaries. Aimed specifically at the Orthodox community, these resources address the problem, discourage stigma, and encourage therapy.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • will


    December 19th, 2010 at 5:08 AM

    this can be a very tricky issue because convincing the orthodox community is not an easy task and even suggesting something that goes against their belief and practices may raise an eyebrow.

  • XV


    December 19th, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    They need to strike a balance. For people who have fully recovered and relapse is not a scare, following everything as prescribed seems fine. But for others, they really need to keep away from doing things that can push them into a relapse. Every religion is flexible and I am pretty sure even in this case there is a little room for health problems.

  • Olivia


    December 19th, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    This can be a tough area for many to navigate and add to this the stresses of being orthodox and trying to adhere to the rigors that this lifestyle entails has to even add to the stress levels that many women must already feel.

  • gavin


    December 19th, 2010 at 11:55 PM

    religion is a very tricky issue and although our health is a more serious concern for most of us,some orthodox people take religion very seriously and they are ready to out their health ion stake to fulfill religious obligations.there needs to be some talk regarding this with religious leaders,you know,maybe to allow people some leeway…

  • Damien


    December 20th, 2010 at 4:50 AM

    There are some instances where you will need to forgo a religious practice because you are not fit to do that health wise. This is a fairly okay thing to do because without health there is nothing and your faith is not going to be rocking if you forgo something due to a health concern.

  • Layla


    December 20th, 2010 at 5:32 AM

    What makes this even sadder is that it is doubtful that many of these women would get the support that they need to recover.

  • Chelsea


    December 21st, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    I agree with Damien about having to take a raincheck on certain parts of religious practice if it’s going to keep you ill or further your illness. Many faiths have days of atonement that include fasting for some length of time. My take on it is the God/Goddess you believe in loves you enough that they wouldn’t want you to harm yourself in the name of religion, though I know not everyone would agree with that.

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