Treating Eating Disorders in Orthodox Women

Observant Jews seeking help for anorexia or bulimia have long had the added burden of finding treatment programs that will accommodate their religious practices, such as adherence to the laws of kashrut and Sabbath observance. But now a nationwide network of eating disorders treatment facilities has launched a track specifically for observant Jewish women.

The Renfrew Center, which has facilities in eight states, will introduce the new program June 7 at a daylong conference, “Food, Body Image and Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community.” A news release about the conference, to be held at New York’s Ramaz school, states:

Renfrew staff members are receiving training in the cultural aspects of Judaism that may affect treatment. This training is designed to educate clinicians about specific traditions, rituals and beliefs which can be incorporated into treatment. “Working with the traditions and values of the Orthodox Jewish Community empowers patients to overcome eating disorders,” said Cindy Shore, Assistant Vice President of Northeast Operations for The Renfrew Center. “We are pleased to provide a program that offers women treatment while continuing to fulfill their spiritual needs.”

To understand the Jewish communal demand for such targeted treatment programs, check out this article by psychologist and eating disorders specialist Esther Altmann. In it, she explores the pervasiveness of such disorders in the Orthodox community, writing:

There are several theories about why eating disorders have become prevalent amongst ultra-Orthodox adolescent girls. One commonly cited cause is that young ultra-Orthodox men are seeking thin brides, thereby heightening the worries of teenage girls, along with their mothers, that they need to be slim to marry. The expectation and pressure to marry and start a family at a young age may exacerbate the problem. Girls approaching marital age may feel they are not ready to assume responsibilities of rearing their own children, or may fear becoming sexual with a marital partner. Feeling that they cannot challenge parental expectations, they may instead rebel by trying to control their bodies.
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