HEALTH & WELLNESS
A Jewish Approach to Eating Disorders By Eddie Samuels The underlying challenges of eating disorders are no different in Jewish patients than others. But The Renfrew Center’s liaison to the Jewish community, Sarah Bateman, spoke to the AJT about the center’s Jewish programming and specific struggles and successes of Jewish patients. “We don’t have numbers [on Jews with eating disorders] but we know it’s a problem,” she said. “I try to stay really focused on how it manifests differently.” The Renfrew Center, which has several locations including one in Atlanta, aims to ensure that Jewish patients are comfortable and accommodated for all levels of observance while in the program, such as keeping Shabbat, celebrating holidays and eating kashrut. “Since 2009 we’ve had special programming for Jewish women with eating disorders, which we are in the process of reworking right now,” Bateman said. “For the past two years we’ve been using a unified treatment model developed from David Barlow’s Unified Protocol. … One of the things we’re doing now is looking
24 | AUGUST 16, 2019 ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
Simply shifting the mindset around that can be a big step, Bateman said. “Instead of looking at that as: I do this every single week, what am I supposed to do? We can look at it as an accomplishment: I do this every single week!” she said. “We can plan for this and make it a part of your meal plan and treatment plan.” With the high holidays quickly approaching, Bateman also mentioned a few of the challenges for those recovering from eating disorders around holidays, especially those that are traditionally centered around food. “It’s very challenging, and it’s the same thing with Jews and non-Jews. It’s really important to take the focus off the food and think more about the holiday. Why do they observe it? Is there a way for them to consciously put the focus on something other than the food?” She added that even with holidays like Passover, where the traditions can Renfrew’s Atlanta-area treatment center. seem so directly tied to a meal, there is at Jewish values and seeing how they can an assessment in which they discuss lev- more to it. “Unfortunately, we put the focus on els of observance and necessary accomhelp with this treatment process.” the meal a lot of the time. … Being able Bateman explained that initially, modations. “We also assess how their beliefs and to enjoy the meal and get that feeling of Jewish patients who wish to can undergo Judaism, more generally, affect them and fulfillment is an important part of treatmay have affected the development of ment, but we don’t want the focus to be their eating disorder, and what accom- all on the food,” she said. Fasting is another big question for modations we can make for them,” she said. “That can mean anywhere from ko- Jewish patients and Bateman noted that sher food to working through issues with there is no specific rule stopping those with eating disorders from fasting, but specific groups.” She noted that a values-based ap- additional caution is warranted around proach was a core part of the center’s Yom Kippur. “There are guidelines that we work unified treatment model, and using Jewish values with Jewish patients is espe- with a rabbi to enforce. Someone with a history of anorexia, cially important. For who has been very reexample, she said, “Life stricted and has been comes first in Judaism, triggered similarly in and that’s something the past, should not fast we repeat a lot. These at all,” she said. “It can behaviors are harmbe extremely challengful, and there’s a higher ing for someone with mortality rate with anan eating disorder to orexia than any other not fast. There are conmental illness. It’s not cerns about being differjust about wanting to ent from everyone else look thin; this is a deadly who is fasting that often mental illness.” come up.” While often holiShe recommended days can be difficult using the high holidays times for patients, Bateas a time for reflection. man explained that JewSarah Bateman “If we use this as ish practices can also an opportunity to think about what we create those same difficulties. “Obviously we have Shabbat, so while want and what we believe in and set I have non-Jewish patients coming to me some positive, healthy goals, we can around the holidays asking, ‘How do I get work on tolerating the emotions,” she through a holiday meal?’ Jewish patients said “We can ask: Are my behaviors matching my beliefs?” ■ deal with that every week,” she said.
Health & Wellness