I’ve been in some form of recovery from my eating disorder for many years. I’ve gotten through pretty much every challenging food situation that has come my way. I’ve tolerated my body changing. I’ve embraced hunger and taking up space. And I don’t fast on Yom Kippur.

I know that I could fast and it wouldn’t trigger my eating disorder. I could fast and break the fast and wake up the next day and eat normally again. I appreciate all the articles I see this time of year by Jewish people who are struggling with an eating disorder or are early in recovery talking about why they don’t fast. These articles are so important and necessary in giving permission to others in similar situations to not fast on Yom Kippur. And the truth is, you don’t need an excuse or reason not to fast on Yom Kippur.

For me, I don’t fast on Yom Kippur as a way to honor a different time in my life. The time I almost died of anorexia. The time when smallness was what I valued above everything else. The time I denied hunger. The time that eating was much much harder than not eating. 

I know that Yom Kippur is about repenting and atonement. I know that it’s a day to reflect and pray and that it’s not supposed to be an easy day. And eating is easy for me now. Fasting would be harder. And I’m not going to fast. I’m not going to fast even though I’m not emaciated anymore. I’m not going to fast even though I’m not thin anymore. I’m not going to fast even though many weight biased people in the world would say it would be good for me to fast. 

I’m going to eat to honor the long lineage of people in my family who have struggled with restrictive eating and eating disorders. I’m going to eat to honor my ancestors who didn’t get to. I’m going to eat to acknowledge the work I’ve done to untangle the inter generational trauma and hopefully change things for the next generation.

I entered the world in a body that was not considered acceptable in my family because of its size. I was not given permission to eat as a child and I have fought hard to give myself permission to eat. I do not want something to take that permission away-even a holiday- even for one day. There’s been way too many days of fasting in my life already. I’m not intentionally doing another one. Eating is hard won. 

The G-d I pray to is not the G-d I learned about as a kid. That G-d, I was told, judged and balanced my good deeds and mistakes and based on which I did more of decided my fate for the year. The G-d I pray to now is a loving and compassionate G-d. She is not interested in judging me and She is not interested in deciding my fate based on how my year balances out. And She is certainly not interested in tipping my fate in one direction or another based on whether I eat or not. The G-d I pray to now will be proud of the work I’ve done to make eating easy and will know that the good I do in the world has nothing to do with the size of my body or whether I fast or not on Yom Kippur.

153: IE Series, Emotional Eating and Kind Coping Skills With Dr. Rachel Millner, Psy.D.
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-weight-inclusive-podcast/id1208568777

Anorexia In Higher Weight Individuals with Rachel Millner

Listen to this interview with Rachel Millner at https://seven-health.com/2020/07/206-anorexia-in-higher-weight-individuals-with-rachel-millner/#1

I am sorry that the eating disorder field has not been there for you in the ways we should be. As a field we have let you, and your children, down. We have reinforced the stereotype that only thin, white, wealthy, straight, cis girls get eating disorders and have put a great deal of research into anorexia while mostly ignoring other eating disorders. We have sent the message that parents are intentionally harming their kids and forget that parents exist in the same culture that we all do. We have harmed you and we have harmed your kids. It is time for us to do better. 

As parents, we are seeking to do what’s best for our kids. We fall short often, but when we know better, we do better. This is also true in the eating disorder field. The vast majority of us in the eating disorder field came into this line of work wanting to help people whether through direct clinical work, research, or teaching. We fall short often, but when we know better, we need to do better. There is an opportunity here for us all to do better. 

I think the eating disorder field and the parent community are in a parallel process in how we are needing to evolve and change in order to do better for our communities and help more kids with eating disorders. As a parent community, you need us in the eating disorder field to be doing this work. Those of us in the eating disorder field need you, as parents, to be doing this work. We need to push each other forward. Moving forward is scary, but staying stuck in our old convictions and beliefs doesn’t help anyone. 

There are many ways we need to evolve and it is impossible for any one list to be exhaustive, but here are some suggestions of things we need to do both as a field and within the parent community to create change:

  • We need to stop centering thin, white, cis girls with anorexia. This does not mean that the experience of people who fit this description isn’t important, but what it does mean is that every time this is the only image that is seen of someone with an eating disorder, anyone who doesn’t fit this description moves a step further away from getting help. We know that the quicker someone gets diagnosed, the better their prognosis. When we stop centering only one story and one stereotype, we help everyone else get diagnosed and treated quicker. 
  • We need to start recognizing eating disorders as a social justice issue. I know there are a lot of varying opinions and beliefs about what contributes to the development of eating disorders, but you don’t need to believe that culture causes eating disorders to recognize them as a social justice issue. The fact is that we live in a white supremacist culture that tells us some lives are more valuable than others. We live in a culture that tells us some bodies are more valuable than others. We live in a culture that tells us some voices should be heard over others. We live in a culture in which some people are given access over others. If we want to help those suffering with eating disorders (and prevent some eating disorders from starting) we need to acknowledge that living in this culture has an impact and be working to change it. 
  • We need to address fat phobia and weight stigma. As a field, we need to stop having any relationship with the “obesity” field. Body size is not an eating disorder or a problem to be solved. Period. We need to stop being afraid of our clients getting, or staying, fat. We need to stop setting goal weights too low. We need to stop giving one treatment plan to someone in a smaller body and another to someone in a larger body. As providers, we need to be willing to stop dieting and address our own internalized fat phobia. As parents, we need to stop commenting on our kids’ bodies or suggesting that they need to be changed. We need to stop our own dieting. We need to stop healthcare providers from telling our kids they need to lose weight. We need to take a firm stance on this. There should not be a single treatment center, provider, researcher, or professor that doesn’t practice from Health at Every Size(R) and we need to be helping the parent community to do the same. 
  • We need to recognize the role of trauma in eating disorders. I know this is a controversial one. I am not suggesting that everyone with an eating disorder has a trauma history, but I am suggesting that we need to make sure we are assessing for a history of trauma and providing trauma informed care-whether there is a history of trauma or not. We need to recognize that having a marginalized identity in this culture is trauma and name it as such. We need to remember that treatment that is fat phobic is trauma. We need to remember that if someone tells us something was traumatic for them- it was. It’s not up for debate. 

As I said, this list is not exhaustive, but it is a place to start from. We have a common goal of helping those with eating disorders recover and preventing more people from developing eating disorders. We push forward together for the benefit of those who are most marginalized and most harmed.  

Originally posted at https://www.feast-ed.org/to-parents-of-kids-with-eating-disorders-especially-those-who-dont-fit-the-stereotype/

Rachel Millner (she/her), PsyD, CEDS, CBTP
Healing Relationship with Food and Body
[email protected]   |    215-932-9885
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