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Judaism and My Addiction to Food

November 10, 2016 | by Kylie Ora Lobell

No matter how much I eat, I never feel full. Food can’t fill what’s missing in my life.

I’ve been addicted to food my entire life. Ever since I was a little girl, I remember eating huge portions at my meals and never truly feeling full until I was sick. I loved French fries, pizza, sugary cereal, potato chips, donuts, and just about any type of bread there was.

When I started converting to Judaism in my early 20s, I took my eating to a whole new level. At the Shabbat table, I would eat slice after slice after slice of challah, dive head first into the entrée, and not come up for air until after dessert.

The holidays were worse. When Rosh Hashanah or Passover had ended, I was bloated and feeling more down about myself than usual. Through my conversion, I had gained a deeper closeness to God, a meaningful way of life, and a beautiful community. But I had also gained 30 pounds over the course of a few years.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there is a lot of food in Jewish culture. It’s wonderful that we have so much availability today in kosher foods. I love that a meal can bring people together in a home or a synagogue, fostering bonding amongst Jews. And I’m grateful that I can afford to buy food.

But for addicts like me, being surrounded by food all the time is tough. Though I enjoy kugel, cholent, challah, latkes with sour cream, honey, gefilte fish, kishka, schnitzel and other traditional foods, they’re loaded with unhealthy ingredients.

In college, I felt isolated from the other students, so I’d order a pizza and eat it in my room while watching TV. My mom couldn’t make it to my wedding, so I ate French fries – a food that reminds me of her – nearly every day for the two weeks leading up to it. I used to head out to the corner deli and get a sandwich at 2 a.m. because my husband was asleep and I was lonely.

I know that it’s a mitzvah to eat at certain times, especially when it’s Shabbat or another celebration. But it’s also a mitzvah to take care of the body that God gave me. I’m not supposed to drink to excess, smoke cigarettes, or do drugs. And when it comes to eating, I need to emphasize the same values.

Living in an unhealthy manner impinges on our ability to invest in our spiritual growth with all we’ve got.

Maimonides said, “Keeping the body healthy and whole is part of the ways of God, as it is impossible to understand the will of God if one is sick. Therefore, one has to be careful to distance himself from things which ruin the body. He should only eat when he is hungry, only drink when he is thirsty, and not wait when he has to use the facilities.”

Our ultimate goal is to work on ourselves and get closer to God. Choosing to live in an unhealthy manner impinges on our ability to invest in our spiritual growth with all we’ve got.

In my own experience, when I eat a large container of popcorn at the movies or four slices of pizza in a row, I’m in a spiritually low place. I’m in my “who cares” mode as I call it. “Who cares, I’m going to die one day, might as well enjoy the good food while I still have it. Who cares if I’m overweight? Nobody cares but me. Who cares, this is how I cope with how hard life can be.” In these moments, instead of turning to God for strength, I turn to food for a false sense of relief. I get sad, and I eat.

When I’m not in that state of mind, I can think a lot more clearly. I’m able to see how these foods could cut my life short, or how being overweight is both physically and mentally draining. I recognize how food is just a way to physically satisfy myself, and that’s it. God gave me food to live, and I shouldn’t be abusing that blessing.

This year, I’ve grown exponentially in my observance, and at the same time realized that I have a problem with food through talking with my therapist and husband. I eat for comfort and to fill some sort of hole that’s missing from my life. In situations where I’m feeling low, my first coping response has been to turn to food.

As I began to learn more and deepen my relationship with God, I felt calmer. When I was upset, connecting to the idea that whatever was happening was all for the good helped me get through it. I’ve realized that when I feel more spiritually fulfilled, I am at peace, and don’t have to rely on food to feel better.

Lately, I’ve been working out regularly, seeing a nutritionist, incorporating more fruits and vegetables into my diet, and keeping Shabbat meals healthier at my own home. I can’t control what other people serve, but I can do my best to change how I cook.

I’m in the beginning stages of recovery and I have a long way to go. Food is not a drug I can just give up, and the community will always serve the same delicious and unhealthy food on Shabbat and the holidays. I hope by Hanukkah I’ll be at the point where I can have just one potato latke (not ten!) and connect with the more spiritual aspects of the holiday.

In the end no matter how much I eat, I never feel full. So instead of fixating on the physical, I’ve learned to focus on my soul.

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