Why I Am Not 'Less' Forgiven Because I Eat on Yom Kippur

If you wouldn’t tell someone recovering from alcohol dependence to “just have one glass,” please don’t tell me to “just fast for one day.”

Festivities, holidays and celebrations can be extremely hard for those in recovery from an eating disorder. Think about it — most festivities revolve around food, whether it is Christmas, Thanksgiving, Passover, Ramadan or Halloween. Like how eating disorders are not simply about the food; holidays, large dinners, parties, anxiety-provoking situations with friends and family who may not always understand your struggles can cause internal chaos and pain.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and falls on the first day of the Jewish calendar month Tishrei. It marks the beginning of Teshuvah — a 10-day period of repentance where we ask for forgiveness for wrongs done in the year past and attempt to amend our behavior. On the tenth day we are “to afflict our souls’’ and fast for almost 26 hours.

I have not taken part in the “fasting” for three years, and I will not be participating this year or the next. This can cause controversy and aggravate many, but nonetheless I choose to respect my decision, my health and my body without needing to provide reason to any remark.


When I was in treatment for anorexia, I met a 40-year-old women who was also recovering from alcoholism. She told a story about how someone once told her to “just have one drink’’ at her sister’s wedding to join in the festivities. For those of you recovering or who know someone in recovery from alcoholism, you know that “just one drink” is not possible; for someone who has been substance-free for one, 10 or even 20 years, you would not suggest “just have one pill to calm down.” In this same one please do not suggest I fast “just for one day’” or even “one meal.”

My friend told me at her sister’s wedding, she was expected to have a drink to join in the festivities, implying that by not having a glass of champagne, she was not celebrating. Ridiculous right? But for those who are unsupported, or, like her, new to sobriety, this can be enough to alert the voices in our minds that we have practiced ignoring, cause them to flare up like an infection and in turn cause “us” to give in to our deadly disorders.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I refuse to take in others who believe I am not “joining’” in on Yom Kippur, the celebration of my religious new year. Over the past 10 days I have thought about my year, my wrongdoings and asked for forgiveness. But I am not concluding it with a day of atonement, Does this mean I am lesser off than those who do? Am I less forgiven, or less free of my sins? No.

The truth is for me, by not fasting, I am more forgiven, and more free of my sins. For me by not fasting, I am courageous, daring and brave.

By respecting and then discounting the people who judge me for feeding my body, soul and mind, I am once again honoring myself and beginning my new year how I will try to embrace the whole year, by loving myself and waking up every day to courageously battle my own internal fight.

Even though I am Jewish and this is particularly about Yom Kippur, I still join in the celebration over Christmas and on other holidays, too. I still struggle with the large groups of people, the buffets (a scary place for many new to recovery — a deadly tarantula to arachnophobes) and the socializing. However with time, practice and a supportive family I have managed to overcome these situations and my anxiety lessens year after year. But some are not so fortunate to have these people around them. Much like an eating disorder or addiction, they struggle in silence. So if you know a friend or family member who has struggled in the past, offer support, offer guidance and offer non-judgmental compassion.

Florence is a Project Heal’s UK Ambassador. You can find her on Instagram @florencetag and @projectheal_uk.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via tomertu

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