Article by Dr Laufer on Eating Disorders – Mishpacha magazine
Dr. Tzofia Laufer, the Deputy Director of the Eating Disorders Department at Mayanei Hayeshua, has issued a stark warning: “Someone in your close vicinity could be suffering from an eating disorder.”
According to Dr Laufer, a psychiatrist specializing in eating disorders, there is a common misconception that eating disorders only happen in a culture that worships the physical image, and that this disorder only affects women. “No one is immune to the disorder, and proportionately, the number of cases of eating disorders in the ultra-Orthodox community is the same as in secular society. Although eating disorders usually reach their peak during adolescence, they can also affect younger children. Eating disorders are not simply about diet, eating and weight, but are associated with mental disorder such as depression and anxiety.”
The most common – and most life-threatening – eating disorder is anorexia, which is characterized by significant weight loss together with an obsessive fear of weight gain. In the absence of proper treatment, anorexic patients can reach a state of severe malnutrition. Tell-tale signs include compulsive behavior around eating, such as over-lengthy meals, not eating next to family members, avoiding eating at the Shabbat table, isolation, mood swings, and eating only diet foods.
In the past, as Dr. Laufer acknowledges, parents of children with eating disorders within ultra-Orthodox families would forego treatment because the road to recovery involved hospitalization in places that were antithetical to an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. At Mayanei Hayeshua, there is a completely separate hospital ward for eating disorders, and treatment can proceed with no such fears.
Dr Laufer urges parents and teachers to watch out for functional changes among male and female youngsters, and signs of obsessiveness around weight. “Parents must be encouraged and supported to seek professional help for their children. My message is clear: Keep an eye on your family members, and keep track of changes in their eating patterns, especially among young people.”