Out of the Narrow Place: A Jewish Framework for Anorexia Recovery

One of our core Jewish stories is the Exodus: We were once slaves in Egypt, and with the help of the Divine, we were liberated. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which can be translated as the Narrow Place (from tzar, which means "narrow").

Anorexia is the embodiment of Mitzrayim/the Narrow Place. In the domain of anorexia, we're slaves to disordered beliefs and behaviors that confine us: fearing weight gain, restricting food intake, and overworking our bodies. Yet with the help of the Divine within us and around us, we can find liberation. Like our ancestors, we may wander in the wilderness for years — but eventually, we can reach our own Promised Land.

The Promised Land is unlike the Narrow Place in many ways. Here's one example:

(י) ... הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה בָא־שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ לֹ֣א כְאֶ֤רֶץ מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ הִ֔וא אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְצָאתֶ֖ם מִשָּׁ֑ם אֲשֶׁ֤ר תִּזְרַע֙ אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֔ וְהִשְׁקִ֥יתָ בְרַגְלְךָ֖ כְּגַ֥ן הַיָּרָֽק׃ (יא) וְהָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתֶּ֜ם עֹבְרִ֥ים שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ אֶ֥רֶץ הָרִ֖ים וּבְקָעֹ֑ת לִמְטַ֥ר הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם תִּשְׁתֶּה־מָּֽיִם׃

(10) ... the land that you are about to enter and inherit is not like the land of Mitzrayim that you've left. There, you would sow your seed and water it by your own labors (lit. with your foot), like a vegetable garden. (11) But the land you're crossing into to inherit is a land of hills and valleys. It drinks the rain of the heavens.

Here, the Torah is comparing the physical environment of Egypt to that of Israel. Egypt is flat and contains the Nile River, making it easy to water crops through an irrigation system. Israel, however, is full of hills and valleys and wasn't conducive to an irrigation system like the one in Egypt. While it was possible to water crops "by your own labors" in Egypt, crops depended on "the rain of the heavens" in Israel. Overall, Egypt flowed with the Nile River, but Israel flowed with milk and honey.

What does this have to do with anorexia recovery?

In the Narrow Place of Egypt, nourishment was systematic and controlled. In the Promised Land of Israel, nourishment became more spiritual. There was a clear spiritual way to ensure that rain would fall:

... לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעׇבְד֔וֹ בְּכׇל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכׇל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם... וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ׃

... to love the Eternal, your Divine, and to serve the Divine with all your heart and with all your soul... You'll eat, and you'll be satisfied.

Eating in the Narrow Place of anorexia means that our nourishment is controlled — perhaps the disorder imposes limitations on food amounts or types, or it invents conditions for when we're allowed to eat. But eating in the Promised Land means loving something beyond the disorder's world of conditions and control; it means loving what is eternal and divine. It means leaving the Narrow Place of this-meal's-calories or today's-number-on-the-scale or whatever-keeps-me-confined and living instead in a place of heart, soul, and satisfaction.

I'll close for now with some ways to put this idea into practice. Feel free to choose what's meaningful to you!

  • Write your own blessing/intention for eating. It doesn't need to follow a certain format; just write from your heart!
  • Make a warm milk-and-honey drink and enjoy it mindfully.
  • Create a collage or drawing of what your Promised Land looks like. Put it on your fridge as a reminder of your intentions in leaving your Narrow Place.
  • Write a list of the ways anorexia imposes control over your eating. Then, for each item on the list, write an idea of what it would mean to eat from a place that loves what is eternal and divine. For example, maybe anorexia tells you not to eat a certain food that you enjoy. An alternative affirmation may be, "I uplift the divine spark in [food] by enjoying [food]."
  • Find a recovery ally and talk about the ideas in this sheet together.
  • Come up with your own ideas!