Anorexia Recovery: A Jewish Coping Strategy for Guilt over Eating More

In the process of anorexia recovery, the disorder may try to trick you into feeling guilty for eating more. Whether you're eating more than your past self, more than people around you, or both, anorexia operates on the assumption that food is the enemy. There's nothing inherently wrong with eating more — but anorexia will try to convince you otherwise. Here's a story you can turn to when encountering disordered thoughts around the amount of food you're eating.

Joseph was one of twelve brothers. Joseph's brothers felt bitter toward Joseph and sold him into slavery. Eventually, Joseph rose from his slave status and became second-in-command to Pharaoh. When a famine struck, Joseph's brothers traveled to Egypt to ask for food. The brothers didn't recognize Joseph, so Joseph was able to put them through a series of tests to see if they had truly become kinder. One test involved bringing Benjamin, Joseph's favorite and only full brother, to Egypt. Upon seeing Benjamin, Joseph ordered a feast for his brothers (Genesis 43:16) — but his main focus was feeding Benjamin:

(לד) וַיִּשָּׂ֨א מַשְׂאֹ֜ת מֵאֵ֣ת פָּנָיו֮ אֲלֵהֶם֒ וַתֵּ֜רֶב מַשְׂאַ֧ת בִּנְיָמִ֛ן מִמַּשְׂאֹ֥ת כֻּלָּ֖ם חָמֵ֣שׁ יָד֑וֹת...

(34) [Joseph] had courses carried from himself to [his brothers], and Benjamin's course was five times greater than everyone else's...

Food is an expression of hospitality. In this story about famine, food is also urgently necessary for survival. When Joseph gives Benjamin five times more food than his other brothers, it shows how much he cares about Benjamin's survival. Indeed, "[Joseph's] compassion was kindled toward his brother" as he prepared for the meal (Genesis 43:30).

One reason Joseph favored Benjamin is that Benjamin was his only full brother. In other words, Joseph identified with Benjamin because they shared the same roots. Similarly, your mind and your body share the same roots! Your body has been with your mind for your entire life — but at some point, anorexia loosened your mind's connection to your body. As you recover, you get to compassionately restore this connection.

Restoring the connection between your mind and body means honoring your body's unique nutritional needs. It means respecting your body enough to care for its survival. And the guilty feelings you have when eating more than your past self or more than others around you? That's anorexia trying to wedge itself between your mind and your body! Your mind, in its wisest state, cares deeply about your body. Anorexia only cares about keeping you trapped.

Below are some mantras inspired by the story of Joseph and Benjamin. Choose one of them to repeat to yourself in times when you encounter disordered thoughts about your food:

  • Food is care.
  • I'm kindling compassion.
  • My mind and body share the same roots.
  • Divine addition. (This comes from the story of how Joseph got his name, which literally means "The Divine will add".)