by Jeff Reznik
An eating disorder is one of the most mysterious and incomprehensible medical conditions that exist. The new release by Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, Starving Souls: A Spiritual Guide to Understanding Eating Disorders, provides an in-depth look at this widespread disorder that has struck many children, teens and teenagers at an alarming, increasing rate.
Rabbi Goldwasser, in addition to being a popular speaker and writer and serving as rav in Brooklyn, is a renowned proponent for the prompt recognition of eating disorders and its treatment. He brings a wealth of counseling experience to his work with the ED population, having advised people from around the world, and from all walks of life.
He has worked closely with medical personnel, mental health professionals and their patients and has written extensively on the topic of eating disorders from a Torah perspective.
In the words of Dr. Russell Marx, medical director of the Eating Disorder Program at Princeton University Medical Center, the book is “a brilliant synthesis of the deepest levels of Jewish thought and a modern understanding of the causes and treatment of eating disorders.”
Starving Souls opens with a section defining the various types of eating disorders, their signs and symptoms, possible causes and complications that could result thereby. Even those familiar with ED will surely glean new information. For example, in the discussion on Cyberexia, readers are shocked to discover that yet another manifestation of the dark side of the Internet is that adolescents and teenagers going online for help regarding eating disorders sometimes discover websites that promote such a condition as a lifestyle choice rather than a serious, life-threatening illness.
In the section on Spiritual Conflicts, we learn that various factors come into play in exploring ED – psychological, cultural, biological, and those that involve one’s connection to Torah and mitzvos. Rabbi Goldwasser writes, “One of the greatest dilemmas that a person suffering from an eating disorder can be faced with occurs when the illness begins to interfere with a deep-rooted religious observance or tradition. Then the patient becomes strongly torn between two conflicting spheres of persuasion.”
For example, the anorexic patient will be challenged by the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos, which directs one to enjoy the day through partaking of food and drink. Other mitzvah areas that challenge the ED patient and that are discussed in the book include Yom Kippur, abiding by the truth and bal tashchis (not to waste) – he or she often has low self-worth and view eating as a waste of food. “We don’t feel that we are worth nourishing,” they say.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and there is a section that shows that this old, hackneyed saying holds as true by eating disorders as any other area of medicine. Rabbi Goldwasser offers a ten-step program to this end, noting that parents must get to know their children, and that it is vital that they strive to “understand their individual nature and to be attuned to the nuances in behaviors,” which often serve as subtle hints that indicate something is amiss.
Within the family unit, he notes that his research shows that prime candidates for the development of an eating disorder often grow up in situation where a sibling outshines them or receives more attention.
The book also offers detailed analyses of the physical, spiritual and emotional conditions of the ED patient. Real-life case histories illustrate how various different interventions and modalities have proven successful. There is correspondence between the author and a 22-year-old suffering from an eating disorder. The presentation is professional and from a Torah perspective and, yet, is written in an easy-to-understand style.
Starving Souls offers patients, family members, teachers, professionals and any one else who assists sufferers an abundance of information and guidance concerning the spectrum of eating disorders, based on the author’s close to 20 years of experience in this area. This work will inspire the reader towards a greater appreciation of the mitzvah to safeguard one’s health due to the wealth of information it contains and will be a welcome addition to one’s library.
from The Jewish Press
The original text of the review may be found here.