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Dear Emuna: Abusive Friends and Eating Disorders
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Abusive Friends and Eating Disorders

Help! My niece can't stop eating!


Dear Emuna,

One of my closest friends gets extremely angry with me when we converse. I think he can't tolerate not feeling like the smartest person in the room. Ironically, he is very smart and I respect his intellect, but he can become rude and aggressive all of the sudden and this makes me not want to talk to him. How can I approach him to get him to cool off?

– Abused Friend

Dear Victim,

I confess to being a little confused by your question since I can’t really envision what you’re describing as a friendship. If, whenever you disagree, or even worse as your letter suggests, whenever you converse, your so-called friend gets extremely angry with you, I’m wondering about the foundation of this relationship. Being able to hold a civil conversation seems like a basic prerequisite. Conversely, respecting his intellect is not.

From your limited description, he seems to lack common decency which would seem another fundamental tenet of any successful friendship.

As far as getting him to cool off, our sages advise us not to try to appease anyone while they are angry. It just won’t work. The discussion must take place during a time of calm.

But then, if, as you suggest, all discussions lead to anger, we seem to be trapped in a Catch-22. The Torah repeatedly advises us to choose friends who share our values and help us to grow – and to aggressively avoid those who push us in negative direction. I think it’s time to pull back from this friendship and put more effort into relationships with people whose character traits you wish to emulate.

– Emuna

Dear Emuna,

My husband has been on unemployment for two years and I'm disabled. My adult son and toddler granddaughter also live with us and he's also unemployed. Neither of them is looking for a job and both are huge eaters. I'm trying to stretch the dollar as far as it will go. My husband seems to think that purchasing meat in large quantities at warehouse stores is the way to go and we often disagree about what to buy and where to buy it. I would like him and my son to just concentrate on getting employed so our life can go back to normal and I could do the food shopping and save money. How can I encourage them to 1) concentrate on getting a job as a priority and 2) leave the food shopping to me?

– Thrifty Food Shopper

Dear Mrs. Thrift,

I can hear the frustration on both sides. My guess is that the real reason your husband is taking such a strong stand on warehouse shopping has nothing at all to do with meat. For a man to lose his job is extremely humiliating – no matter how many times you point out that it’s a bad economy and it’s not personal. He feels like a failure, he feels impotent and powerless. He’s searching for something – anything! – to make him feel like he’s in control, like he has something to offer. Unfortunately for you, he seems to have alighted on grocery shopping. But begin by being compassionate and empathic to his situation.

I have another guess that the more you resist his suggestions, the more aggressive he becomes about them. Instead of fighting back and proving that the prices are indeed lower somewhere else, I recommend praise and gratitude. Thank him for his tips. Praise his thrift and ingenuity. The better he feels about himself, the more likely he is to put himself forward for positions of employment.

And the converse is also true. If he feels shut down and useless in every area, he won’t be motivated to seek a job and he will make a very poor impression if he succeeds in getting an interview. It’s your love and support that could make a real difference.

– Emuna

Dear Emuna,

My niece has an eating disorder in which she tries to make herself as fat as she can. Based on her genetics and body type, she can never really get to the gigantic stage, but she has managed to get herself quite overweight to the point that her health could be at risk in the future. She has been doing this to herself for about five years already. She eats to get fat, not for health, sustenance, or enjoyment. Almost the only time she's happy is when she weighs herself and sees she gained some weight.

What can I do to convince her to stop? Does Judaism say anything about this? Her parents can't deal with this and they only make it worse (they're very vocal about her appearance and how important it should be to her and how it's almost the only thing important to them about her.) Several psychiatrists and psychologists have also done more harm than good, probably because they all focus on her body. She was always very sweet and spiritual as a child and full of life and energy and creativity and charm and she was always very interesting, individualistic, and an out-of-the-box thinker, and I think that when everyone looked at her like she was only her body, it started this problem, and when people now try to help her by focusing on her body, it makes it worse. I'm looking for something to speak to her soul. Thank you for your advice.

– A Caring Uncle

Dear Caring Uncle,

While I certainly agree that everyone needs to develop their spiritual side, your niece sounds like she needs competent (and I stress that word) medical and psychological help. This is a serious problem that requires serious intervention. I don’t know who she has seen until now but there are real experts in the field who know how to work successfully with kids with eating disorders.

She not only needs a spiritual solution – she needs to heal her body and her psyche. She needs a medical professional and not help from an advice column.

– Emuna

August 21, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) mona, September 1, 2010 2:07 PM

To Jo, comment 7

Would you ask why anorexics don't eat even though food tastes so good and people need food to live, or ask why bulimics vomit even though vomiting is unpleasant, unhealthy when done on a regular basis, and smells bad? Saying that it's ridiculous to purposely get fat and rhetorically asking why anyone would want to do that to herself is like saying it's ridiculous to get so skinny that bones and teeth and eyeballs bulge and hair falls out on the head but grows more everywhere else on the body and the heart muscle gets damaged and organs get eaten by the body, and then rhetorically asking why anyone would do that to herself. That's what anorexics do, just like this girl is making herself sick in the opposite way, and neither is pretty and neither is trying to be pretty. Maybe some people with eating disorders start that way, trying to look better or trying to conform to what they're told looks better, but once they get sick, it becomes totally different than girls who just try to look their best, whatever that is. Most people with eating disorders are either trying to be unattractive or be in control. They probably all wish they could really be in control, since the one things they use for control ultimately controls them. Maybe you should think things through before you label someone else's hardship as "ridiculous." Maybe instead of wasting your time belittling someone else's struggle, you can put your free time to good use and try to teach yourself to think and to be compassionate.

(9) rfj, August 31, 2010 10:03 PM

To "Caring Uncle" - My friend was like this for years

She wasn't abused, so I don't think that's always the answer. She got fat on purpose because it was the only thing that was just hers, that no one could take from her, no matter how much they tried. It sounds weird, but she started to do this at 12 years old, when she started to be bossed around, in her opinion, about her weight and her looks. She alternated between thinking she needed to be very skinny (and by being so upset with what seemed to be the only thing important to anyone about her), and getting as fat as she could because she was so upset. Her family is very opinionated, and her whole life told her who she really was and what she was really thinking and why she did anything she did, and when they all suddenly always told her what she should eat, she couldn't take it, so she picked the one thing they couldn't force her to comply with. After years of doing this, she realized she had no idea who she was, because she was so focused on the outside of herself, just like the girls who only seem to care about looking "perfect." So then she kept trying to make herself fatter in order to buy time to figure out who she was, because she had realized along the way that the people around her didn't think her life would really start--no real romantic or job prospects, no real future--unless she was thin. So she used their faulty ideas in order to prove to them that they are right, that a fat girl can't get ahead, but really, she couldn't move forward because of all the years focusing on her body and not her soul. It took many years to get out of this rut. I think your niece should focus on her character development and values and morals, which are more important in the long run. Her family should also be on board and focus on her character goals and achievements and leave the rest alone. When a person is focused on caring and doing good, it often leads to caring and doing good for one's own body. And if needed, she might then be ready to get professional help.

(8) Carol Bunn, August 30, 2010 4:20 PM

Eating Disorder

This article struck a chord with me as I have a problem with losing weight. Whenever the pounds start to fall off I panic because when I was thin I was abused by an older man and I think I need the fat because I use it as a form of protection. With help from a dietician I am now setting goals and deciding that in the next ? months I am going to reach ?? weight. This frees me from using the words 'losing weight' and takes some of the fear away. I hope your neice gets the help she needs.

(7) jo, August 26, 2010 7:52 PM

the "eating disorder" letter

That is crazy. Why would anyone want to be fat? Its ridiculous.

(6) Anonymous, August 25, 2010 11:54 AM

my sister

my sister was like this for years. first we thought she was a closet eater. we tortured her endlessly about this and about how fat she was. then we realized she doesn't hide food or eat in private at all and that she almost never eats and that when she does she almost never enjoys it. she'd look sick sometimes when we'd all get together and she felt she had to eat because we'd comment about closet eating and others would always comment about how she doesn't eat. the main reason she got fat wasn't by eating a lot of food or by eating junk food. she got herself big from really strange foods that she could get down fast like oils and butter. she'd put extra oil on her food when she actually ate food, like she'd eat salads drenched in oil, which no one realized at first, which is why we thought she was pretending to eat healthy and then must be gorging on who knows what, and she'd even drink oil when she just couldn't eat any real food but wanted to make sure she'd stay big. it took a long time for everyone to put this together. she ended up in an in-patient facility and had a tough time because she couldn't find anyone with the same problem and both the anorexics and the obese looked at her with suspicion and she felt like the doctors didn't understand her. it took years of trying to get help and it took years for the family to finally realize how to interact with her so that we don't make it worse, which we didn't realize we were doing when we both harassed her about her eating and her weight and about her not eating and her weight and even when we'd be too obvious about how we were refraining from discussing it with her. it was really a whole family problem and we made it worse because we focused so much on her food and her looks. we never understood why she begged us to stop, we thought she wanted to be left alone to eat. really, she wanted to be left alone so she could feel it's her decision to do this or stop doing it, not ours. she's only now getting real help.

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