As a child, life was relatively happy and uneventful for Temimah Zucker. As the youngest child of three (an older sister and a brother in the middle) in an Orthodox Jewish family, the rich traditions of her faith meant frequent religious observances involving meals and many practices involving food. The daughter of a rabbi, Temimah found comfort in celebrating with family members, deepening her understanding and appreciation of what it means to be an Orthodox Jew. The loss of her grandmother when she was 16 deeply affected Temimah. She began to see a therapist to deal with the painful emotions. She then experienced some difficult social situations and a difficult transition after high school. By the time she left home for the first time to go to college, things drastically changed. Temimah developed an eating disorder, specifically, anorexia, that devastated the young woman and her family, none of whom had a clue anything was wrong. Here Temimah shares how she first became aware that her eating habits were both dangerously unhealthy and potentially fatal and how she made the long and sometimes painful journey to recovery. Her reason is simple: so that other young Jewish women struggling with an eating disorder know there is hope. In the Beginning Although she describes her childhood as normal, she didn\u2019t really feel like she had a place in the household. \u201cI felt a lot of loneliness as a child that never really got in the way of eating but I also noticed when my mother and sister would talk about dieting and weight loss. I think things were pretty much okay but all of these factors stuck to me rather than dissipating over time.\u201d She also recalls that no one in her family had an eating disorder but some extended family members were very weight conscious \u2013 and she noticed these things. \u201cMy eating disorder developed when I went to college,\u201d Temimah recalls. \u201cI started restricting. I really didn\u2019t understand what an eating disorder was. I didn\u2019t do it with any intention of losing weight or for any sort of superficial reason. It was a way to deal with all of the emotions. At the time, part of what I felt was that I was unworthy of a happy life. I felt sort of psychosomatically full all the time because I was full of shame and self-loathing and all these things. I didn\u2019t want to eat.\u201d But she spiraled very quickly. Temimah admits she had no idea how an eating disorder worked, so it wasn\u2019t like she figured things out and looked it up. \u201cI didn\u2019t eat when I didn\u2019t want to and that spiraled and escalated to a point where, two months later, my parents had noticed a severe change, not only in my eating behaviors, but in my mood.\u201d Severely clinically depressed, she had cut herself off from her relationships. Her academic life, which she had been very meticulous about, was suffering. Her parents also noticed her weight. This isn\u2019t always the case, as Temimah explains: \u201cWith anorexia, it is possible to notice it, but with the nature of eating disorders, you can\u2019t really judge someone and the severity of their suffering by how they look \u2013 which is a very common misconception to say, you\u2019re only really sick if you\u2019re emaciated.\u201d The long-term therapist Temimah had been seeing advised her parents that the eating disorder would just go away on its own. Temimah\u2019s father would have none of that. He knew that eating disorders do not just disappear. A visit to the doctor and extensive blood work revealed just how serious the disorder had already gotten. Temimah was days, if not hours, from a coma and her health was very much in jeopardy. Thus began the refeeding process by her parents, who took it upon themselves to ensure Temimah received food on a regular basis. Although they didn\u2019t know it at the time and were relying on intuition about what was best for their daughter, their actions were similar to the Maudsley method. This is where parents, according to a certain curriculum, take on the feeding process in adolescent patients. Living in Numbers Because she was unable to function living by herself in an apartment, Temimah moved back home. Although she continued going to school, she wasn\u2019t really \u201cthere.\u201d Instead, she was just the shadow of a person walking around by herself. She also admits that it\u2019s hard for her to remember that time. \u201cMy brain was checked out, I was so malnourished,\u201d she says now. \u201cI know I was dizzy. I had trouble forming cohesive thoughts. I don\u2019t remember being in pain. I never felt hunger. Through this crazy process, I had turned off my hunger cues. It\u2019s very possible that someone else could have been in severe hunger pain.\u201d Emotionally, she felt so broken, alone, ashamed, unwanted. She was also severely depressed. At the same time, her eating disorder voice was saying, no, you\u2019re on top of the world, you\u2019re doing great, which was what she tried to present to other people who were concerned. \u201cWith time, that chipped away because I just couldn\u2019t lie anymore. I was not great. I was hardly functioning.\u201d As to her mindset, Temimah reveals that it was never about control. \u201cPeople often think of anorexia as wanting to control, but that word never really came into my mind,\u201d she says. \u201cI was so sad and my eating disorder became like my best friend. It acted as something that could really understand me. It was this negative voice that was egging me on to do these dangerous, destructive things. I believed that it continued to numb me out and support me.\u201d Her social life was in a shambles. \u201cI no longer was social with anyone, not even my parents whom I lived with,\u201d Temimah reflects. \u201cI placed a lot of blame on them because they were trying to get me better. I was suffering. I was in such denial about the nature of an eating disorder that I wasn\u2019t admitting to myself that I was in pain.\u201d Months later, she\u2019d go to school and count calories. She refers to this time in her life as \u201cliving in numbers: counting my weights, counting steps, counting everything.\u201d Then her father brought home a film that was produced by the Orthodox Union called, \u201cHungry to be Heard,\u201d about eating disorders in the Jewish community. \u201cWhen the film was over, for the first time, I realized that I had a serious issue. That spark of understanding came from the fact that I knew I wasn\u2019t alone,\u201d Temimah recalls. \u201cIn the Jewish community, everyone knows everything. Eating disorders are so hush-hush and misunderstood, and I myself didn\u2019t know what anorexia or bulimia was. I never thought that I was normal, but I thought that it was so taboo. \u201cSeeing this film, where individuals in recovery spoke up \u2013 it dawned on me that I really wasn\u2019t alone in my suffering and that other people, especially in my own community \u2013 my next-door neighbor was in the film \u2013 were suffering as well. I could admit that I had a problem and that I needed help.\u201d A New Way of Life Begins Temimah entered treatment, going first into an outpatient day treatment program and then being referred to a higher level of care at an inpatient facility where she remained for about a month. Then it was back down to partial hospitalization and subsequently an outpatient program. During this process, Temimah was learning how to listen to herself again. \u201cI was so broken from my eating disorder,\u201d she recalls. \u201cI was taught how to eat again.\u201d When she entered treatment, she wasn\u2019t eating meals without being told every bite to eat. In treatment, she also learned that she had worth and met some \u201camazing\u201d women who truly supported her and whom she could also support. She was social again for the first time in months. When she left the program, it was at Passover, a time her family traditionally goes to Florida. Temimah was scared. Not only was she leaving treatment, she was also entering back into her home life, her religious life. \u201cI needed to make choices about my treatment in connection with both of these,\u201d she says. \u201cThat was the beginning of my journey. People often think that you go into treatment and that you\u2019re all better. This is so far from the truth. But it did give me the skills I needed to climb the mountain of recovery.\u201d Learning How to Reconnect Temimah began participating in an outpatient program led by a therapist who was a modern Orthodox Jewish woman. \u201cThis was important to me because I wanted someone who understood all the cultural idiosyncrasies. She really helped me reconnect with not only myself, but with my religion, as a factor that could come into play in my recovery.\u201d The therapist worked with Temimah and her family. Part of therapy involved setting up goals. Temimah recollects that she started meeting certain goals for about a year, but was very much stagnant in her recovery. She was still restricting, still exercising in secret. Nevertheless, she went back to school, Skyping her meals from school, and started seeing friends again and reconnecting very slowly. \u201cThis was definitely a step in my recovery process, but I just felt like I was stuck,\u201d Temimah says. After her therapist suggested approaches that were very challenging but ultimately helped Temimah get \u201cun-stuck,\u201d the young women realized she was gaining valuable skills. \u201cThere were steps up and steps down and it was a very long process, but at the same time, I constantly had a goal and something I was working toward.\u201d She also got a dog, one of the recommendations, so that she\u2019d always have support. A big turning point for Temimah was a trip to Israel her parents offered her \u2013 with the condition that she\u2019d be able to eat a meal on her own. Her boyfriend and close friends were living in Israel and Temimah ultimately decided this was something she really wanted to do. \u201cI worked very hard and by the time I got on the plane to Israel, I was by no means recovered, but I was able to eat without being held accountable to anyone else.\u201d The trip to Israel proved to Temimah that couldn\u2019t lead a full and meaningful life while having an eating disorder. Her boyfriend and friends didn\u2019t care about what she looked like. They cared if she was happy. \u201cAnd I couldn\u2019t be happy while having an eating disorder. From there, I had such motivation to conquer this illness and to keep moving forward.\u201d Challenges on the Path to Eating Disorder Recovery Although Temimah now considers herself fully recovered, reflecting on the challenges she faced after returning from Israel, she says the biggest was dealing with negative body image. \u201cLearning to tolerate and appreciate my body was such a foreign concept,\u201d she explains. \u201cI really couldn\u2019t stand being in my body and looking at my body. That took a bit longer for me. At first, it was really just about conditioning, say, stop telling yourself that and keep moving forward. Eventually, it became ingrained; thinking about my body and body checking would never get me further in life. If anything, it was taking away from other things that I could be doing.\u201d Another challenge was getting back into some of the Jewish cultural practices that Temimah hadn\u2019t really abandoned but that had lost meaning. For instance, Sabbath, Shabbat, was very difficult. \u201cThere\u2019s so much food, so much talk about food. These two very large meals, there\u2019s often company. I really shied away. I\u2019d have my meals but I\u2019d eat them in my room with one of my parents when we had company. During a meal, I had to have a major distraction like a magazine or something or a board game to keep me from over-thinking.\u201d How Faith Impacted Her Recovery Having grown up an observant Orthodox Jew, when Temimah first entered residential treatment, she was confused about how she\u2019d keep Shabbat, which was such a \u201ccomplicated process.\u201d She decided she\u2019d just go through the motions and, for the first year of her recovery, she did just that. Then, with the help of one of her therapists, who introduced her to the 12-Step concept of a Higher Power, Temimah realized that there was this \u201cother thing in my life that I had always been so connected to and, although I felt very disconnected from life, I could try to reconnect to my religion and my spirituality.\u201d She began praying three times a day, which is the more observant custom. In the beginning, she\u2019d pray for her peers in treatment, but later she began praying for herself. \u201cI believe in God. I could leave a little bit of faith there to say that I need help, to reach out for that and that there was a plan and something bigger than me.\u201d She also found meaning in Jewish customs, including those around food. \u201cRather than be angry, I tried to connect to them. When we said blessings about the body and body functioning, rather than dismissing them because I hate my body, I thought, I\u2019m really going to try to connect to this prayer that is thanking God for my ability to see. With time, it became a source of support and inspiration for me.\u201d Overcoming Stigma On the topic of stigma surrounding an eating disorder, Temimah is very vocal. \u201cThis is a truly horrific thing and I know how difficult it was for me to overcome the stigma and shame, especially in the Jewish community.\u201d She reflects that more and more Orthodox Jewish teens are struggling with eating disorders. \u201cEverybody knows somebody and yet there\u2019s still a lack of understanding.\u201d Her message to others is simple: \u201cNot everyone will understand, and not everyone will say the right thing. But I believe that to change stigmas we must all try to use our voices. When I work with clients I never tell them they need to come out with their eating disorder, but I explain that it can be liberating to not be carrying this around alone. And yes, focusing on the present as well as the end goal can be helpful in saying \u2018who cares about the people who don't react well, I'm doing this for myself.\u2019" Trying to Get the Word Out Temimah is far from finished trying to help others struggling with eating disorders to find hope. Currently a graduate student studying social work who hopes to work as a clinician in a treatment center, she\u2019s also a public speaker on eating disorder awareness, body image, and self-esteem. A fellowship from Presentense will allow her to build a non-profit, called Tikvah V\u2019Chizuk, which means Hope and Strength in Hebrew, to provide support to the Jewish community. Temimah envisions it will primarily be an online platform to provide resources, information, forums, and articles. *Temimah Zucker was not a client at The Ranch and asked that her full name be used. At The Ranch, we follow all established national standards to protect individuals\u2019 medical records and other personal health information.