blog and podcasts
EP.36 – “You Can’t Have a Little Bit of an Eating Disorder,” with Naomi Shulman
In today’s episode of Get Intuit with Gila, I speak with Naomi Shulman.
Naomi is a frum(observant) women who is open about her past struggle with a severe eating disorder as well as the mental health diagnoses of bipolar disorder. She has started an organization with Zahava List – Chazkeinu. This is a beautiful, amazing, very much needed organization for the frum female world. This organization is a support for anyone who is struggling or has a family member struggling with mental illness.
Naomi is also open about her diagnoses of bipolar disorder and she shares so eloquently that she is open about this struggle because she did not choose this nor does she want this, but this is what she has been given and there is no shame in it. Just like there is no shame about walking around with a broken arm, we must work on breaking the stigma around mental health.
Naomi lives in Rochester and does a lot of writing and editing. She works on many of her own projects and she also helps clients with their projects. She has written children’s books, and self-help books on eating disorders. In her first book, she explained what it was really like to have an eating disorder in a brutally honest manner. She explained all the thoughts that would go through her head around food. She also focused on the path to recovery in her book. Eating disorders are not really about food; they are a means of coping with an issue on the inside. Part of recovery is learning how to cope with what you’re feeling, so what do you fill that gap with afterwards?
As a kid, Naomi had undiagnosed mental illness for years but no one knew what was really wrong with her. In 8th grade, she got it in her head that she wasn’t thin. She started feeling very self-conscious about her appearance and wanted to look perfect. In 9th grade, she was in a nutrition class where they learned how to count calories. This made her obsessively count how many calories she was eating. Things started to spiral and she began to battle anorexia full force. First her family didn’t believe it was a real thing. They didn’t understand it and even she didn’t really understand it. Naomi felt a diet was finally something she was excelling at. People began to comment on her weight loss and this kept her going. In high school she went to therapy but it wasn’t eating-disorder specific.
Naomi has bipolar disorder and her first manic episode was in seminary. She starved herself out of it. She was so in denial about her eating disorder that had no idea what was happening. She constantly felt faint, she was losing her hair and not getting her period but she couldn’t understand why, even though she was starving herself. She would chew food and spit it out and had no idea that this was disordered. You can’t give up an eating disorder halfway, you have to give it all up or else it will come back.
Naomi was on a quest to complete perfection and when she didn’t succeed at something she would tell herself that she wasn’t trying hard enough. She didn’t understand that she couldn’t be perfect at everything.
The only time she felt like in control was when she didn’t eat. She felt like she couldn’t let anyone in and had to hide her eating disorder at all costs. She knew that if people would find out she would be forced to get help but she didn’t want to lose being thin.
The whole time, Naomi kept thinking “I’m just waiting to get help” because she really thought that she was in control of the situation. She had a certain number she wanted to hit on the scale and thought that would be it and everything would be great. As soon as she saw that number, and things weren’t good, she decided that must mean that the number isn’t low enough and she lowered the number. Now she realizes that no number would’ve ever been low enough to satisfy her. Getting to the number you want on the scale and still not being happy happens to everyone. There’s a whole fantasy around that number. Your whole life becomes maintaining that number when you go on a diet and it’s so not worth it.
After Purim in Israel she decided that she was going to eat some soup and her body reacted terribly to it. This was when she realized that her body couldn’t handle food anymore.
She met with a rabbi in seminary and asked “Do you think if someone quit something that they started, they would be considered a failure?” He responded with no. Naomi went home to get help and was hospitalized on her 20th birthday. If she had waited a few more days, she probably wouldn’t have made it. The doctors were shocked that she had made it home traveling with luggage and had even survived the plane ride. She took medication to help her body digest again. She wasn’t allowed to get out of bed even to go to the bathroom. Her heart had to become healthy again.
Many times the people who try to achieve perfection with food, are also prone to striving to achieve perfection in religion. In seminary, when you’re learning so many new things, you want to do everything perfectly. To certain people it all starts to look very black and white, when Judaism isn’t really like this. For example, for Naomi, when it came to the prohibition of stealing, she would take this to the extreme. She wouldn’t even use a pen left around and became obsessive about every detail.
Naomi was in day treatment for 5 weeks before she got kicked out. She was struggling to gain weight and wasn’t making progress in that setting.
She then went to residential treatment in Florida for 11 weeks. She loved the facility even though it was hard to come to terms with the situation. When they gave her food and she couldn’t eat it, she forced herself to eat, amid crying, thinking that if I can’t do it here I can’t do it anywhere.
Knowing when to use what skill in recovery is very important. Distract yourself during a meal so you will eat, take care of yourself, let yourself cry, eat normally, and sleep normally. It’s important to have a list of things to do when you’re in a crisis, and know who to call for which issue. Accepting who you are and where you’re at is so important. For people who are very sensitive and empathetic, events may impact them more, affecting their mental health.
Many times, Naomi was jealous of people with addictions and of their self-help groups, because she felt like she couldn’t find her group among bipolar women.
She got in touch with Zahava List and they started off Chezkenu as a weekly phone group. Within the first 2 years, they had recruited 1,000 members. These were all people struggling with mental health issues or who had a family member with a mental health issue. Now, Chezkenu has grown to include online support, phone support, a tehillim group, a shabbaton and much more. People want to be understood and supported. The members don’t feel like they have to hide anything because there’s no judgement or stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s amazing to see so many different women can relate to each other without having to hide behind anything.
There are so many people out there struggling with bipolar disorder and you wouldn’t even know it. There is a lot that people don’t understand when they solely hear a diagnosis surrounding a person. This is not a value label to be placed upon the person. With bipolar disorder, comes the capacity for greater feeling towards others.
Thank you for joining us Naomi!
I hope that this has given you some food for thought.
If you’d like to see more about this, visit me on Instagram at Gila.Glassberg.IntuitiveRD, check out my podcast and YouTube channel and send me an email with a topic you’d like covered. If you have gained anything from this content, please subscribe to the podcast and YouTube channel. Like, comment and share so that other people can gain from this information as well.
I blog on project proactive as well. Here is my most popular blog post- https://www.jproactive.com/post/gila-grief-journey.
If you are interested in making peace with food through the principles of Intuitive Eating and the practices of self care, go ahead and schedule a free call via my website. You can work with me one on one or sign up to be in one of my intuitive eating online support groups via Zoom.
Gila Glassberg is a Master's level registered dietitian and a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. Asa teenager, she was faced with constant ha talk, body shaming and obsessive guilt around food, she smuggled with disordered eating.This is what propelled her into the field of nutrition. She uses a on-diet, weight-neutral approach called Intuitive Eating. She helps growth oriented women break out of chronic dieting, and regain clarity into what is really important to them.
Limited Time offres
Free Webinar and Self care download
Self care tips and how it relates your eating