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Is Dieting a Religious Value?
For a long portion of my life, I was in the “favorable” box of society. I was on a diet. Being on a diet is where it’s at, right?
All the cool kids are doing it. You are a part of something bigger than yourself, whether you intended it or not.
I was comfortable in my bubble of “health” and “wellness.” I was certainly praised and looked up to when it came to my “self discipline.” But I experienced what many other practitioners experienced which is cognitive dissonance – I am engaging in something but it feels out of alignment to my real values. I’d say that this happens often in our lives and it doesn’t have to mean we are hypocrites. It’s more like a smoke alarm to help us get back on track.
So there I was. In a crossroads. Continue doing what I am doing even though I felt somewhat like a food police. I felt that my kids were throwing away the “healthy” food anyways. I felt that I can preach from my pedestal all I want but at the end of the day, I felt deprived when I couldn’t have those French fries. I didn’t like those feelings of deprivation. Were these the esteem able acts that gave me self esteem or were these more like the disordered acts that sucked the fun out of life? I hope you see the difference.
I get this question a lot actually. If you no longer diet – is there even a place to discuss self discipline or will power? Let’s get to that later.
In many ways, I found what I was looking for. Intuitive Eating explained to me many of the missing links that were not explainable through traditional dietetics.. The deprivation effect which led to binging made perfect sense. The last supper eating which occurs after being so “good” and so “disciplined” all added up. Diet culture has been stealing my time, money and energy and that of most people around me – but if this cleared the water for me – why are my fellow brethren still on the dieting bandwagon. Let’s be honest, they are not just on the diet bandwagon, they are leading the diet parade for goodness sake.
Why is this getting under my skin so much? Why do I feel the need to pull this apart?
Because as Orthodox Jews, we have collective values.
We believe in keeping the physical body healthy and well groomed. We do not believe in idolizing the human body. We definitely don’t believe in adapting secular culture to fit our culture – in fact – we believe the opposite.
When I was a dietetic student, I had to take 3 different cooking classes at Queens College. In my first semester, I was the only Jew in my class. After each class, we sat together and ate what we made. We didn’t just eat it, we worked as food critics, identifying every taste, texture, smell, mouthfeel, cost, health level and so on. I sat there munching on my yogurt and pretzels I brought to keep me from fainting after a long day. I can’t describe the sense of isolation I felt. I was clearly not a part of this group.
I couldn’t eat with them. I couldn’t share with them. I couldn’t be one of them.
This mechanism is not a coincidence – you break bread with people, you become closer. It is what it is.
One of our core values, one of the ways in which we do not assimilate and stay true to a Jewish lifestyle, is maintaining our own Jewish life.
So why has diet culture become Jewish culture?
Why have the words “I am so fat, I can’t look at myself in a mirror!” become part of our daily phrases. Why has the Jewish world become so busy with dieting, weight loss and “healthism?”
I have my theories. I believe that because we value the act of taking care of our bodies and proper grooming and hygiene, diet culture is a perfect vehicle to over exemplify diet culture. It is disguised by the wellness culture as well as the healthism culture that has already become so trendy in the overall world that it has just bled so perfectly into the Jewish world. This coupled with our aforementioned values created a forum for diet culture being a part of the orthodox Jewish culture (Sadly).
Lets get more practical. Dieting is an outlet. Dieting created community. If you are feeling outcast by a community which is so vital for human life, diet culture may be where you shine.
Aside from this, continual dieting creates continual feelings of deprivation and obsessing over food. This can be contributing to the rise of Jewish foodyism! Food is a way of entertainment. We don’t engage in all forms of entertainment and one way that seems unanimously “allowed” is with food. Lastly, what’s acceptable in your community? Drugs, alcohol, other vices that keep you distracted, high, or in a state of pleasure?
Food is acceptable. If you’re going to use food as your acceptable vice you better believe that diet culture will have what to say about this.
My goal is never to blame or shame or point fingers. My goal is just to give you some food for thought. Can you ask yourself “what are your core values in life?” “What is the most important thing to you? What does dieting mean to you? What does dieting give you? Do you feel out of control around food? Do you feel deprived often? Do you engage in last supper eating? Do you find yourself restricting only to binge later? Do you feel like diet culture is too strong to reject?
Are you living with some serious cognitive dissonance in terms of dieting and what about in terms of other things? You don’t have to stay stuck in any of these areas. You don’t have to make immediate change either. Just knowing where you stand may help you zoom out on your life and help you make a much needed shift in your crossroads that you may have not even realized existed.
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.
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. As a teenager, she was faced with constant diet talk, body shaming and obsessive guilt around food. She struggled with disordered eating. This is what propelled her into the field of nutrition. She uses a non-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.
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