–Trigger Warning for anyone recovering from an eating disorder
Rachel Cohen- here to tell her story of survival from: sexual abuse, an eating disorder, endometriosis.
Rachel Cohen lives in Woodmere and works as a special ed teacher. She has her own blog and writes about experiences she has gone through, such as an eating disorder, sexual abuse and suffering from endometriosis.
These topics are considered taboo in the frum community, but are becoming more acceptable to discuss as awareness is spread. By nature, Rachel is introverted so when people used to ask her about her experiences, she would share very little. Even so, her family would question if it was necessary to speak about these topics at all. The more she heard this, the more she realized that she needed to speak up more for those suffering. Anyone struggling needs to hear that there are others going through the same thing as them. After coming to this realization, Rachel began writing and when people would approach her she began to open up. Sharing her feelings through writing, helped heal her. Now her family is very supportive of her.
Growing up, Rachel was the perfect child. Her eating disorder began in 8th grade.
Rachel felt she was eating normally. She had a friend who would constantly tell her that Rachel was obsessed with what she ate. This friend would point out to Rachel everything that she was eating. A different one of Rachel’s friends lost her mom and stopped eating and got a lot of attention for this. Looking back, Rachel recognizes that she was craving attention and thus began her eating disorder. She began to receive a lot of negative attention, which was attention nonetheless, and felt like her eating disorder was helping her cope with emotional problems. At the end of 8th grade, her class went to Washington and she didn’t eat for 3 days. She received tremendous attention and felt like people were noticing her. When Rachel got home, she passed out and this excited and confused her. Rachel was very intuitive and at the time she convinced herself that wasn’t eating solely for attention.
By 9th grade, Rachel’s eating disorder had become her identity.
She was known as the girl with the eating disorder and made close relationships with teachers that way. She ate water and pretzels for a few years and managed to survive. Her parents didn’t know what was going on. Rachel had always been a small girl so people just thought she was supposed to look small. She wore very baggy clothing and didn’t allow the world to know what was going on aside from her friends and teachers.
Rachel was abused as a child and was experiencing extreme trauma.
She began to recognize that the pain of her empty stomach was helping to overshadow the other pains she was feeling in her life. People who were abused as children don’t want to grow up and experience body changes which is why Rachel wasn’t eating. Her eating disorder numbed her emotions and didn’t allow her to enjoy things. Food is an important part of social life, especially in the Jewish world, so Rachel felt isolated and lonely when surrounded by people.
At the end of 10th grade, Rachel met her future husband. The way he cared about her and didn’t try to shove food into her, made her feel supported and caused her mind to feel again.
The positive feelings of love and enjoyment pushed her to get better. Slowly, she began eating more which was a scary process. Rachel wasn’t allowed to go to Israel which devastated her, but gave her time to heal. Her future husband went to Israel for the year so they spent time apart, but the next year Rachel was allowed to spend 4 months in Israel. She got engaged to her husband in Israel and then went home to prepare for their wedding.
When Rachel got married, she began to have flashbacks to her childhood abuse.
She began to struggle with eating again but she wanted to have kids and this stopped her from going too far into anorexia. Rachel had a child, however she began having terrible pain during her second pregnancy. She couldn’t focus on anything except the pain she was experiencing. Rachel didn’t have time anymore to think about eating or not eating and began to gain weight while trying to merely survive with the pain. No one knew what was wrong and doctors were telling her she was imagining the pain. After a few doctors, one finally thought it might be endometriosis. Endometriosis is when something similar to the lining of the uterus grows on the wrong parts of the body. It causes lesions and cysts which come with tremendous pain. There is no cure but there are ways to get it out of the body. This doctor was well meaning and performed a procedure to get out some of the endometriosis, but he didn’t get it all out because he wasn’t a specialist. Rachel struggled for many years before she found a specialist in Atlanta who did the proper surgery on her. He told her in exactly 6 weeks she would feel better and 6 weeks later was the first time she hadn’t felt pain in 10-15 years.
When Rachel was sick she gained weight from taking different medications and sitting on the couch all day.
Once she was cured, the extra weight reminded her of endometriosis. She thought losing the weight would help her forget about the sickness but now she recognizes that once you go through something like that, you become a new person and never fully go back to who you were. She tried restricting her food but the weight didn’t come off. Rachel came across intuitive eating through Gila and fell in love with the idea. She realized that intuitive eating would free her from dieting and her obsession with losing weight.
When she was suffering from endometriosis, Rachel wanted to put a sign on herself saying it’s not my fault I’m fat.
The world tells people who have gained weight that there’s something wrong with them, but sometimes it’s just not in our control! People in larger bodies are judged and discriminated against. Rachel spent so much time being praised for looking thin while suffering from an eating disorder and this caused her to get stuck in the diet mentality. The most important thing is to break free from diet culture. Many people have a block towards intuitive eating based on the world we live in, but after a while, you need to just focus on yourself and what’s working. They can think what they think but I need to do what works for me.
Rachel still struggles with body trust and reminding herself that it’s important to eat no matter what I ate yesterday or how much I weigh.
Eating in public is something hard for Rachel as it comes with a fear of being judged. The need to appear perfect is prevalent and she imagines people thinking “Why is she eating that? She’s so fat!” She wants to be able to eat in public and is working towards this goal. When Rachel was healing from her eating disorder it was extremely difficult. She feels for anyone struggling and would never belittle how hard the healing process is.