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Afraid of Food

Rabbi Yaakov Barr, MSc, Pg Dip (accred)

Cut down the fat, stop drinking soda, no more artificial colors. What happens when we take this well-meaning health advice too far?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

When Chana walked into my office with her mother, I knew she had a serious problem. It was a cold and windy winter’s day and upon seeing Chana’s extremely thin, fragile physique, I wondered how she could even walk in these conditions. Chana’s mother showed me a photo of Chana from the year before. I was shocked (and that doesn’t happen often in my profession). She was unrecognizable. While in the photo she looked healthy, strong, and happy, her face was now was thin, pale, and gaunt. Although she was only 17, she could have quite easily passed for a 30-year-old. In my mind I assumed that anorexia — synonymous with very low body weight and a distorted weight perception — had claimed yet another victim. With the help of her mother, Chana began her story. Chana described how 12 months earlier she visited a naturopathic doctor because of the indigestion she was suffering. He instructed her to avoid dairy, sugar, soy, nuts, and wheat. Desperate to alleviate her indigestion and bloating, she began to slowly start cutting more foods from her diet. It worked. She felt less bloated and healthier. Soon she stopped eating any spelt bread and then, after reading an article on the harmful effects of fruit sugars, decided that fruit would be the next to go. She was determined that no “poison” would pass her lips. At this point, Chana shared, she was spending hours buying and reading an excessive number of books on food, health, and nutrition. Before she would allow any processed food to pass her lips, its ingredients would first be subjected to a rigorous examination. Any food of unknown origin or that wasn’t prepared at home was seen as dangerous. 

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