March 14

There was a poster up about a bagels-and-lox Sunday-morning brunch on the med school campus. So I figured, as always, I should give it one more try. It was horrible, horrible. Not one word about Judaism. I left when no one was looking. Why don’t I just give up?

March 20

I took three busses to get to the Jewish Singles Party and then was totally embarrassed to even be there. And I was so desperate to leave, I had this guy who was super drunk drive me back to the dorm. How can I let drunkards drive me home? My stomach was sick from too much food, but really from despair. This Jewish guy I was with wasn’t for me either. I’m so, so afraid there will never be anyone for me.

March 22

I can’t bear to face myself. Why am I doing this? Before every exam, I’m extremely nervous. I’m so sick of all these tests. I walk downtown into a department store and buy a bag of white chocolates with nuts. Then after something sweet, I want something heavy and greasy or something warm and smothery. I go to a fast-food place and get a greasy hamburger and a large bag of French fries.

After that, I go to another store for a smoothie, then something non-sweet again, like a tuna-fish sandwich in a coffee shop and then two doughnuts from a bakery “to go” area, plus a diet soda (every calorie counts). The whole time I’m shaking terribly, so terrified that someone will notice I’m the same person that was eating a few stores down. Always hiding as I eat. Finally, finally I’m out of money, but I’m still starving ... and shaking so much. My stomach is bursting, but I just don’t feel full. I always want more.

March 28

I don’t only gorge myself before an exam. I have to eat before I can start anything new, like studying, walking into the bank or even making certain phone calls. I always tell myself I just need this one scrumptious-looking cookie—it can’t hurt—and then I’ll surely be alright.

But then a few minutes later, after I’ve scraped out every last crumb from the corners of the wax-paper lining and the entire box of cookies is empty, I feel empty. I have to find something else to eat very, very quickly. I get frantic if I can’t get my hands on something to eat right away. It’s scary until I get the next thing.

While I’m in the middle of munching on a family-size bag of potato chips, it’s great. As are each delightful candy bar, sandwiches with lots of creamy mayonnaise dripping over the sides, a jar of Super Crunchy peanut butter (down to the last yummy lick!), a package of Gouda cheese, a package of American cheese, and then one of those little cherry pies or two or three (for dessert). But when each one gets finished, I’m left just facing miserable me again. And I can’t stop. I continually need more to escape from myself.

But no matter how much I put in, it is never enough.

How do other people know when to stop eating? Do other people really eat something like a sandwich and feel like it’s all they need, that they’re completely satisfied? As I’m eating something, I really think the joy I have while I’m munching happily will never end. I’m hoping each luscious bite will last a lifetime, and I won’t have to face myself when it’s all through. Why can’t those magical moments while I’m eating and the world seems so sweet just go on and on? Why are candy bars made too short?

At some point during the binges, I’m no longer devouring everything because I feel like I need the food. No, I switch to eating more because I hate myself for having eaten so much. I’m so angry that I down more and more food. I stop craving the food and start hating it for hurting me. I eat slower and slower because it becomes more and more difficult to chew. Even a chocolate cookie becomes incredibly nauseating and almost impossible to eat, but I keep pushing more and more into my mouth.

Sometimes, plans get changed and I’m disappointed, so I eat because I guess I feel I deserve something, some comfort. And if something unexpectedly nice happens, I have to eat desperately right away because I don’t know what else to do with the happiness. It sort of terrifies me.

I think I need something else in me because I can’t face the world alone just as I am, running on empty.

I think I figured out what I’m so afraid of: life.

The words above are excerpted from my memoir, containing the diaries, journals and letters spanning 20 years, during which I developed and then healed from behavior associated with disordered eating.

Through the self-reflection that took place while compiling the book, I was finally able to figure out the message that the food addictions were sending. My soul had been starving for spiritual nourishment. This is not meant to replace professional care or treatment for those who need it; there are many different reasons why someone may have an eating disorder and all forms of treatment that may be required. But I discovered that the underlying message when I overate was that it was not my body that was hungry, it was my soul.

I was finally able to fill the gnawing emptiness inside when I found the spiritual nourishment I was craving. And just as we need to eat physical food every day, we also need “soul food” throughout each day to thrive in life.

For years, I explored a variety of spiritual paths, hoping to fill the emptiness within, and I found some satisfying nuggets along the way. Then I began to learn Torah at a depth I never knew existed from people whose lives were guided by its wisdom. It felt like my Jewish soul had at last found what it had been desperately searching for.

Food provides pleasure, and sometimes people overeat because they need more pleasure in their lives. They want the pleasure to keep lasting, so they eat more and more. Sometimes, it’s called emotional eating, but in my experience the craving comes from a place even deeper than our emotions.

We want more lasting pleasure in our lives because our souls are starving for spiritual sustenance. And we can get that from filling our lives on a regular basis with the infinite variety and abundance of pleasure that G‑d designed this world to give us.

I learned that there are five levels in the soul: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chaya and Yechidah. The lowest level of our soul is the Nefesh, the life force that derives pleasure from physical things. And each level is able to ingest and absorb a greater and more lasting pleasure. Why get stuck on the lowest level of pleasure that food can bring us once we discover how fully the Torah’s instructions for kindness, meaning, creativity and transcendence can feed our hungry Jewish souls?