Lucie Waldman (@luciewaldman_ on Instagram) is an author and speaker who lives in America. She’s recovered from an eating disorder, is training to be an eating disorder recovery coach, and has written a book about how being involved in the Jewish community has impacted her recovery.
Could you tell us a bit about what having an eating disorder was like for you?
I started struggling in my young teens. At certain points, I thought I could live with it – but that was always an illusion. My eating disorder robbed so much of my life. They affect every part, from going out with friends, to your family, and your studies.
For me, recovery was a chance to try something new. You don’t have to feel ‘ready’ to start recovery – you just have to be willing to try something new.
What do you think helped you start to recover?
This is very random, but I was listening to the song ‘Burning Gold’ by Christina Perri. The lyrics ‘I’ve had enough, I’m standing up, I need a change’ really resonated with me.
People think you start treatment, and you just suddenly get better – but treatment is hard. The only way to be in treatment and for it to be helpful was to start completing my meals and using the support that I was given.
You talk a lot on Instagram about being Jewish. I wondered how that’s affected your experience of having an eating disorder and seeking treatment?
When I first started struggling, I remember being told that I couldn’t have an eating disorder because I was Jewish! Jewish culture revolves so much around food.
In so many of our holidays, food is a symbol of something else. Like Hanukkah, for instance, the reason you eat food with oil is because of the oil lasting eight days. So it’s like, ‘how could you be a Jewish person and devalue food so much?’
I really believed I was the only Jewish person to struggle with an eating disorder until I sought treatment for the first time and about a quarter of the people there were Jewish.
I became passionate as I saw the disproportionate number of Jewish people struggling. It’s hard because some clinicians don’t know how to provide resources to help Jewish clients.
Speaking of resources, have you got any specific tips for young people who might be worried about the food element of Hanukkah?
I remember when I prepared for the massive food element by setting some intentions. I realised that it’s about so much more than the food – I try to remember what the holiday was about.
I have an entry in my book about this. Hanukkah is a holiday that’s literally about fighting for something bigger that you believe in, fighting an oppressor, and coming out of the other side victorious. I tried to reframe it that eating the latke (which is like the main staple Hanukkah food) is literally conquering the oppressor of my eating disorder!
I wrote this thing called the eight recovery miracles – things I considered miraculous about recovery. Throughout the week, I looked back at that. Having something tying a holiday to my recovery is probably what helped me the most.
I saw your awesome ED recovery Hanukkah challenge – it’s so great! Do you have any tips for Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur is a fasting holiday. Non-Jewish clinicians often say, ‘Don’t fast, you’re not supposed to fast, because that’s part of your eating disorder’ and Jewish organisations often say a similar message, but they say, ‘the Torah says not to fast’.
For me, just being told what not to do wasn’t that helpful, because I was thinking: ‘what am I supposed to do if I can’t observe the holiday the ‘normal’ way?’
I’ve started advocating for coming up with alternative ways to mark occasions by digging into what they mean. I try to find the similarities – you don’t have to choose between being in recovery and being Jewish. You can have them both.
Yom Kippur is about connecting to yourself and starting over, so my first Yom Kippur in recovery, I decided to follow my meal plan and put some challenges in. Starting over, turning over a new leaf, is what recovery is about.
One Yom Kippur, I wrote an apology letter to my body, because part of Yom Kippur is about repentance, saying things you’re sorry for in the past year, and remembering to forgive yourself.
It’s a lot of work to do all that, I have to say. Recovery is not just as simple as, ‘Oh, do these journaling exercises’, but for me, seeing all my healthy thoughts out on paper helped.
Do you find that you approach holidays differently now you’re in a place where you’re more firmly in recovery?
Yes. The holidays are not how they used to be! I have a greater appreciation for them – I get really excited about getting to enjoy the foods that I once couldn’t.
I also view, for example, Hanukkah as more about togetherness – not just about the presents, or the shopping, or the food, but about the time to be with my family.
And Yom Kippur, I still don’t fast. I don’t think a day of fasting would send me back into my eating disorder, but I believe it wouldn’t make me feel like my best self, so I still choose not to do it.
I’m from a sect of Judaism called Reformed Judaism, which really believes in freedom to choose. When I speak about a lot of these Jewish topics, I’m speaking as someone who grew up believing that you have the freedom to choose – I know not every sect of Judaism feels that way.
It’s really encouraging for people to know that it’s possible to get to a place where you can enjoy holidays without your eating disorder (or even your recovery) taking the whole thing over.
It’s really nice! I’ve been recovered for two years. A lot of the time, I don’t really think about my eating disorder, or the fact that I had an eating disorder. It just feels like so far in the past!
How do you find talking about this stuff on Instagram?
I have mixed feelings about Instagram. The algorithm has made it hard for accounts for grow, so sometimes it doesn’t feel gratifying posting because it doesn’t feel like you’re reaching that many people.
At the same time, the community can be great. Instagram was one of the first places I first saw that people were recovered. When you’re in treatment, you’re surrounded by people who are struggling (and who aren’t always as into recovery). Meeting people who are like ‘Yes, recovery’s so worth it’ helped push me forward a lot.
With Instagram, you have to find accounts that are beneficial to you. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of comparisons, and when my account was growing a lot, it was so easy for it to take over my whole world.
It’s been helpful for me to take breaks and remember that my life exists outside of Instagram! I want to live not just a life that is just post-able, but a full, entire life.