When Cultures and Customs Are Triggering My Eating Disorder

Sunset in Australia

In many cultures, customs and traditions are fundamental, creating a sense of purpose and unity among groups of people. These customs and traditions will vary depending on the culture, as well as the values and belief systems that a group of people may have and/or follow.  For many cultures, religion plays an important role in shaping traditions, with many customs structured around religious holidays or events.

Food is typically an important part of customs, including eating certain foods for special holidays, eating food in a specific manner, or refraining from eating all together in the form of fasting.  What if you might be struggling with an eating disorder and are part of a culture that practices these types of customs? It is important to know how to navigate through these situations in a manner that continues to honor your culture while keeping your recovery a priority.

Cultural Traditions Involving Food

Some examples of cultural traditions involving food may be as follows, though keep in mind that these are not inclusive and may vary depending on your specific culture or religion:

Jewish Culture

Judaism involves many holidays that are celebrated and honored with several traditions and customs. The Jewish holidays are typically categorized into minor, major, and modern to help distinguish level of observance [1].

Some of the major Jewish holidays include Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Passover, Hanukkah, and Sukkot. Each of the Jewish holidays has their own traditions regarding how the event is celebrated, and many of these customs do involve food.

Many of the cooking traditions followed by Jewish people have evolved over centuries and are deeply rooted in religious beliefs. There are Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) that dictate the prohibitions on the consumption of unclean animals, such as pork and shellfish.

There are also beliefs for how food should be handled, how mammals should be slaughtered for consumption, and regulations for the certification of products that can be labeled as kosher. A survey of American Jews found that 22% adhered to kosher foods in their home [2].

Islamic Culture

Halal is the term uYoung Muslim Womansed to describe the “permissible” foods in traditional Islamic law, including food and drink. This term is specifically associated with Islamic dietary laws, which dictate which foods are mandatory, recommended, neutral, reprehensible, and forbidden [3].

The most common example of food that is non-halal is pork and any associated pig meat products. Many Muslims will ensure that all foods, including processed foods, and non-food items, like pharmaceuticals, are halal.

Certain Muslim traditions that involve food are religious observances that include fasting, such as the holy month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims will fast from all food and drink, including water, from dawn to sunset. Many Muslim Americans may not follow the same food traditions as their parents or generations before them, though practicing Muslims share similar religious dietary guidelines according to the Quran.

Hindu Dietary Practices

Hindu diets vary with diverse traditions, with many Hindus recommending non-violence against all life forms, including animals. Many Hindu sects follow a vegetarian lifestyle, though a number of Hindus will consume meat and eggs. Among the Hindus of Nepal, annual festivals are held to mark the sacrifices of animals, including pigs, chickens, goats, and ritually prepared meat is often consumed.

Honoring Traditions While Focusing on Recovery

Jewish Father And Son Praying At The Western Wall Per Their CultureWhile this is a small sampling of religious and cultural food traditions around the world, there are countless more food traditions and customs that many individuals practice and follow in their families.

For someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder, following any type of rigid rule for eating can be triggering and difficult to cope with. Many religious cultures often dictate that certain traditions, such as fasting, are only meant for those who are physically and mentally capable.

Fasting is typically prohibited for those whose lives may be in danger. If your family practices certain food traditions that are difficult to follow while in recovery from your eating disorder, be sure to discuss with your loved ones, church elders, leaders, etc.

Also work with your treatment team to discuss these traditions and ways to continue honoring your culture, religion, etc., while maintaining your recovery and keeping your healing a priority.

In many situations, health is prioritized and there are acceptable ways to work around food customs in order to maintain recovery efforts.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: Understanding Shiva, “Jewish Holidays”, http://www.shiva.com/learning-center/commemorate/jewish-holidays/ Accessed 22 May 2017
[2]: “A Portrait of Jewish Americans: Chapter 4: Religious Beliefs and Practices”. Pew Forum. 1 October 2013. Accessed 22 May 2017
[3]: Vikør, Knut S. (2014). “Sharīʿah”. In Emad El-Din Shahin. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on June 4, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 4, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.