Staying Positive: Repentance and Eating Disorder Recovery on Yom Kippur

Among the myriad of traditions and prayers experienced on Yom Kippur, two stand out: fasting and repentance.

For most adults, these are uncomfortable but benign practices whose pain is quickly forgotten when the fast is over. Unfortunately, the experience of fasting can be much more challenging for someone struggling with disordered eating. The rhythm of the holiday, with its large meals before and after the period of fasting, can be at best extremely stressful to someone in treatment for an eating disorder. At worst, it can be dangerous — both physically and emotionally. A person in recovery will often be assigned a structured meal plan of set portions at set times in an effort to establish a pattern of healthy eating. This schedule is crucial to their recovery, and disrupting this pattern at sensitive stages of recovery can be extremely harmful to the recovery process. Putting the brain and body into a state of deprivation can also be detrimental to the biology and chemistry of the brain.

For these reasons, fasting on Yom Kippur simply isn’t an option for people struggling with disordered eating. And while many conceive of the day as a time when people are meant to “suffer” or “punish themselves” for things they did wrong, the Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh — protecting human life — is first and foremost to any religious setting. After all, the Torah tells us: You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 18:5). Download the full resource at

Service Section: Prayers for Forgiveness, Prayers of Remembrance, High Holiday
Source: The Blue Dove Foundation