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Nirvana Through Food?
With Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in the rear-view mirror, many Jewish women still find themselves atoning on a daily basis, especially about what they look like and what food sins they may have committed to get there.
Knowing in her heart there was a better road to inner peace, author Ellen Frankel proposes that if we see our physical selves through a more enlightened perspective, real internal bliss will be easier to come by.
The message comes via her spunky, middle-aged Jewish alter-ego character, Syd Arthur, in her just-published first novel, named after the character.
"One of the main things I learned about myself and other women struggling in their relationship with food was the question of whether or not they are entitled to pleasure," muses Frankel, who has worked in the field of eating-disorders treatment for 15 years.
"Women are good at taking care of other people's needs, but are ambivalent about meeting their own needs. They feel guilty about satisfying their hunger, and the culture reinforces this notion repeatedly."
Frankel will be the featured guest speaker, discussing "Noshing Toward Nirvana," at two local book events on Oct. 16, first at Beth Tikvah B'nai Jeshurun, in Erdenheim, at 4 p.m., followed by an appearance at 7:15 p.m., at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Center City.
The Rittenhouse event benefits A Chance to Heal, a nonprofit dedicated to eating-disorders prevention, education and assistance to parents, young people, educators and health care professionals.
Her goal with her appearances, as with her novel, says the 50-year-old native of Wilmette, Ill., will be to provide like-minded women direction in enhancing their self-care and living more comfortably within their own skin.
"There are wonderful books about eating issues and guidance on moving from dieting to a non-dieting philosophy based on attuned/intuitive eating," explains Frankel.
"I found, however, that there weren't novels that explored this process through a fictitious character. I want to invite the reader to connect with Syd Arthur as she moves away from a neurotic focus on trying every diet to a place where she learns to nourish herself physically, emotionally and spiritually."
Discover life alongside her, urges the author. "As the reader follows Syd in her journey, she is able to witness the discovery that true happiness can't be found in the numbers on a bathroom scale but from deep within one's own spirit."
Just like her fictional alter ego, Frankel puts some blame on pop culture and advertising that playfully refer to food as "a guilty pleasure" or "sinfully rich," which then suggest that taking pleasure in nourishment necessitates paying a price.
This creates the perfect storm, she maintains, for many a woman's complicated relationship with food, which often fuels a diet/binge cycle where women refrain from eating much, and then finally "give-in" by binging.
She tackles the myth -- through Syd and her own experience -- that dieting is a young person's issue. She found in her research that there is an increase in eating disorders during one's teens and 20s; there is also an increasing number of middle-aged women caught in the diet/binge cycle.
"Syd Arthur represents many women who are in a dramatic transitional period in their life and find themselves questioning who they are, where they've been and what it is they want for their future," says Frankel.
"Many women have been functioning for years with sub-clinical eating issues, and they become more pronounced at this point."
Like many American girls -- and Jewish girls of a certain generation in particular -- the petite Frankel fantasized about attaining the Barbie ideal.
In addition to all the feminine ideals foisted on young girls in that era, she says she also had pressure from within her own family. "As the shortest member of a short Jewish family, I felt pressure to be taller from within my family and through popular culture," Frankel recalls.
In her previous book, Beyond Measure: A Memoir About Short Stature and Inner Growth, she explored what she describes as "the ethical dilemma of using human growth hormone injections for healthy short children in an attempt to make them taller." It's a process she opposes.
Frankel adds that Jewish women who feel out of it physically should practice self-acceptance and self-care. "When we take good care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually," she says, "we are helping to create a more peaceful world."