Eating disorders among IDF female soldiers up 200% in 10 years – The Times of Israel
The number of reported cases of IDF women soldiers who suffer from eating disorders has grown 200 percent over the past decade, according to a report on Channel 2’s Hebrew-language website.
“My friends who were with me in basic training told me that they put their fingers down their throats and didn’t eat all day,” Noa (not her real name), a soldier, said in an interview with Channel 2. “That was when I started asking questions: How do I get skinny? How do I take off the weight? Do I eat or not? Do I throw up or not? I used to throw up right after every meal.”
Noa saw how common the problem was once she began sharing living space, including bathrooms and showers, with her fellow women soldiers — many of whom had been obsessed with their weight before they enlisted. “When I got to the army, I realized that there were many others like me,” she says. “During basic training that I found that half the girls with me were bulimic.”
Danielle Aharoni never suffered from any eating disorder until she enlisted. At 132 pounds (60 kilograms) when she began her army service, she felt the pressure to succeed so strongly that she lost almost one-third of her body weight in less than three months. Now 25, with her army service behind her, Danielle lectures on army bases at workshops given by the Simply You positive body-image campaign created by Israeli fashion photographer and model agent Adi Barkan, who has campaigned for laws against using anorexic models in advertising.
Dr. Hezi Levy, the director of Barzilai Medical Center and the army’s former chief medical officer, says that eating disorders are linked to the transition to army life. “It’s a new and highly demanding setting,” he says. “A female soldier doesn’t always have space for herself, so it’s a completely new emotional situation that combines with a previous emotional situation — and that’s a recipe for how eating disorders can become prevalent.”
“Two or three out of every ten women soldiers has been affected physically by the discourse of being thin,” an army instructor says, adding that he is amazed anew each time at how extensive the problem is. But several factors make it hard to find women who are suffering from eating disorders in the army. It is seen as normal not to eat in the mess hall, the uniform hides the weight loss, and soldiers’ parents are sure that the commanding officers are keeping an eye on things (while the commanding officers are sure that the parents are watching).
Worse still, the soldiers do not ask for help because they are afraid of a lifelong stigma. “It means a lower score on their mental profile, which could affect them for the rest of their lives,” the instructor said. “It may also mark the soldier as needing to take medication, which disqualifies her from certain jobs. It’s a black mark against her.”
Adi Barkan agrees. “A female soldier suffering from an eating disorder can’t approach anyone about it because the moment she goes to someone in authority, such as a psychiatrist or mental-health officer, she’s out,” he says. “She doesn’t want that to happen. She wants to keep on serving. We need to bear in mind that girls like this are making themselves throw up and they can’t tell anyone about it. They’re going through hell.”
Many young women reportedly use the food served in the mess halls an excuse to avoid eating. “I have friends who would never go into the mess hall during their army service. They lived on rice cakes and cheese so they wouldn’t gain weight,” one woman soldier said. Other soldiers say that the excuse is a good one: the food in every army mess hall “floats in grease.”
According to the Channel 2 report, the army’s current response is not to discharge women suffering from eating disorders right away, but to use their desire to stay in the army as leverage to get them to gain weight.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Office commented: “Members of the Medical Corps’s mental health department — physicians, mental-health officers and nutritionists — make every effort to find and treat these disorders, in full cooperation with the officers who are trained for that and with the families, in order to conduct professional workshops on the subject and make the commanding officers aware of it.”