Overcoming Eating Disorders During Ramadan: My Personal Journey

Overcoming Eating Disorders During Ramadan: My Personal Journey

For most Muslims, Ramadan is a special time of year. It’s a time to reflect, give back to the community, and strengthen one’s connection with Allah. But for me, it’s always been the worst time of the year.

Ever since I could remember, my relationship with food has been…complicated, to say the least. During Ramadan, however, it always peaked at its worse. Ramadan was always the trigger for my Eating Disorders (ED).

Even before I was officially diagnosed with Bulimia, I knew my relationship with food was not normal. Growing up, I remember loving to eat, and binge eating was almost some sort of a hobby for me.

I also remember how “disgusting” I felt after eating.

I still do.

I remember my struggle with going to family gatherings and watching people eat. I could never get myself to join.

I hated Ramadan. I hated the shame and guilt I felt for hating it. The feeling of not being “Muslim enough” to enjoy it.

I remember my therapist telling me to stop fasting when I was in recovery from my eating disorder. I was young, and remember feeling like a failure to do just one thing just for one month during the year to get close to god.

I still fasted, and I remember fainting in the street.

That was 6 years ago, and I never fasted again, and I finally don’t feel shame anymore.

Before you Judge, Let us Understand What Eating Disorders are

Before diving into my personal journey, it’s important to understand what eating disorders are and their different types. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.

They are characterized by an unhealthy relationship with food, body image, and weight. The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

The signs of an eating disorder vary depending on the type of disorder. Some common signs include changes in weight, obsessive thoughts about food and weight, changes in eating habits, and avoiding social situations that involve food.

Easily Triggered Eating Disorders During Ramadan

Bulimia nervosa, which is what I suffer from, is characterized by binge eating followed by purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or using laxatives.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food while feeling a loss of control.

Both disorders can lead to physical and emotional health problems, including malnutrition, dehydration, and depression. And the majority of us tend to binge after Iftar, with is an issue by itself, while some throw up what they binged.

For many, their ED journey starts during Ramadan. The lucky ones recover right after, and for the unlucky ones, like myself, it stays.

My Experience with Overcoming Eating Disorders During Ramadan

For many years, Ramadan was a trigger for my bulimia and binge eating. I would fast during the day but would often break my fast with a large meal, followed by a binge and purge cycle at night. This behavior continued for several years until my therapist called me out when I was just 16.

For years, I never cared about what my therapist said. Only 9 years later, after I started frequently fainting, with one time being on the street, that I thought maybe she was right. That same year, I was at a family gathering and felt like I wanted to pass out just from looking at others eat. I did not eat a single bite, even though I was starving.

I started by seeking professional help from a therapist who specialized in eating disorders behind my family’s back. I was ashamed to admit to anyone that I had an ED.

My therapist helped me identify the root causes of my eating disorder and develop coping mechanisms to deal with triggers, and Ramadan was one of them.

Due to the severity of my situation, and being a 25-year-old who weighed just 40 KGs, my therapist ordered me to stop fasting.

Besides Ramadan, I started a food journal to track my eating habits and identify patterns in my behavior.

Going into Ramadan after my treatment, I made a conscious effort to focus on the spiritual aspects of the month rather than the food. I planned to break my fast with a small meal and would have a light Sehour. I also ensured to stay hydrated throughout the day, as dehydration can trigger binge eating behaviors.

It did not work!

I failed to break the cycle of binge eating and purging. Everything I worked on the year before vanished in a second.

And that was when I decided to stop fasting.

Is it Halal to Not Fast When you Have an ED?

This one is complicated, and before we go any further, I urge everyone to do their own research. I will only talk about my personal experience and what I believe is right for me.

My therapist demanded I stop fasting and told me it could be fatal. He was not Muslim and could not give me a proper religious excuse, but he did tell me no god would want someone to risk killing themselves for any reason.

It made sense.

I called Al-Azhar and asked them can I not fast if I had an ED. Their reply was no because I can control my eating habits.

It was clear that the person answering had no idea what an eating disorder is and was not planning on hearing my excuse.

He was only convinced I was scared of getting fat because I wanted men to look at me. That was said after he knew I was over 25 and single.

I called again. This time I did not mention that it was an eating disorder, just a disorder.

I was told not to fast.

Islamic law recognizes that some people may have valid reasons for not being able to fast during Ramadan, and this includes those who have an eating disorder.

If you are advised by a medical professional that fasting may cause harm to your health, then you are exempted from fasting during Ramadan.

However, it is important for the individual to make up for the missed fasts as soon as they can, either by fasting at a later date or by providing food to the needy as compensation (fidyah).

The shame of not fasting

As someone who struggles with an eating disorder, deciding not to fast during Ramadan can bring about overwhelming feelings of shame. It’s hard to feel like you’re unable to participate in such an important religious practice, especially when it’s something that’s deeply valued by your faith community.

The guilt can be isolating and leave you feeling disconnected from those around you. You might even feel like you’re disappointing your loved ones or failing as a Muslim. What makes it even more difficult is that mental health still carries a lot of stigma in many Muslim communities.

Some people view mental illness as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith, which can make it challenging for those who are struggling to seek help and support.

Despite all of this, it’s important to prioritize your health and well-being above everything else.

Even if that means not participating in certain religious practices, there’s no shame in doing what’s best for you. It’s essential to remember that Islam is a religion that values compassion and understanding.

Please Seeking Professional Help for Eating Disorders!

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, especially during Ramadan, it’s important to seek professional help.

Overcoming eating disorders during Ramadan, or whenever, is a difficult journey, but it’s possible.

Fasting during Ramadan can be challenging, but it’s important to focus on finding a solution and what’s best for you.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, remember that help is available. Reach out to a therapist or a support group for help. With the right tools and support, you can overcome your eating disorder.

If you can’t find a support system, I’m here. Please feel free to contact me.

What do you think?


Written by Raghda El-Sayed

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of El-Shai.com and the crazy cat lady your mother warned you not to become!

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