Eating Disorders and Blessings of Ramadan

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When Ramadan comes the doors of paradise are opened, the doors of the fire are shut, the shaytans are restrained, and a caller calls: ‘O seeker of good, come forward! Oh seeker of evil, backoff!

Wishing Everyone a Blessed Ramadan, full of love and healing.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is a period of prayer, fasting, charity-giving and self-accountability for Muslims across the world. The first verses of the Qu’ran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the last third of Ramadan, making this a especially holy period.

During Ramadan Muslims have one meal known as the suhoor just before sunrise and an evening meal iftar after sunset. Ramadan can offer a number of health benefits, especially when people monitor their dietary intake and ensure the maintenance of any medication regimens they are on. The month of Ramadan generally benefits our society and not just the individual by making the individual more humane, more considerate and generally a more responsible member of society. It does this, in part, by setting a standard for behaviour not only in this month but during the rest of the year and, indeed, every year of a Muslim’s life.

 

Debate on Ramadan and Eating Disorders

There is an intense debate surrounding Ramadan and eating disorders in our society. The first time I encountered this debate was when I was attending an outpatient unit for my eating disorder in England. I remember how polite the treatment team tried to be regarding Ramadan, but they were also horrified at a mere thought of me going 30 days with limited anorexic intake of food and drinks. When I was refereed to Day unit, my colleagues were also bit perplexed and intrigued by this period of fasting. Some of them found it fascinating and were astounded by the will power of Muslims to fast for such a long period of time. However, many viewed the month as an incentive to lose weight. It was uncomfortable, and at times I felt Ramadan was being scrutinized and criticised under the fraternity of Eating Disorder society. Special issues that have risen this Ramadan are whether individuals with eating disorder should par take in this holy month or not.

At present Questions surrounding Ramadan are:

  • Doesn’t Ramadan make your eating disorder worse?
  • Isn’t Ramadan an excuse for people with anorexia and bulimia to go on aesthetic diets?  
  • Some comments that I’ve received on Ramadan:
  • Ramadan is a blessing for anorexics, now they can lose more weight.
  • Ramadan must be hard for bulimics, imagine restricting all day and then binging and purging remainder of the evening.
  • Another comment I often receive is that Ramadan promotes eating disorder and should not be practiced at all.  

However, when it comes to overeaters, binge eaters, Ramadan is indeed seen as a blessing in disguise, and these people are often encouraged by Medical staff to observe this month for its numerous holistic and health benefits.

Ramadan Fasting and Eating Disorder Fasting

 

Please watch our short video by Alin Cretu from Romania

Muslims practise fasting periodically for spiritual cleansing and for fulfilling one of the requirements of Islam. When fasting no longer becomes a requirement to fulfil religious obligation and begins to border an eating disorder, then there is a serious issue.

With eating disorder, such as bulimia/anorexia nervosa, the danger is with the obsession of fasting or compulsive fasting  for the sake of losing or maintaining weight, which is unhealthy, just as someone may be obsessed by exercise which can take over their lives.

Ramadan fasting is very different from an eating disorder fasting. In eating disorder food is viewed in negative light, a weapon to deal with certain emotions. In Ramadan a person abstains from food not because the object offered up is bad, but because it is good. He offers it up for something greater that is for Almighty Allah. The experience of fasting is intended to teach Muslims self-discipline and self-restraint, and understand about plight of the less privileged (e.g., the hungry, thirsty and the poor). Fasting also involves restraining anger, doing good deeds, exercising personal discipline, and preparing oneself to serve as a good Muslim and a good person. In Islam there is a caution against excessive fasting. Not all Muslims who fast for 30 days have an eating disorder. A normal Muslim will approach Ramadan as a month of redemption, blessings and charity. An individual with eating disorder will already have fasted for a period of time during Ramadan, before Ramadan and after Ramadan. For them fasting becomes a habit to maintain or lose weight.

Eating Disorders and Fasting

With Anorexia Nervosa fasting is dangerous as an individual has far less food reserves than a normal person.  Therefore a need for supervision by a medical professional will be imperative in order to fast safely. We should not forget that Fasting during Ramadan is prescribed only for healthy, adult Muslim and the weak, the sick, children, travellers and menstruating women are among those exempt.  Indeed, a lot depends on the reasons for fasting, whether one is fasting purely for the sake of Allah or to satisfy the demon of Eating Disorder. In addition, there are sufferers who employ spiritual fasting as a guise for their condition of anorexia nervosa.

Point to Consider

Fasting is a personal abstinence, and such is a hidden action that no one but God can see.

Fasting is not just about abstaining from food and drink. There are three grades of fasting: ordinary, special and extra-special.

Ordinary fasting means, abstaining from food, drink and sex.

Special fasting means keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet—and all other organs free from sin.

Extra special fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. This type of fast was observed by Prophets and greater scholars of Islam.

Blessings of Ramadan in Eating Disorder Recovery

Ramadan is a blessing, where a sufferer can influence their brain with positive thoughts and virtuous actions. This is an opportunity for one to turn towards praying and recitation of Quran when eating disorder urges strike them.

“So when you have decided, then place your trust in Allah; surely Allah loves those who trust. Qur’an (3:159).

The capacity of the brain to change doesn’t diminish with age; a person can change their eating habits at any stage of the life.  The only cure for eating disorder- to change your brain using your mind to reverse your old thought patterns and replacing them with new thoughts and behaviours.In Ramadan turn your heart towards Allah and Pray. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said the following:

It is highly recommended for you to observe Qiyam al-Layl (Night Prayer), for it was the practice of your righteous predecessors. Qiyam al-Layl brings you closer to your Lord, atones for your sins, drives disease from your body, and stops transgression. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

  • Meditate
  • Recite Quran
  • Do Dhikr
  • Show Kindness to your loved ones
  • Excersice Forgiveness
  • Be Charitable
  • A time to right the wrongs
  • Feed the hungry and poor
  • Share your Iftar with non-Muslims
  • Most importantly be kind to yourself, Change your thoughts. Your special and not a product of your ED.

Balance Eating in Ramadan

Islamic principle is therefore neither too little nor too much should be eaten. Moderation is the key to health. When it comes to nutrition and eating, whether lack of it, or too much of it, our daily lifestyle is greatly influenced.

Here are few tips by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health on healthy fasting during Ramadan:

 

The risk of dehydration and dizziness during fasting makes fluid intake vital after breaking the fast. Start by drinking plenty of water, which helps rehydration and reduces the chances of overindulgence.

 

Skipping the suhoor meal before the morning Fajr prayer is the worst thing a person can do,  “Having some cereal, or a fruit and yogurt, or food with a low glycaemic index which slowly releases energy and keeps hunger pangs at bay for longer is imperative.” 

Dr Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from Oxford, says feasting during the non-fasting hours can be unhealthy. “The underlying message behind Ramadan is self-discipline and self-control,” he says. “This shouldn’t fall apart at the end of the day”.

To remain healthy during Ramadan, one should consume food from the major food groups. Dr Mahroof says your food intake should be simple and not differ too much from your normal diet. It should contain foods from all the major food groups:

1- fruit and vegetables      2- bread, cereals and potatoes   3- meat, fish, or alternatives

4- milk and dairy foods     5- foods containing fat and sugar

 Eliminating certain food groups from our diet will be detrimental to our health in long term.  In holy Quran certain verses mention food which are based on 5 basic food groups, that will help our life cycle and functioning of our mind and soul.

“He it is who produceth gardens with trellises and without, and dates, and tilth with produce of all kinds and olives and pomegranetes, similar and different, eat of their fruit in season.” (Qur’an 16:141).

Foods to Avoid- deep-fried foods for example pakoras, samosas, fried dumplings, high-sugar and high-fat foods, including sweets such as gulab jamun, rasgulla and balushahi, high-fat cooked foods, for example, parathas, oily curries and greasy pastries.

After Meal: Intake of fruits after a meal is strongly suggested.

Ramadan Super Energizing Drink

Cool off with Doogh this Ramadan- a super healthy, energizing Persian Drink. It’s pivotal to consume healthy drinks after Iftar because after spending more than 18 hours fasting, our body is dehydrated and is in urgent need for restoration of energy. Drinking healthy drinks at Suhur , early morning in Ramadan can help you to keep your body active for rest of the day till sunset.

Prep Time: 5 mins                                                                             Total Time: 5 mins

Refreshing and delicious, this traditional Persian drink is seasoned with mint and can be made with water or club soda.

Recipe By: Laura Bashar

Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 1 cup(8 oz) yogurt
  • 1 cup (8 oz) club soda
  • ½ tsp mint, dried , crushed
  • 1/16 tsp salt
  • 1/16 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1 TBS mint, fresh

Instructions

  1. In a small pitcher whisk together the yogurt, club soda and seasonings.
  2. Fill two glasses with ice and divide doogh evenly between the two glasses.
  3. Garnish with fresh mint and serve.
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About Author

Islam and Eating Disorders founded in 2012 – run by Maha Khan, the blog creates awareness of Eating Disorders in the Muslim world, offers information and support for sufferers and their loved ones.

7 Comments

  1. My cousin used to have an eating disorder but somehow got through it by fasting one Ramadan (This was when we were kids). She hasn’t looked back since!

    Hope your Ramadan is going smoothly Maha!

    • Thank you Ameena. That’s so nice to know. And this shows tremendous courage and will power from your cousin. Welldone to your cousin:). I’m procrastinating this Ramadan:) . Thank you for visiting my blog

  2. Hi–Many people with eating disorders have a big problem with boundaries. They really need to read a clear-straight forward message in regards to fasting: If you are sick (suffering from an eating disorder) you do NOT fast. This might be extremely difficult for somebody with an eating disorder. Ask for help. So far I have found that all religions have common sense and put the life of a sick person before the duty to fast.
    Peace
    Aravir

  3. Salaamu Alaikum
    This is my 3rd year fasting Ramadan but last year I developed anorexia. I am still fasting this year. I am fasting for Allah, but also the anorexia thoughts are there telling me that this is a good chance to lose weight, etc. Before Ramadan I had just got into the habit of eating good-sized meals and regular snacks instead of starving myself, and now I’m scared that fasting will undo this and after Ramadan my ED will get worse again. Fasting is difficult this year because I have a low weight but it’s not unbearable, I don’t feel I have an exemption from fasting. I have tried making du’aa that it will be easier for me and it will help me recover from anorexia, but the anorexic thoughts are still there. Any advice will be much appreciated, Jazaka Allah Khayr xx

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