My Worst Ramadan, The Dilemma of Fasting, Ramadan and the Demon Of Eating Disorder

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By:  Nadia Shabir

Published in AaliaAaila The Muslim Family Magazine

The Dilemma of Fasting, Ramadan and the Demon Of Eating Disorder

Dear Readers,

I’ve received so many messages and E-mails on Ramadan, that even I became confused. The panic is settling in, those who suffer from Eating Disorder, whether its Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder or Eating Disorder not otherwise Specified, are looking at Ramadan with mixed feelings of incomprehension, from excitement to fear to uncertainty.

The demon has taken hold of one’s mind, one’s thinking is limited to weight and food, one’s sense of identity is dependent on narrowest of factors, this prevents one from progressing from one thought or idea to another, it makes one unable to develop ideas, opinions and defenses, how can one engage fully in the month of Ramadan with such mixed thinking?

Who is one Fasting For? The Demon of Eating Disorder or Allah? The demon whispers to you “the month of weight loss is coming, now you can lose weight.”  Prior to Ramadan there’s a mad frenzy, some restrict further, some overeat, some become locked in a vicious cycle of purging, all thinking the same thing next month everything will balance out, we’ll shed those extra kilos, we’ll be eating in moderation, we’ll be eating healthy, etc. Wait a minute? Isn’t that what we thought last Ramadan? So, what happened after Ramadan? How come many of us are still stuck in the same limbo? Feelings of De ja Vu, right?

Intention is the pillar of worship. If an action is done without intention, or has an ungodly intention behind it, it will be invalid {batil}. ***

People with Eating Disorders do not have a problem with eating or food, they do however have a problem with their emotions and thinking. With Eating Disorder, many of us shrink our boundaries and our thinking, and it all becomes limited to the diet and the weight loss. Eating Disorder/weight loss becomes Obsession and this obsession carries well into the month of Ramadan.

There’s a very famous verse from the Bible, which was narrated to me by a Christian friend:  “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

My Lord, how debilitating is this illness? How it cripples you from doing what you really want in the month of Ramadan. Your confidence in your own abilities dwindles, and your self-esteem is very low and you simply don’t know what to do in this Holy month of Ramadan, but despair not, there’s hope. We are people of hope, and we never lose hope, our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never lost hope.

Why consult Your Doctor and your Treatment Team before You Fast?

Doctors have guidelines which help to provide a diagnostic tool for Eating Disorders. If your Doctor feels you do not meet these criteria and you’re OK and there’s no further action at that point, then get a second opinion. You know yourself better than your Doctor, Be Honest.  If a member of family is with you then it can make a difference. They may remember symptoms and behaviours that you may have forgotten. Also, another person’s concern is unlikely to go unnoticed.

Get a physical exam. During a physical exam, the doctor will:

Check your weight, check your blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Listen to your heart and lungs. Examine your stomach for anything unusual. Check your hands and feet for edema/swelling.

He will also look at other physical signs: Dry skin, Irregular heartbeat, thinning or dull hair on the head and unexpected fine hair growth on the body, low blood pressure (especially when you stand up).

Purging through self induced vomiting is part of an eating disorder, the doctor will also check for, inflamed or diseased teeth and gum gums, swollen glands in the neck, broken blood vessels in the eyes, teeth marks on the back of the hands, sores in the mouth.*

There’s Beat, Muslim Youth Helpline and many other Eating Disorder organizations out there. Try to get as many opinion as you can, then make your decision. Consult your local Imam, a Religious authority. Don’t forget fasting is for fit and healthy.

If you’ve been diagnosed under the “Clinical diagnostic delineated in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorder IV TR (2000), DSM-IV TR then you are exempted from fasting, all depends on your physical examination and your blood tests. DSM-IV TR diagnosis for ED includes Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), and Eating Disorder not otherwise Specified (EDNOS), which includes Binge Eating Disorder (BED) as well as a variety subclinical or more appropriately “atypical” Eating Disorder Presentations.”**

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My Worst Ramadan Ever

Few years back, while under therapy for my Anorexia Nerovsa, I wanted to observe the full month of Ramadan. My treatment team and family said No. My BMI was very low and medically I was unfit to fast. I cannot tell you the sheer panic that over came me. ‘No fasting for the whole month’, I looked at my psychiatrist, ‘you must be mad’, ‘I waited (actually my ED waited) whole year for this month, you can’t stop me from fasting’. I feel ashamed in confessing this, but it was nothing to do with the holiness of the month, after all no one was stopping me from praying, they were just stopping me from dying. Over the years with starvation and limited intake of food, I had shrunk my thinking, it was all limited to losing weight. I was approaching Ramadan as a month to lose weight.

We had so many arguments at the hospital and at home. ‘I’m going to fast,’ I kept on telling my mother. My mother told me to no avail, ‘you’re exempted’, finally it came to the point where my father had to intervene, ‘Dad, how can you stop me from observing my religious duty’? My father looked at me and said the words that really chilled me to my bone, he said “I’ll take the full responsibility for this, I’ll tell Allah, that it’s me who stopped her from fasting, I take the responsibility for you, and if this is a sin, then it’s me whose sinning and not you.” He said If I take care of myself and eat then I can observe the last few days of Ramadan.

This did put a stop to me fasting for the entire month. But my Eating Disorder was very strong. My ability to grasp argument had greatly diminished. I was a nervous mass of energy. The only opinion I was able to consider and take into account was my own.

Do you know what is even more sad? Despite those warning reports, those medical symptoms, physical complications, I thought I was immune to all this and that nothing would bring me down. How wrong was I? you can never cheat God and the nature.

So I went ahead and fasted for few days in secrecy and I told my parents lies and many lies. They didn’t confront me because they were fasting and wanted to exercise tolerance and patience.

The Consequences of Cheating Ramadan and trying to Over Smart the Nature?

I only fasted few days, but on those days I remember having a very limited breakfast in the morning. After closing our fast, my family engaged in the usual morning prayers, some sleep and then they went to work. I spent my whole day on bed, fretting over what I had eaten and what I was going to eat next. I dreamt of food and what I was going to cook in the evening and I studied one cook book after another.

The fasts were long and within few hours I was exhausted. I would pray but my mind would not engage with Allah or what I was praying.

Forget offering extra prayers and sending blessings on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and His family, the only blessing I was sending was to my Eating Disorder.

When it came to breaking the fast, I would go to dining area and break my fast with a date and an energy drink. Then I would simply spend hours in the kitchen arguing with myself whether I should cut out protein and starch even further.

As you continue to cheat your body, the world starts to cave in on you and your emotional turmoil does not seem to end.

Soon my melancholic periods increased to longer periods of gloom. One Evening I panicked and panicked, I thought Wallah (By God), this month is a month of blessings and I’m suffering major mood swings, anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. How can this be?  This is a month, when your heart body and mind is enriched with the light of God. Angels shower blessings on you, why do I feel like this? Simply because my intention (niyah) was not right, it was the intention to serve the needs of the demon of Eating Disorder and not Allah. In panic I said to my aunt can I please accompany you to the mosque. Each step we took towards the mosque, I felt more and more choked. A cool breeze was blowing and there was a full moon smiling down at the worshipers, the mosque was illuminated in green and white twinkling lights, people in their traditional attire were rushing to offer their Taraweeh prayer and there was such a serenity and calm in the air that my heart broke and I wept. 

shahjahan

I cannot Cheat you Dear Allah, Forgive me was my cry and free me from the clutches of this demon that has followed me into the holiest of the holiest month of the year.

When you end up in the pit of despair or locked away in the ED unit, then remember it’s the mother nature that has conspired to make you realize a truth you’ve been suppressing for too long.

Right Intention/Niyyah is the criterion of  Ramadan.

“The element that gives importance to a person’s action is his intention, motive or objective. So, in the verses of the Qur’an, the phrase “in the way of Allah” {fi sabilillah} is often used (seventy times), and thus a warning for people to ensure that their actions and intentions be in the way of God, and not for the sake of other than God or their own carnal desires.” ***

This is a Month of Recovery, to Defeat the Demon, Get your Niyah/Intention Right

O Allah! safeguard me from Ramadan, safeguard Ramadan for me and accept it from me. ****

 

 

  • In this month, confront the monster you fear the most. This will take some courage and determination but Allah is with you.
  • Give up some of the hidden benefits of the Eating Disorder. This will involve a loss.
  • Excessive worrying over weight gain/weight loss is unproductive. It costs time and energy. This Ramadan you are going to let go of this fear Inshallah.
  • Relative these ED thoughts- With the belief in Allah, use the blessings of this month to overcome these negative Eating Disorder thoughts. Learn about your negative thoughts and replace them with something positive, engage in Dhikr of Allah.

I will be posting a 30 Day Ramadan Prayer guide and some other material soon Inshallah. Inshallah, together we are going enjoy this Ramadan for its light and blessings and rewards and we are going to defeat and perish this demon of Eating Disorder. We are just going to focus on Allah and healing and not pay a single heed to the needs of the demon of Eating Disorder. After Ramadan, Inshallah you’ll all see the benefits of altered thinking.

 

Reference:

* Adapted from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/tc/physical-exam-for-eating-disorders-topic-overview

** Taken from Carolyn Costin’s ‘The Eating Disorder Sourcebook: A Comprehensive Guide to the Causes, Treatments, and Prevention of Eating Disorders’.

*** http://www.al-islam.org/radiance-secrets-prayer-muhsin-qaraati/intention-niyyah#intention-niyyah-criterion-value

**** http://www.islamicposters.co.uk/

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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.

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