Eating Disorders and Fear of Eating in Public


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Eating Disorders and Fear of Eating in Public

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  – Albert Einstein

Dear Readers,

This post forms part of my excerpts from travels in Jordan and Palestine.

When people develop eating disorders their social life suffers and they start to spend more time alone. The reason for this is because, more time you spend alone and with your negative thoughts, the worst it gets. Many feel it’s  easier to just stay at home then to go out. When I was very ill I was unable to spend time with people and never took part in any activities, I was always very very tired. This all contributed to sheer isolation and detachment from the world and people around me. So this trip was a challenge, if it wasn’t for my mother, I would’ve stayed home.

Food and Eating in Public

 “The most beloved of food to Allaah is that which is touched by many hands (i.e., shared among many people).”

Many individuals with eating disorders experience significant anxiety when in social situations that involves food and eating.  In most cultures, socialising often revolves around sharing food and eating with others. For years this was my biggest challenge in life, I always felt self-conscious and like I was being observed and judged by others. Eating disorders involve developing habits and routines for eating and people in ordinary world do find these habits/rituals bit odd. I always had a wish to change most of my eating behaviours. My father always told me that not eating and drinking in public further put me under the watchful eye of others and raised eyebrows.  When I left for Jordan, I had food rules, when I came back from Jordan, there were no rules. Indeed this trip was a life changing trip, as it enabled me to integrate with people and overcome my fear of eating out in public. The moment I conquered all my fears was in Jerusalem, when I went out for Dinner with an Old Friend and went through my meal and dessert mindlessly and I came across a sweet stall. It was a challenge but today I am grateful for this challenge as I can see the reaping benefits of facing my fear of eating in a foreign country with strangers.I had one rule that I had to follow when I left for Jordan and that was to devise a plan and a backup plan and take measures to ensure that I don’t go back to my old eating habits. So I filled my suite case with dreaded nutritional supplements, such as Fortisips, Energy bars, nuts and instant malted drinks. This was to ensure that I keep up with my calorie intake of the day.  It is your Eating Disorder and that negative belittling voice in your head that cannot be trusted, so it is better to take measures. Eating Disorders are like addiction and it is so easy for a sufferer to keep going back to old addictions and habits.

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom

Bertrand Russell



Eating With Others

Why we should consider Eating with other people?

Meal times whether at home or outside home are some of the most difficult times a person with an eating disorder will encounter. I don’t think any recovery unit encourages a sufferer to eat by themselves. When I went to ED unit for my ED treatment, all meals were consumed in a dining area in a group setting. Why? Because this is the basic decorum of human life.

Nutritionists nowadays really focus on the lost art of the family meal.  In terms of television viewing and computer time, the amount of hours children are spending on these activities has risen dramatically and is taking a toll on the way they eat. This all is leading to myriad of problems.  Also research shows that eating together has a number of benefits for everyone.

  One mantra is: The Family Who Eats Together Stays Together

More than 1400 years ago, Islam gave us eating guidelines, where we were cautioned against eating alone and not sharing our bread with fellow family members. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) saw eating as a social activity. When we eat alone or in secrecy, we feed the demon of Eating Disorder with extra power and strength. This happens because in isolation the voice of the demon of ED is very strong and compels us to restrict, over eat, over indulge and use all kind of eating disorder behaviours. Eating with others also prevents us from using some of the Eating behaviours. We all know that Binging takes place in isolation, in pure secrecy and involves abnormally large, uncontrollable intake of food, which has horrific consequences on one’s mental and physical health. Later the consequences of these behaviours are horrific, as guilt settles in and the voice of ED constantly reprimands us for being weak and indulging in food. This further entraps us in a vicious cycle of Eating Disorder.

In Jordan I learnt (well I already know that, but in past, I used to hide in my room during meal times) that eating with others does temporarily lock away the demon of Eating Disorder. Eating with others gave me a chance to connect with other members of the group, to learn from them and to share information. Shared meals foster warmth, security and love, as well as feelings of belonging. I feel it was a unifying experience.


So I ate with everyone.  This Dining experience was beautiful and profound and taught me about blessings of sharing a meal and also helped to  put food and eating into a healed perspective.

sufi dining 2

Sufi Dining

It showed me no matter how we may feel paralysed by fears, our faith, courage and determination can see us through. Coming back Home to UK and reflecting back on journey has made me realize that indeed there is a blessing in eating with people.  The beauty of starting one’s meal with the supplication and ending with praises to Allah is indeed wonderful and it makes eating seem like a sacred act. It tells the Demon of ED, ‘Food is a blessing a thy medicine.’ Back IN UK, I did put 80% of everything I learned at the trip into practice.

Sufi Dining 3 Sufi Dining 4

Criticizing Food in Eating Disorder

The demon of Eating Disorder is at the forefront when it comes to criticizing food.

All our meals were buffet system, except the lunch on first day, which was served at a beautiful Lebanese restaurant, Tawaheen Al. Hawa.  There was so much food!   My heart did Stop.

You get Lebanese Mezze. I thought that was the main course but that was just a starter.

The way meal is presented to you in platters and how we all eat together from one dish is a tradition that has been carried down from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh’s) times.

“Say Bismillaah and eat from that which is in front of you in the dish.”

Al-Bukhaari (5061) and Muslim (2022).

And then came the next course and then another course. I think I was too shocked to even think. Maybe in my mind, food kept on coming, I’ve no idea:). I struggle when different meat dishes are presented on the same plate. Instead of panicking, I learnt that you can just politely refuse and eat what is comfortable for you.



Facing your ED Fears

Fight for your life: ED causes deaths and a precious life is lost anecdotally every year.

We have to overcome our fears, it’s not easy, but all we can do is try and leave rest to Allah. Over time you’ll find that most fears start to reduce over time, the more you put yourself into the fearful situations. Set yourself some clear goals for tackling your anxiety and improving your life. Then move forward towards your goals.

My Most Amazing Dining experience was in Karak. This was a complete balanced meal.



Keep in mind

The most important thing to know and remember about recovery is that it is possible. Not just for everyone else except you, but for everyone including you.  It takes an enormous amount of persistence and courage, but it is possible and it is definitely worth it.

 One Year Later in 2014 I Dine With Friends

A Lunch with Friends in London. They cooked for me and I was touched beyond words and they went out of their way to make it extra special for me.



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.

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