Eating Disorder in Muslim world? Are you kidding me!




There are certain schools of thought in our society, where eating disorder is seen as a way of life, and something that needs to be accepted and respected. Certain websites and forums are out there campaigning for the rights of anorexics and to erase the negative stigma that is attached to its followers.  The web traffic increases on such websites, as more people become fixated on certain form of body image, and are in desperate need to find justification for their actions.

Islamic body of law has not dealt with many cases of Eating Disorders. In Muslim culture people struggle to come to terms with this level of illness, as it becomes difficult to rationalize and understand whether it’s self afflicted or psychological. Opinions are clearly divided between all four major schools of thought on whether anorexia bulimia is self afflicted or a form of illness that acquires effective treatment under medical supervision. We don’t have the statistics that can provide us with accurate figures for those who suffer from Eating Disorders in Muslim countries. The treatment options are very limited and at times only available to a narrow and affluent faction of society.


UAE and Eating Disorders

United Arab Emirates problem with this endemic is reflected in the fact that the levels of anorexia in teenage girls are almost double those in Britain. An Al Ain University study of 900 Arab girls aged between 13 and 19 found 1.8 per cent were anorexic, compared with 1 per cent of British girls aged between 16 and 18. (Reported by the National ae)

According to a recent study conducted by university students in the UAE, three quarters of young Emiratis have body issues, and one in five is in need of clinical intervention. It isn’t the first indication that eating disorders are on the rise in UAE, a 2010 study of 228 Emirati female students by academics at Zayed University. They found that nearly a quarter of the sample had abnormal eating attitudes, and nearly three-quarters of participants were unhappy with their body image. Another study conducted at the end of 2012 noted the increase in negative body image among students in Dubai.

In cosmopolis Dubai number of  clinics that deal with eating disorders such as,  Lifeworks Counselling and Development have sprung up in last few years.  At Lifeworks Counselling and development centre in Dubai , cost of individual counselling session is 600DHS.

According to BUPA UK:

The time it takes to recover from anorexia varies greatly. It takes an average of five to six years after you have been diagnosed to recover. On the other hand, anorexia can last for a much shorter period of time, sometimes for only a few months.

It’s important that you seek help for anorexia as early as possible. This is because the sooner you get help, the better your chances of recovery are. Recovering from an eating disorder can be a difficult process, but it can be done.

well at the rate of 600DHS per session, its only rich and affluent who can afford such treatment options.

In Abu Dhabi,  the cost of treatment at American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology  costs slightly less. The assessment costs Dh1,500. Follow-up meetings, which run between 45 minutes and an hour, cost Dh200 a session for group therapy and Dh500 for one-on-one treatment. Also most insurance companies in UAE do not cover the costs of therapy and counselling sessions. This further demotivates people from seeking the treatment for Eating disorders.

A lack of statistics on the disorders in the Muslim world makes it challenging to convince the population of the need for Eating Disorder treatment.

Malaysia and Eating Disorders

Malaysia and its media are also trying to raise awareness of effects of eating Disorder on their society.According to Malaysians have come to a point where not only women but also men are obsessed with being stick thin in order to ‘mirror’ the images they see desirable.


Indonesia largest Muslim country in the world has also become a victim of this dangerous endemic. According to Jakarta Globe more Women Become ‘Fashion Victims’ As Eating Disorders Spread in Indonesia. According to Gregorius Pandu Setiawan, chairman of Indonesian Mental Health Network. “They knew about mental disorders, but when they heard the term, they said ‘Huh? Disorders about eating habits?’ ” Setiawan said the term “eating disorder” has only been in widespread use in Indonesia for about a decade, and the number afflicted by them has escalated over that time, though he could not cite exact figures.

He said the increase in number of patients diagnosed was due in part to higher awareness of the disorders, but also because of the increasing pressure to be thin brought about by greater access to media, such as fashion magazines that present unreasonable notions of ideal body image.




In Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad, one of the treatment options available at PIMS hospital is Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electric shock therapy to get reluctant anorexics to start eating again.

Egypt is also hit by this epidemic. According to Arab times online: Almost 60 percent of people in Kuwait are overweight, obese. Furthermore, according to CNN, Kuwait is a fattest nation on the earth.

The global launch of fast food companies in Middle East was seen as something of a novelty before. Whohoo we have Mikkie D, whohoo Wagamama is here, hmm not to forget Dunkin donuts, Hersheys, lets say all global fast food market is here in Middle East.  Now years later, many countries are enjoying the numerous health benefits that come with fast foods. According to CNN: Kuwait’s neighbors also appear in the top 10, with Qatar coming in 4th, the United Arab Emirates 6th, and Bahrain 10th on the table. So how are Kuwaiti dealing with obesity? 

According to CNN:

Stomach stapling procedures are becoming increasingly popular in Kuwait, with enough demand to prompt the country’s first conference for medical professionals involved in weight loss surgery last year.

According to Saudi gazette, Students encouraged to snack on dates and milk. Why?

Fast food has invaded the Kingdom’s traditional cuisine in not only lunches and dinners, but also breakfast; an important meal which is now comprised of junk food like fries, burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, soda, and so on, instead of a nutritious diet. In order to re-inculcate healthy eating habits amongst children, Abu Jafar Al-Madani School (AJAMS) in Al-Baha is serving dates and milk to their students every morning.

Eating disorders are already costing UK tax payers £1billion a year. According to South Carolina Mental department of health that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men.

According to their statistics:

  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
  • A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems.

Eating disorder is a new prevailing global epidemic just like HIV/AIDS. But sadly when it comes to effective treatment strategies, we in Muslim world clearly lag behind West.

The Prophet Muhammad (saw) says: “Seek medical treatment, for God has not created an illness without creating a cure for it.”

Islam has provided necessary guidelines for overall health and well-being. Qur’an deals with obesity, overeating and for striking a balance in our diet.Food in Islam is seen as a blessing and Quran mentions numerous foods such as dates, figs, milk, pomegranates, olives etc for healing properties and health benefits.

Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Qur’an: “O you who believe, do not forbid the good things which Allah has made lawful for you and do not exceed limits. Surely Allah does not love those who exceeds the limits.” (5:90).

It is about time that Muslim countries step up, create awareness and recognize this illness for its destructiveness and offer treatment options that are available to all.

For Eating Disorder Treatment in Middle East:

The Middle East Eating Disorders Association- located in Lebanon, they are hoping to expand and serve rest of Middle East.


Dubai- Clare Smart is a counsellor at LifeWorks. Sessions cost Dhs600. Villa 996, Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim 1, Dubai. ( 04 394 2464 ).


For location and timing of OA meetings held in the UAE visit

Abu Dhabi- Overeaters Anonymous
The Abu Dhabi branch of this non-profit fellowship aims to support people in their recovery from compulsive eating. Much like AA and NA, OA uses a 12-step programme. There are regular meetings in the emirate – timings and locations can be found on the website.

Abu Dhabi- Eating Disorders Anonymous
The website of this international fellowship contains advice on tackling eating disorders. There are currently no meetings in Abu Dhabi, but contact EDA to find out how to get one going. Membership is free: the only requirement is a desire to recover from an eating disorder.


Overeaters Anonymous offers a program of recovery from compulsive eating using the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of OA.

Every Thursday from 6 to 7pm in Beirut.

For more information, you could visit world OA website: or contact us.


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.


  1. Eating disorders are present in the Muslim world and people are aware of the problem. I do agree that awareness is very much needed but I live in Kuwait and have anorexia and I also know a lot of people who have eating disordets over here. There are places for people to get help here. Maybe not residential treatment facilities but there are private therapists and also the government provides mental AND medical help for free. It is taken care of. I’m not kidding you 🙂

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