Eating Disorders: The Body Abused

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Eating Disorders: The Body Abused

By: Nadia Shabir

Aaila The Muslim Family Magazine

The reality of eating disorders is far more lethal and infinitely more complex than your average contemplation. I was 16 when I tried my first attempt at dieting. Ten years later, I was labelled as an anorexic. I practiced anorexia for several years. First few months of restrictive eating, no one noticed, even I didn’t notice that I was changing.

Eating Disorders: The Body Abused

” What is the body? That shadow of a shadow of your love that somehow contains the whole universe.” Jalal ud Din Rumi

Allah has never created a disease but created its treatment, that is known by some people and unknown to others, except death. (At-Tabarani)

Eating Disorders are complex and very troubled and oft-difficult to explain psychological disorders that involve body image, mental health and other parts of life. In recent times, the eating disorders numbers have gotten worst, with onsets as early as 5 years old and mortality rates as high as 20% – more than any other mental disease. Three main chronic eating disorders are: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by severe weight loss due to extreme food reduction. Bulimia nervosa results in frequent fluctuations in weight, due to periods of uncontrollable binge eating, followed by purging. Binge-eating disorder, or compulsive eating, is often triggered by chronic dieting and involves periods of overeating, often in secret and often carried out as a means of deriving comfort.  .

Eating Disorders are mental illnesses that need medical and psychological treatment, long term effective strategies and successful coping skills to combat them. Even so after being discharged from medical facilities, patients are unable to fulfil their roles in social settings, and often slide into relapse. Whether you’re living in East or West, treatment for Eating Disorders is horrifically expensive, especially if a patient has to be sent off to ludicrously expensive treatment centres.

Eating Disorders are not a fad, a diet gone wrong, or an attention-seeking attempt, but serious mental illnesses.

Eating Disorders do not discriminate between age, gender, race or class — no one is immune.  There is so much misunderstanding in Muslim countries about this illness. Hundreds and thousands of people are suffering from this illness in silence, in isolation and in shame.

Me and Eating Disorder

The reality of eating disorders is far more lethal and infinitely more complex than your average contemplation. I was 16 when I tried my first attempt at dieting. Ten years later, I was labelled as an anorexic. I practiced anorexia for several years. First few months of restrictive eating, no one noticed, even I didn’t notice that I was changing. I still remember that euphoria of weight loss in early days of anorexia, such an idle musings of an anorexic mind. But after several months affects were more visible, I was always sad, lethargic, and angry and I just could not concentrate on anything. As more time passed, I developed anxiety and insomnia. I started neglecting my personal appearance, had no emotions left, could not concentrate or think clearly. I always cried, had very limited interaction with others, felt hopeless and helpless. What were worst were those feelings of pessimism, worthlessness that raced through my mind. I lost interest in everything and there was absolutely no joy left in life. Having a romanticized idea of having a thin body maybe fun, but believe me that’s not how it feels. Being considered anorexic is a stigma in all societies. The ensuing anorexia is contagious and pure hell. It sneaks up on you and your family like the devil, insidiously destroying the fabric of closed unity and turning everything into a bitter experience. I remember sitting in a therapy and staring at something innocuous, like a floor carpet, and suddenly being overwhelmed by the staid conviction that life was meaningless.

Eating Disorder encompasses the extremes of human experience. There are days when it doesn’t matter how much you try but no meaningful mental activity can occur. Moods may swing between euphoria and despair or irritability and desperation.

My illness was out of control- it was severe because I remember how much I wanted to read and I found myself completely unable to read: for two years I went over the same paragraph and it just wouldn’t sink in.

Just when I thought I’d go over the edge and die from weak heart, I was sent off to an Eating Disorder unit. A blessing indeed.

I spent nine months under intense treatment for my eating disorder. I went to hospital, day-unit and attended therapy as an out-patient. After discharging myself from outpatient, my challenge was how to progress further in life with weight gain and a very disordered mind, which over the course of years had become a hub to distorted thinking. They say that it’s not your body that needs changing but your mind.  Eating Disorder mind is scary; hardly anyone discusses what goes through their mind. It is never ending voice that encourages sufferers to continue to abuse their bodies through starvation, bingeing, purging and other dangerous methods of weight control. I feel it is very important to talk about those voices because they play a pivotal part in keeping the disorder alive. They convince us that we are hopeless, failure, ugly, fat, unlovable and so much more. They convince us that the world and our families would be better off without us and that we deserve to die.

Eating Disorder becomes a part of your subconscious mind, that’s why night and day your thoughts revolve around behaviours that can satisfy the demon of eating disorder. The key to defeating the demon of eating disorder is to change your thought process to influence your subconscious through Dhikr, remembrance of Allah. Is there anything more powerful then invoking the name of your mighty Lord? “first you do the dhikr and then the dhikr does you.” It becomes a part of our unconscious and sings in our bloodstream. Working in the unconscious, the dhikr alters our mental, psychological and physical bodies. On the mental level this is easily apparent. Normally, in our everyday life, the mind follows its automatic thinking process, over which we often have very little control. The mind thinks us, rather than the other way around. Just catch your mind for a moment and observe its thoughts. Every thought creates a new thought, and every answer a new question.

I learnt that I had to work on my mind and forget about food.  Food is there for our nourishment, for our sustenance. No mere human being can survive without food, this is the law of the nature which cannot be altered or change. I learnt that only one thing in this world could save me from the demon of Eating Disorder and its evil whispers and that is Allah. So I turned to Allah and I turned to Dhikr. The more the menacing voice demanded that I starve and go back to my old ways, the more I resisted. I started talking back to my Eating Disorder and the Dhikr increased.  Ahmed Hulusi from Turkey said that the capacity to change your mind does not diminish with age; one can change and influence their mind at any stage of their life. We all can defeat our Eating disorders.

Source: http://aaila.org/issue/september-october-2013/article/eating-disorders-the-body-abused

Aaila The Muslim Family Magazine

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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.

1 Comment

  1. Bob Carpenter on

    I’m not a dietician, but when I was a student we talked about healthy eating. It was nothing complicated, only recommending eating a mixture of five fruits and vegetables a day. Avoid eating too much red meat, and eat chicken and fish instead. Also eat a balanced diet. A lot of this information can be found on the internet. Here is one of the links http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/eatwell-plate.jpg http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/eatwell-plate.jpg
    All this should be accompanied with regular exercise, at least 20 minutes each session, 2 or 3 times a week. If in a shop and there is a choice between stairs and an escalator, use the latter. Leave your car a fair distance from work and walk the rest of the way. If you use a bus, get off a couple of stops earlier and walk the rest.
    I have no secret about my own health, I feel as if I’ve been blessed and I am so fortunate to usually enjoy good health. My prayers always ask for me to remain fit and healthy.

    I read you eloquent essay with great interest, and was sorry to hear that you were once anorexic – I hope you have got over that! I believe the fashion industry has created the idea that girls should be skinny! Not true – it is better to be fit, and not worry about size.
    Best regard, Bob.

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