Egypt is a beautiful country, but unfortunately it’s society sometimes is harsh on people with mental illnesses, they always stay away from them, they think they’re possessed by a demon even my parents once got me a sheikh that thought so, most of people here don’t believe in mental illnesses even though there are many sufferers here, Egyptian society is not educated at all about eating disorders, they can’t stomach it, they love food so much to the point where they can’t believe someone could have an eating disorder, at the same time they are kind, giving and nice, but never aware of issues like that.
I was misdiagnosed with bulimia at first as I was purging, but then got diagnosed with anorexia 3 years ago, and the doctor diagnosed me only for being severely underweight and malnourished. And that is a big misunderstanding of eating disorders in Egypt.
We are back with real life stories series, today I had the honor of interviewing Rabyanur, in recovery from her Eating Disorder from Egypt. I am grateful to Nura for sharing her experience of her battle with anorexia with us. Our hope is that this interview will educate our masses of the complexities of this mental illness and how they impact individuals and their relationships. Thank you Nura so much for this interview. We wish you the very best on your journey to healing and recovery.
Maha Khan: (MK) Please tell us about yourself. Where you live, what you do and how old you are?
Rabyanur (RN): I’m Nura, I’m 16 years old, I live in Cairo, Egypt, and I’m graduating school next year. I suffer from anorexia (purging subtype).
MK: Please tell us when did you first hear of eating disorder? And what is an eating disorder?
RN: I first heard of eating disorders when I just 11 years old, and because i struggled with disordered eating my whole life, i felt like i had one. Eating disorders are life threatening mental illnesses, they are characterized by disturbances in behaviours, thoughts, way of eating, body and weight.
MK: Growing up, how would you describe yourself?
RN: growing up, i was a very quiet and smart child, I was always alone and had no friends, i always felt like i was different, and always got bullied because i was overweight, they made me feel like I was never enough and that i need to be perfect, and that triggered my eating disorder and made me feel like i needed to prove them wrong.
MK: Tell us about little bit about egypt and the society?
RN: Egypt is a beautiful country, but unfortunately it’s society sometimes is harsh on people with mental illnesses, they always stay away from them, they think they’re possessed by a demon even my parents once got me a sheikh that thought so, most of people here don’t believe in mental illnesses even though there are many sufferers here, Egyptian society is not educated at all about eating disorders, they can’t stomach it, they love food so much to the point where they can’t believe someone could have an eating disorder, at the same time they are kind, giving and nice, but never aware of issues like that.
MK: Please brief us on your journey into world of eating disorder.
RN: It all began since i was 3 years old, I loved food very much, to the point where I became overweight, and got bullied, every time i was sad, i would eat in secret to the point of discomfort, until i hit puberty at 11 years old, i hated my body very much, i felt like I wanted to run away from my skin, i gradually stopped eating, until one day i was 12 years old in an Islamic class at school, we were learning about what breaks a Muslim’s fast, and one of the things was self induced vomiting, I was actually very surprised, like i really did not understand what that is, so a colleague next to me said “yes you can stick your fingers down your throat so you vomit” from here the idea began to grow in my mind, until i actually did this for the first time in Ramadan 2018, when i got forced by my parents to eat and it became so addictive, where my heart was exposed to damage as my potassium was severely low to the point that i spent nearly all 2021 in ICU fighting to stay alive with a painful cannula my neck and tubes connected to my body.
MK: When did your relationship with yourself change?
RN: I was a perfectionist ever since I was a child, the only thing I couldn’t control was my eating and how my body looked, aside from all the bullying i got because of my weight it turned to the point where i hated every inch of my body, and wanted to cut off all the fat on it, i decided i need to change, for real, and for me when something gets in my mind it can’t get out until I do it perfectly, and that’s what happened, i planned everything to do, and set millions of goals
MK: Please tell us about your earliest memory of your problem with food and eating?
RN: I remember when i was 4-5 years old, i used to eat in secret, and hide food because my mum was forcing me to eat healthy as i was at a risk of diabetes
MK: Please tell us about your earliest memory of your perception of how your body needs to change?
RN: i remember being 11 years old, looking at my body with a huge feelings of shame and guilt, wanted to run out of my skin, i hated every inch of it, and i began body checking, I planned to do a before and after when i lose weight, i planned everything.
MK: How long did you struggle with your eating disorder?
RN: I struggled with disordered eating nearly my whole life, but i struggled with a real eating disorder for more than 5 years.
MK: when were you diagnosed and how did the diagnosis come about?
RN: I was misdiagnosed with bulimia at first as i was purging, but then got diagnosed with anorexia 3 years ago, and the doctor diagnosed me only for being severely underweight and malnourished. And that is a big misunderstanding of eating disorders in egypt.
MK: What was the reaction of your family and loved ones?
RN: They actually didn’t believe something like that exists, you won’t believe me but they were actually angry at me, they thought i meant to do all of this, they took years to understand.
MK: Do you think there is awareness of eating disorders in Egypt?
RN: Well, most people here in egypt including my parents did not know anything about that, as egypt is one of the most countries that care about food and has many rituals of it, but i won’t deny that there are also many people now knows about it, and aware of it.
MK: Was it easy for your parents to understand your illness? What steps did you as a family take to deal with this illness?
RN: Not at all, i remember 2 years ago every time i went to the bathroom my mum used to knock the door many times, and that made me even more angry at myself, and continued on doing what i was doing, they did not understand anything about it especially my father, he couldn’t stomach it, i struggled for years trying to let them understand it, until they really did ! All they wanted was to get their daughter back, first i told them everything about this illness, i spoke to them about my struggles, secrets i used to hide from them, i asked them to support me and always be by my side, and i told them i need help from a professional, not to let things get worse.
MK: Please tell us about your treatment?
RN: Unfortunately egypt has no eating disorder treatment centers, hospitals, rehabs or even an ED section in a psych ward, i struggled so hard finding someone who can treat my illness here in egypt, i started with a therapist who helped me in my other mental illnesses (depression, social anxiety, panic attacks, self harm and suicide ideation) but she has never helped me with my ED, she even misdiagnosed me with bulimia, and at last when she felt like i’m losing more weight and my labs are getting abnormal she absolved me of her responsibility and that broke me so i left her, and it was so traumatic, i spent a year and a half suffering in silence, denying i was sick, with endless general hospital admissions, i didn’t want to get help, all i wanted was to run away from home to hospital, and that was an endless cycle, until i finally had enough, and i really was at my lowest, my life was in great danger and i was on the brink of death, i decided i needed help, and i searched for someone, and Alhamdulillah i found the first ever eating disorder specialist here in egypt, i was surprised i found one, and i started sessions with him, he really helped me start my recovery, and for the first time i did not care about my weight, i broke my scale into million pieces, gave away my ED clothes, stopped taking laxatives and decreased the purging.
MK: Tell us the three biggest challenges you faced with this illness?
RN: First one and most important was admitting i was ill and needed help, second one was realizing i’m more than a weight on a scale or a size of a clothes, third one was letting go of the thought the consumed me for years that is losing weight.
MK: Ramadan is challenging for people suffering from eating disorders, how did you deal with Ramadan?
RN: Last ramadan, i was at the depth of my ED, i was very ill, and i only fasted for my ED, for losing more weight, then i ended up in icu the day after eid, but this Ramadan, i started it with a new mindset, i promised myself i’m going to make it a better ramadan, and i became aware of all the triggers like family gatherings, iftar, not counting calories, facing those who promote dieting in Ramadan, i convinced myself that everyone has their own lives and conditions, i exposed my thoughts whenever i felt like it was severe, my parents has helped me so much, with supporting me though each and every step i take, they never force me to eat something i’m not comfortable with and they were so patient, Alhamdulillah i didn’t agree with not fasting this Ramadan, because fasting made me more close to god, it made me pray more and read quraan, i’m so thankful i chose that.
MK: Did you feel supported during your recovery and in Ramadan?
RN: Yes, thanks god this Ramadan and the previous one my parents were so supportive, and this Ramadan i have my therapist who supports and helps me, i have my recovery page, and recovery friends, i’m thankful for all of that.
MK: Why are eating disorders on rise in Egypt?
RN: Because most people here are not educated about it, so they keep saying triggering comments that can trigger many people who has eating issues, and because of that the numbers of people with eating disorders has risen up so much in last couple of years, unfortunately many can have a disability in connecting with therapists, and that’s sad because they will suffer alone, and many Denys that they even have a problem, others don’t even know what EDs are and they already have it, i hope people in egypt educate themselves about eating disorders.
MK: Why are more girls feeling insecure in their bodies? Is there body shaming in Egypt?
RN: Yes, there is alot of body shaming here with egyptian girls, due to bullying they get, even if they are not overweight, if they’re too fat, or too thin, people here don’t leave you alone
MK: What can we do to create more awareness in Egypt?
RN: And how can we make people see that unnecessary comment on weight and looks are dangerous? People have to educate themselves more about Eating disorders or disordered eating, parents have to be aware of unnecessary comments they give to their children, you can not get your child on a diet, he’s just a kid, it can create a lot of issues toward his body and himself. Everyone with an eating disorder has to tell their story, has to speak up, not keep quiet, starting a recovery or an awareness blog is also helpful.
MK: Please tell us about your recovery?
RN: Please tell us how your relationship with friends and family changed during your illness and how your relationship is now when you are in recovery. Ever since i developed an ED i became so isolated from everybody, i hated everyone even my parents, i hated home and school, i was always angry even at the silliest thing, i never listened to any helpful advice, my ED destroyed my relationships, but when i started recovery, my relationship with my parents has improved so much, i love them a lot, and they help me through all my struggles, i always feel guilty for not listening to them in the past and not being near to them, i stayed away from all of my triggering friends and now i only have one friend, that helped me a lot through many things, and is enough for me. Recovery has made everything better.
MK: Your message to those who are suffering from eating disorders?
RN: My message is to please never give up, always have hope and be patient, there are millions of people who fully recovered from their eating disorders and their now the happiest, it’s just a very long road, but believe it’s worth it, i may not be recovered yet but i’m on the way to it and i never ever regret starting recovery. SPEAK UP ! never keep anything in, it will make you suffer more, and suffering in silence is so hard, i know how you feel, i’ve been there before, i’m a survivor and so are you, please ask for help, talk to someone you trust, either your parents, therapist or friend, you won’t regret it, you eating disorder voice will scream at you, i know this well, and if you listen to it you will be even more miserable, but if you ignored it or did the opposite of what it’s saying, it’s voice will lower, trust me i’ve tried it, your life is more than a number, more than a size or a weight, your life is so precious, you deserve to be happy and recover, you deserve to be loved, never forget that. ❤