For most practicing Muslims, the month of Ramadhan is a time for reflection, gratitude, and connecting with God. This practice usually involves abstaining from food and drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset. However, for those battling with eating disorders, Ramadhan can be a particularly challenging and lonely time. Fasting can become a disguise for unhealthy eating behaviours, as well as difficult to navigate recovery from eating disorders.
Fasting can be done safely if you are nourishing your body with sufficient energy during the times you are allowed to eat. However, if fasting brings you feelings of loss of control, guilt, and shame, it may not be a safe practice for you. It is vital that you take time to reflect upon the meaning behind Ramadhan, and how you wish to observe it. Consider the following:
Take time to consider your intentions behind wanting to fast in Ramadhan. Ramadhan is a holy month for prayer, reflection, and community, so look at all the ways that are important to you to connect with your faith and with God. However, if you have an eating disorder, it is understandable if you are experiencing unhelpful and worrisome thoughts about food and weight loss during this time. It is important to remind yourself about the meaning behind Ramadhan, what’s important to you, and how you would like to connect to your faith.
For individuals with an eating disorder, it may not be safe to fast during Ramadhan. For instance, if you’re having thoughts about losing weight or binge/purging later on in the day, this might be suggestive that fasting isn’t safe for you and your personal recovery currently. Your health and your journey to recovery is very important and fasting could jeopardise the risk of a relapse at this time.
If this is something you are concerned about, have an open and honest discussion with family/friends, a professional, or your faith leader (Imam) who may help you to decide whether fasting this time is safe for you (you may be excused from the practice if there is risk to your health and wellbeing). While you are reflecting on the implications of fasting on your recovery, consider alternative ways you can connect to your faith. Perhaps you want to focus on giving to charity, or maybe you wish to pray and reflect more at different times during the day.
For those who are working on a recovery plan with a professional, it may be quite challenging to adapt an eating plan to fasting. It is always beneficial to plan out such situations well in advance to avoid feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, and overtime you can adapt your plan as Ramadhan progresses.
If you have chosen to participate in fasting, do not skip Suhur or Iftar, as doing so may increase the risk of losing control and binging later on. At Suhur, take the opportunity to fill up on energy-providing foods, such as complex carbohydrates, dates, honey, and yoghurt. When eating Iftar, it is a good idea to break your fast by starting slow (this may help with healthier digestion), and make sure you replenish your body with energy for the following day of fasting.
You may feel very full after breaking your fast, which could serve as a trigger. It is important to remind yourself of the meaning behind Ramadhan, so try to distract yourself with reflection, meditative practice, or talking to others.
For those with an eating disorder, social situations around food can be very challenging, so make sure you have somewhere you feel safe and comfortable to sit down and eat. You may find it helpful to share your concerns with family members beforehand as this may reduce the risk of accidental harmful comments.
If you have chosen not to fast during Ramadhan, it does not make you a bad person. It just means that you have made the choice to look after your body and mind. There are a multitude of different ways you can observe Ramadhan that does not involve fasting, like giving to charity, praying more, and being more grateful – whatever you choose to do, your practices should strengthen your personal relationship with God, and strengthen your own recovery.
If you find yourself feeling alone or struggling in the month of Ramadhan, reach out for support. Our support services have facilitators from all faith groups, and we welcome you to come and talk to us in a safe and non-judgemental space.