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6 Tips for Coping with An Eating Disorder in Ramadan

The emphasis on food and the drastic changes in diet and routine during the holy month can be triggering. Ramadan can make it easier to disguise an eating disorder – after all, everyone else is avoiding food and drink for long hours too. People who struggle with binge-eating may be more tempted to over-indulge at mealtimes. Ramadan is also a time to get together and break fast with others, which can be very difficult for someone who struggles with eating in public. And if a person with an eating disorder chooses not to fast, they may feel a great deal of shame about not fasting or face criticism from others who may not know much about eating disorders.

To learn more about eating disorders, please refer to this resource.

Ramadan Photos

  • If Ramadan is especially difficult because you struggle with an eating disorder, ease your way into the month by:

      • Decentralizing food and prioritizing your self-development

      • Using social media mindfully

      • Gathering intentionally with others

      • Talking to someone about your symptoms

      • Getting professional help

      • Harnessing the power of Duaa
     

    1. Decentralize Food

    Ramadan Article Photos

    During Ramadan, many of us focus on fasting from food and water during the day and indulging in elaborate meals at night. But, if we only focus on food during this month, we miss the whole point of Ramadan and unintentionally activate the triggers we may have related to food. Ramadan is more than just about fasting from food – it’s also about spiritual growth and doing good deeds that bring you closer to Allah (SWT).

    This Ramadan, whether you can fast from food or not, make it your intention not to focus on food. Instead, prioritize your self-development. There are so many ways to do this:

      • Practice patience and positivity with affirming statements like: “Alhamdulliah, I am trying my best and that is enough.” Or “Even when it’s difficult, Allah (swt) is with me every step of the journey.”
      • Practice gratitude everyday by journaling about a blessing you have. This is especially important to do on the more challenging days.
      • Connect with your Creator and community through Taraweeh prayer.
      • Be charitable with your time and/or money.

      (Check out these practical tips for more Ramadan-related self-development.)

       

      2. Use Social Media Mindfully

      Ramadan Photos copy 2

      Social media can be both helpful and harmful – depending on how we use it. For someone struggling with an eating disorder, social media can be especially triggering. Research findings show that the more that people used social media, the greater concerns they had about body dissatisfaction, negative or altered body image, and disordered eating. [1]

      Whether it’s images of food, vacation, or friends, picture-perfect content can cause negative feelings and a pattern of constant comparisons to what we see online. This pressure can become an underlying trigger for someone struggling with an eating disorder.

      But guess what? Ramadan is a great time to be more mindful of how and why we are turning to our screens. It’s an opportunity to limit the distractions and reprioritize what matters most: Allah (SWT) and our relationship with Him. Taking a break from the constant noise of social media can be clarifying and healing on a physical, spiritual, and emotional level.

        • Take a break for the month. Or, with the help of an app, set limits on your screen time.
        • When you do use social media, use it in beneficial ways. Follow people who uplift you spiritually, and who you can continue to learn from after Ramadan.
        • Use more of the “hide ad” buttons, and filter the pages you follow, especially those that may trigger your symptoms.
        • Use your screen for real time connections; call family and relatives, friends who care for you, or mentors who you look to for spiritual support.
         

        3. Gather Intentionally With Others

        Ramadan Article Photos

        A big part of Ramadan is getting together with others. Sometimes, not fasting with everyone else can feel isolating. But rather than gathering around food, you can feel a sense of community with others this Ramadan by:

        • Volunteering or working on a service project
        • Visiting the elderly in your community
        • Joining a weekly halaqa (learning circle) that is focused on understanding the Quran more deeply
        • Finding other Muslims who struggle with eating disorders and starting a support group together

        If you do choose to gather with others and you think you may feel triggered, think of ways to support yourself. For example, you can bring along a friend who knows about your struggle and can be your “safe” person. If you get triggered, you can let him/her know and come up with a plan together. Or you can text your “safe” person in the moment for moral support, even if they can’t be there with you.

         

        4. Tell Someone You Trust

        During Ramadan, we find the strength to do things that feel impossible any other time during the year (like fasting for long hours or praying throughout the night). This Ramadan, try to build up the strength to tell someone you trust about your eating disorder. It can be difficult to open up about what you’re experiencing, but letting close family or friends know what you are going through can help them better support you, especially during Ramadan. Choose a time to sit down and share what you are going through.

        Ramadan Article Photos

        • Tell them about your symptoms, how you’re feeling overall, and what you know about eating disorders. Maybe you know that something is wrong, and you’d like them to help you find help. Or you need some encouragement to call and schedule an appointment with your doctor. Maybe you’ve been struggling with the condition for years and want to be open about it with family and friends.
        • Keep in mind that your parents/family members may have an emotional response to what you share, especially if they don’t know very much about eating disorders. They may be worried, shocked, or have difficulty understanding what you’re sharing. Make sure you prepare yourself for their response by acting out what they might say and having some healthy coping strategies at hand so you don’t fall back on unhealthy eating habits. If your family members are dismissive of your symptoms or just don’t know how to help, you may need to lean on support from others. Try reaching out to your school guidance counselor, a youth leader at the mosque, or calling a helpline to ask for local resources that you can lean on.
        •  

        5. Get Professional Help

        If you can, schedule an appointment with your doctor a few weeks before Ramadan. Bring up your concerns and symptoms so that he/she can support you throughout the month.

        Ramadan Article Photos

        • Eating disorders can pose serious health concerns, so it’s important to be honest about your symptoms. Anorexia Nervosa, which consists of severely restricting intake to the point of starvation and may include purging as well, can lead to organ failure and be a fatal condition. Bulimia, which consists of binging and purging, can cause electrolyte imbalances. An early diagnosis can increase your chances of recovery, and having proper medical guidance during Ramadan is a must.
        • Because an eating disorder affects an individual on physical and psychological levels, it’s also important that you get help from a therapist. Your doctor can provide you with a referral to a local mental health specialist. You can also use SEEMA’s directory to find a Muslim therapist near you and check out The FYI’s Therapy Guide for what to expect from therapy. Ramadan can present specific triggers for someone who struggles with an eating disorder, so it’s important to discuss your symptoms and feelings with a healthcare provider who can help you manage your triggers during this month.
        • You might be wondering whether you should fast this Ramadan. The question of whether to fast is an important one as it can have serious implications for your health. Depending on your eating disorder and where you are on the recovery journey, fasting may or may not be suitable for you. If you are continuing to restrict or are actively purging shortly before Ramadan, strongly reconsider your choice to fast – these are signs that an eating disorder is still severe and that you are having active symptoms.
        • Most importantly, consult with both your doctor (primary care physician as well as a psychiatrist if you have one) and your therapist. If you have symptoms of an eating disorder, share the recommendations you received with a religious scholar whom you trust – someone who can support your decision this Ramadan and guide you in making up your fasts in another way.
        • If your doctor has deemed it better not to fast, focus on other forms of ibadah (worship). Remember, Allah (SWT) does not want to burden you and that your health is an amanah (trust). We know that one who is sick or ill is exempt from fasting. Eating disorders are a type of illness that can take time to heal from. Be patient and give yourself time to heal with the full support of your treatment team.
        •  

        6. Harness The Power Of Duaa (Asking Allah)

        Ramadan Article Photos

        Duaa is a powerful tool in the toolbox of every Muslim, no matter what he/she is going through. This Ramadan, harness the power of Duaa in your recovery.

        “And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me.”

        (Surah Baqarah v. 186)

        • Ask Allah (SWT) to strengthen you and help you overcome this challenge in your life. Ask Him to make this an experience that you learn and grow from. Ask for help from The Healer (الشافي) and The Helper (النصير).
        • You can make Duaa at any point in the day, or during special times like in your Taraweeh sujood, the last third of the night, the last ten nights, or when breaking your fast (if you’re fasting).
        • Choose a Duaa that inspires you to stay motivated. Put it somewhere where you’ll see it and remember to say it often.
        • Remember, Ramadan is not just for those who fast from food or drink. Ramadan is for anyone who strives to come closer to Allah (SWT). This Ramadan, use these tips to worship Allah (SWT) in a holistic way – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Getting help for your eating disorder, trying to meet your treatment goals, and focusing on becoming a better version of yourself are all things that Allah (SWT) will reward you for, and that can bring you closer to Him in this month.
        •  

        For Help With an Eating Disorder: 

        National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Eating Disorders (US)

        Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, Monday to Friday

        1-630-577-1330

        National Eating Disorders Association (US)

        Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, Monday to Friday

        1-800-931-2237

        Naseeha Youth Hotline (US)

        Free confidential hotline for Muslim youth

        Hours of Operation: 7 days a week, 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. EST

        1-866-627-3342

        Amala Muslim Youth Hotline (US)

        Hours of Operation: M, W, F, Saturday and Sunday, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. PST

        1-855-952-6252

        Find a Muslim Therapist Near You:

        https://seemamentalhealth.com/find-a-therapist/.

         

        For more resources about making the most of Ramadan this year, check out our Ramadan Toolkit. Follow The FYI on our social media channels and subscribe to our newsletter here.

        This resource was funded in part with generous support from:

        islamic relief usa

        Blog Author:

        DSC_0043-passport-2-768x768
        Sondos Al Sad

        Sondos Al Sad, MD, MPH, NCMP is a Researcher at The Family and Youth Institute. She is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Ohio State University and a family medicine physician. Dr. Al Sad completed her medical school in Jordan, finished her Family Medicine Residency at the University of Kentucky, and holds a Master’s in Public health and Epidemiology.

        IMG_4444-768x768
        Madiha Tahseen

        Dr. Madiha Tahseen is the Research Director and a Community Educator at The Family and Youth Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research expertise is in positive youth development amongst Muslim-American youth, particularly focusing on the role of cultural and religious contexts in character development among minority populations.

        b7247206-ed24-42f3-a3cc-463a0f7cd2eb
        Issra Killawi

        Issra Killawi is a Resource Development Manager with The Family and Youth Institute. She graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Apparel Design and a minor in Art. She has interned with The FYI previously and co-authored The FYI’s Marriage Prep Toolkit.

        Guest Author:

        - Mariam Rasheed, LMSW
        - Mehak Hafeez, LCPC, CRC
        - Saba Maroof, MD
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        The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

        It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

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        According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

        Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

        About Shaikh Ali

        Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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