Battling an Eating Disorder During Ramadan
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Farheen Ahmed is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Neuroscience on the pre-medical track. She is originally from Virginia and spends almost half of every year in Houston, Texas. In her free time, you can find her working at her research lab, volunteering for Rock Recovery, hanging out with her friends, or reading romance novels. Farheen struggled with an eating disorder throughout her high school years and can proudly say she is a recovered survivor.
Ramadan is a holy month in Islam where practicing Muslims connect with their religion by fasting from sunrise to sunset for thirty consecutive days. Many people believe the most important part of Ramadan is fasting, but it is just as important to connect with your religion and be intentional with your actions as you become closer to God.
For me, eating disorder recovery was the most difficult during Ramadan. As a high school student living in my parents’ house during recovery, I was becoming more intentional with my eating habits and making sure to fuel my body throughout the day. Once Ramadan began, I was suddenly expected to go back to old habits where I deprived my body of food and water. I felt like I was going back to square one of recovery.
For those in recovery who are fasting this Ramadan, I am here to remind you that you are not alone. The first thing to remember is that before sunrise and after sunset, it is crucial to fuel your body for the day. Depriving your body of food when you are allowed to eat and then partaking in a fast is a sign of disordered eating. When I noticed I was fasting and not eating before sunrise and after sunset, I knew these were signs of a relapse. This realization was when I decided not to fast for a day or two.
People may believe that you are “ungrateful” if you choose to opt out of fasting for a few days. It is important to remember that missing a day or two of your fasts does not make you a bad person. During recovery, I missed a few days and made them up later on in the year. I intended to do my best, and that’s what I did – my best. What worked best for me was deciding to miss a few fasts to prevent relapse and disordered eating habits from becoming a part of my life again. After breaking my fasts at sunset, I made sure to eat the foods that I wanted and felt my body needed. Whenever I noticed that I was not eating, even after sunset, I got the support I needed to make sure I was prioritizing my physical and mental health.
Another thing to remember throughout the month is your motivation for fasting. Fasting allows you to recognize all that you have to be grateful for and empathize with those less fortunate who don’t have access to food and water. My reason for fasting during Ramadan is completely separate from my reason for depriving my body of food when I had an eating disorder. Ramadan is not about my looks or my size, but about being grateful for all we have and becoming closer to our religion. Reminding myself of this every day was a crucial part of my recovery during Ramadan.
For those in recovery this Ramadan, remember that you are not alone. Each person’s journey through recovery is different. Some people may opt out of fasting for the entire month if they are at the beginning of recovery, and some may fast all 30 days with no breaks. Don’t compare your journey to that of others, and prioritize your own health and eating disorder recovery.