A: For me, Ramadan is a month of peace, blessings and love in which one is encouraged to exercise an art of forgiveness, to bury differences, and to renew both human and spiritual relationships. A special time of the year, when one can drop everything and retreat to a special spiritual place, where connection to God Almighty is great.
Q: Has this time been an enormous problem while recovering and why?
A: When I was first forced to go to the Eating Disorder Unit, Ramadan was just lurking around the corner. The treatment team advised against fasting. I remember the shock I felt. After leaving the unit, first Ramadan was a challenge, Why? I simply could not deal with all the food that was served at sunset. The choices on dining table and at Iftar parties were unlimited. Imagine eating set portions of food everyday and battling your Eating Disorder thoughts, and then all of a sudden you’re offered a feast, where every imaginable food is laid out in front of your eyes.
Q: Have you used the fasting as an restriction-excuse and what were your thoughts about it then [i.e. did you think it’s recognized as “valid” fast]?
A: I did fast to serve the needs of my eating disorder, but let me tell you that at those times, I was unaware of my illness. I was grappling with self esteem issues and viewed thinness as something to boost my confidence. With time I learnt that this quest for happiness is ever elusive and can prove fatal. It is NOT ACCEPTABLE in Islam to choose anorexia as an alternative lifestyle choice. Abstaining from food and drink is a very small part of Ramadan, and constitutes of thr lesser fast. Greater fast is when one abstains from doing wrong and works on improving themselves. I learned that If I wanted my fast to be accepted in the eye of Allah, I really had to defeat my illness and approach Ramadan for its blessings. With Eating Disorders, an individual can still participate in fasting by not abstaining from food and drink, but by keeping oneself free from sin.
Q: Do you think that Ramadan could be helping one’s recovery, healing and how?
A: I cannot answer this question for everyone. We have to understand that fasting is an integral part of Muslim’s lives. Fasting is obligatory and this practice has been carried out for past 1400 years.
Part of the inner conflict that can give rise to eating disorder behavior is the build up of resentment and guilt. Ramadan is a time to let go of such resentments and anger and to take responsibility for your own recovery. This is also an opportunity for one to turn towards praying and recitation of Quran when eating disorder urges strike them. One of the purposes of Ramadan is to discipline your mind. Imam Ghazali said that the brain eats and digests its own food. The true fast, he teaches, is one in which we can discipline the mind as we have disciplined the body. Ramadan can help us battle our disordered thoughts. Ramadan is a time when one is encouraged to give up their bad habits. In Eating Disorders, we have so many habits that create conflicts within families. Lies, manipulation, anger, frustration and hatred are a number of the things we experience. If we give up one bad habit a day, then by the end of 30 days period, we are almost mid-way in defeating the demon of eating disorder. For example, first five days of Ramadan, I made a promise to start eating with my family again. I made a promise never to judge people on what they ate in Ramadan and how much they ate.
I decided to control my anger and to love everyone in my life. I made another oath to be more respectful and to eat at a moderate pace (i.e. not spend an hour eating one date and yogurt) and will clear my plate. These are very minor things, but with someone who battled anorexia, they were life turning changes.