How to maintain eating disorder recovery during Ramadan

We have entered the holy month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar. Whilst for many this is a moment of celebration, for individuals with eating disorders, this can be an extremely challenging time. We explore in this blog how to nurture your recovery, at your pace.

About Ramadan

Marina, Orri’s Programme Coordinator, provides insight to the celebration of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic Calendar. This is when Muslims all around the world fast daily for 30 days, from sunrise to sunset.

“Ramadan remembers the month the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The actual night that the Qur’an was revealed is a night known as Lailut ul-Qadr (‘The Night of Power’) this falls on an odd day during the last ten days of Ramadan. 

Almost all Muslims try to give up ‘bad’ habits during Ramadan. It is a time for prayer and good deeds. They will try to spend time with family and friends, and help people in need.”

Marina, Orri’s Programme Coordinator

Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam, and is considered a ‘Fardh’. Fardh is an Arabic term which means Religious Duty. 

Muslims decide to fast for the following reasons:

  • Obeying God
  • Learning self-discipline
  • Becoming spiritually stronger
  • Appreciating God’s gifts to us
  • Sharing in suffering and developing sympathy for suffering
  • Realising the value of charity and generosity
  • Giving thanks for the Holy Qur’an, which was first revealed in the month of Ramadan. The last ten days of Ramadan marks very important days for Muslim for this reason
  • Sharing fellowship with other Muslims

The end of Ramadan is marked by a big celebration called ‘Eid ul-Fitr‘ . 

Muslims are not only celebrating the end of fasting here, but are also thanking Allah for the strength he gave them throughout the previous month.     

Ramadan and Recovery

“Although fasting is a must, fasting does not apply to those who are physically or mentally unwell; those who are under fourteen years old and have not hit puberty; the very old; those who are pregnant, breast-feeding; those who are menstruating; or travelling. Muslims who fast during this month, choose to fast and happily do so.”

Marina, Orri’s Programme Coordinator

Ramadan is a time of communal eating with family, friends and loved ones – both at suhoor (sunrise) and iftar (sunset).

For someone with an eating disorder, public eating can feel anxiety-provoking, especially around those who may not understand.

Unfortunately, in cultures such as traditional Muslim culture, illness generally refers to ‘physical illness’, meaning mental health illnesses are often stigmatised and considered taboo. This can be debilitating for individuals who are navigating their relationships with food or recovery from their eating disorder, whilst attempting to join in religious acts and rituals.

‘Eating disorders are considered “culturally bound” because they are thought to be less prevalent among the ethnic minorities. However, we know that this is misguided as people from all cultures and ethnic backgrounds are affected by this illness.

A literature review on eating disorders in the Arab world suggested that individuals at high risk for eating disorders range from 2% to 54.8%.4 An epidemiological study of eating disorders in Iran concluded that the prevalence of eating disorders in Tehran was comparable to the prevalence reported by studies in the West.’

BDA, The Association of UK Dietitians

Fasting can be considerably harmful to someone who is engaging in a restrictive or bingeing relationship to food.

For some, fasting may serve as a means to restrict food under the guise of religious observance. Similarly, fasting during the day and eating in the evening might trigger those who have a bingeing relationship to food and struggle to manage satiety.

Essentially, religious fasting and eating disorders have a very complex and nuanced relationship where individuals must be supported to put their recovery first.

To support recovery for Ramadan, we offer specialist advice:

For the individual
  • Remember, Ramadan is more than fasting and there are other ways you can partake in celebration that doesn’t revolve around food. Such as, focusing on kind deeds, reciting the Quran or charitable giving
  • Nurture self-compassion and kindness, and forgive yourself if you are struggling right around this time. You are a human being and it’s ok if things are up and down
  • You are worthy of specialist help and there are people who understand and who care. Seek support from professionals if you’re struggling to navigate this time
  • Try not to compare yourself to others. If family and friends are fasting, know you do not need to feel pressured or partake in fasting if it doesn’t align with your recovery needs or wellbeing
For family and friends
  • If you have a loved one who is struggling with their relationship with food or who has an eating disorder, avoid pushing the act of fasting onto them. Hold in mind the importance of maintaining a consistent meal plan whilst in recovery. Be compassionate, as this could be a difficult time for them
  • Avoid making remarks or comments on your loved one’s body or choice of food. This could perpetuate the eating disorder by fuelling the ‘voice’ of the eating disorder
  • If your loved one is not taking part in fasting for suhoor and iftar, consider other ways they can still be included that ensures they feel part of the celebrations and observances
For the community
  • Providing understanding and support can start with you. We know mental health issues, such as eating disorders, can be stigmatised in the Muslim community – so think, what can you do to change this narrative? Health is health, and mental health is just as important to nurture as physical health
  • Do your research – eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and are not just about food. You can find out more about eating disorders, here.
  • Keep in mind that Ramadan can be difficult for those with eating disorders and can trigger ED behaviours. There are many mental health services and charities who can provide guidance and support, so hold these in mind in case you need to signpost someone for support. You can even display this information in a communal space. We’ve compiled a list of helpful organisations, here.

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