Ramadan and my eating disorder - Ayisha's story
Trigger/content warning: anorexia
In this blog, Ayisha, who experiences an eating disorder, shares her struggle navigating Ramadan, a holy month for people in the Islamic faith. She sheds light on the conflict between wanting to fast for spiritual reasons but knowing that this can have negative consequences for her anorexia.
I’m Pakistani, Muslim and a woman. I also have some chronic mental and physical health labels in my life. The ‘label’ I’d like to discuss is the one that makes me feel the most uncomfortable, perhaps more so now than before, seeing as it’s Ramadan.
I’m not fasting because I can’t. I asked religious Imams and scholars, even a Muslim therapist, about fasting. They all decided that apparently my struggle was with being able to fast, so apparently, I should fast because it was a blessing and would ‘heal’ me. I had to seek out more support to actually understand what the right thing to do is. My anorexia is very much associated with fasting/abstaining from eating. It feels absurdly addictive and in the past, not eating has made me more fixated on not being near food… which then has obviously leaked onto every other aspect of my life.
I wish there was a little bit more in terms of understanding eating disorders as a Muslim; the complications during Ramadan.
So, this year, I had to make that very hard decision to not fast. Islam focuses on a ‘battle against the nafs to do the right thing’. The ‘nafs’ is undeniably the ‘self’. My ‘nafs’ gets almost devilishly ecstatic about the mere concept of Ramadan, trying to use it as a tool to go longer and longer, further and further from that religious idea of not harming your body. It starts off as fasting, then becomes very restricted meals. Even when I break my fast, I’m followed by an anxiously intense focus on reducing food as much and as far as possible.
So, this Ramadan I’ve chosen to undertake the biggest and most agonising, painful battle ever by doing the complete opposite of what my mind and soul seems to desire most. Arguably yes, I get it: I don’t exactly eat as much as I should, but I’m trying. And I’m struggling, striving in my own way, doing the opposite of what I’d love to do for my religion and for my eating disorder.
I wanted to fast to ‘feed’ my eating disorder, not for the true sake of what my religion dictates.
It is exasperating and tiring. Some days, I find myself so fixated on the others around me not eating, that the guilt threatens to gag and choke me. There’s been a lot going on anyway in my life, a lot of issues and struggles. But before I start to unpick some of that mess, and in the nature of all that is ‘holy’ and ‘religious’ in this blessed month, I felt it was important to share my experience as a Muslim who can’t ‘do’ Ramadan.
Whenever someone tells me I can’t or shouldn’t do something, I always need logic, reason, discussions and carefully thought-out answers to what I’m doing and why. At one point, professionals asked me not to fast, but I refused to listen because I needed more answers to be able to balance out logic, reason and religion. It took me almost four years to realise and understand that this ‘blessing’ of food abstinence was great, but my motives for abstinence were very flawed. I wanted to fast to ‘feed’ my eating disorder, not for the true sake of what my religion dictates.
It feels absurdly addictive and in the past, not eating has made me more fixated on not being near food.
It's painful to see others fast. Maybe because that thrill, those urges to not eat, are so deeply ingrained. And so, I turn to religion to fuel a spiritual sort of journey into trying to redirect my thoughts.
I don’t really make a point of telling people this. I don’t exactly walk around excitedly telling people I don’t fast. However, I wish there was a little bit more in terms of understanding eating disorders as a Muslim; the complications through/during/around Ramadan. I mean, if I was to listen to that Muslim therapist, I’d have further fed my eating disorder and the belief that fasting was going to strengthen me and my resolve.
I’ve had an eating disorder for most of my life, ever since I was four and fasting since I was nine. Not fasting has been like a completely distressing undoing of something that I falsely believed I was doing for all the right reasons. I share this story because I doubt I’m the only person out there who is in this boat.
May you find peace, hope, health and wisdom in this very blessed month.
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