This is What Recovering from an Eating Disorder is Like During Ramadan

TW: This article discusses the topic of eating disorders and a personal experience of an individual struggling.

Ramadan is the holy month in Islam where Muslims practice restricting food and water intake from sunrise to sunset in order to gain control and be rid of bad habits to gain a closer relationship to God (Allah) and strengthen their religion. The reality is, however, is that this time of the year can be difficult for people who struggle with eating disorders and can often lead to triggers and relapses. 30-year-old business analyst Jasmin Ibrahim from New York spoke about her personal experience of dealing with her eating disorder during Ramadan and how she learned to cope with it during the years.

Developing an Eating Disorder as A Young Teenage Muslim

Growing up, Jasmin was overweight in her early teenage years and always felt like her sense of self-worth was closely tied with her appearance. She started purging her food at 13-years-old but did not realize it was a problem until much later.

“Around 17, I remember one triggering incident where there was a birthday party at my school and I noticed that I was the only one eating cake,” Jasmin remembered. “I felt so fat, greedy, and focused on food. Since that day, I became severely anorexic. I lost 50 pounds in a three months’ span and I was consuming under 500 calories a day.”

The young Egyptian at the time experienced a “crazy revelation” between the junior and senior year when she was moving from an Islamic private school to a public school with people treating her differently.

“Men started looking at me differently. People were nicer and friends were encouraging me, thinking that I was leading a healthy lifestyle,” said Jasmin. “The shift socially had a big impact on me and it made my self-esteem worse. It was never enough when I looked in the mirror and I was trying to reach a sense of perfection that never came. I was depressed, suicidal, starving, and not taking care of myself.”

What It Was Like Recovering from an Eating Disorder During Ramadan Month

In Ramadan, Jasmin struggled with binge eating and purging her food after iftar and suhoor. She felt pressure having to eat in big gatherings with friends and family during the month.

“I remember mentioning it to my mom but she was defensive about it,” Jasmin said. “She said that this is between me and Allah and that I shouldn’t focus on my own mental issues during the holy month. I felt that I couldn’t ask for help if I knew that I was doing something that was considered ‘haram.”

Eventually, after being hospitalized at the age of 17, Jasmin was able to make a stable recovery over the years by finding a good therapist and learning how to work on her inner self in order to deal with her problems.

However, Ramadan continued to be a triggering time of the year for Jasmin despite making the steps towards recovery and she continued to struggle with it over the years.

“Almost every year from the age of 17 to 25, I relapsed during Ramadan. It was inevitable,” said Jasmin. “It would slowly get better starting with choosing to only purge one meal and eventually I was able to manage it. I got a bit stronger every single year but what helped me the most was honouring my body and respecting it.”

Recovery and Coping Mechanisms for Ramadan

At the age of 30, Jasmin has learned that the best way to avoid relapsing during Ramadan is by creating a list of coping mechanisms that help her deal with triggers.

This begins with therapy being the key, finding the underlying problems and doing the inner work to overcome self-esteem and insecurity issues. This will help you stick to promises in becoming a better version of yourself.

Next, is listening to your body and avoiding triggers like feeling too full as well as having a schedule to make you do things that feel good like going to the gym and being active.

Lastly, reminding yourself of the importance of Ramadan and focusing on the mental and health benefits of the actual practice as well as your personal relationship with Allah.

“The best advice I can give is to seek help first and foremost and to find a good therapist. Eating disorders are rarely about the food itself and it’s more about having control over your life so it’s important to learn how to cope with triggers in order to handle it,” Jasmin said. “Be honest with your family especially if you’re still in your younger years and try to get them to understand so you can stand up for yourself and make the right decisions that will help you in your recovery.”

What Recovery Looks Like Now

Jasmin Ibrahim used her personal experiences with recovering from an eating disorder to provide help and advice to others. This started with working her first job at the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), a helpline service that can provide reading material and help to those struggling with eating disorders either with themselves or with friends and family members around them.

Now, at the age of 30-years-old, Jasmin has made great recovery in her eating disorder and is working as a business analyst for non-profit organizations. She tries to use her platform to give advice to others who are currently struggling with a similar situation.

“I’m happy that these conversations are happening. There was no help when I was growing up and struggling. I hope family and friends will realize that mental illnesses are bigger than spiritual practice. You have to be the best version of yourself for Allah and it starts by doing inner work,” Jasmine concluded.

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