Eating Disorder Coping Strategies for Ramadan
I have received so many E-mails on Ramadan Eating and the heightened stress it brings to those suffering from Eating Disorders. According to many there is an increase in eating-disordered thoughts and behaviors and lapses in recovery during this period. This is primarily due to how one has approached Ramadan, and what one’s intentions are regarding the auspicious month of Ramadan. If you’ve approached Ramadan as a month to lose weight and more weight, then you‘ve subconsciously prepared your mind for a journey into a world of weight loss and frustration.
I also received a positive comment from our beautiful blogger Ameena Din on how Ramadan and fasting helped her cousin to forever recover from her eating disorder. Thank you Ameena for sharing this with us. This reaffirms my belief in defeating the demon of Eating Disorder through faith and conviction.
It is important to remember that the people struggling with eating disorders are ought to experience higher levels of anxiety during Ramadan, as they will be trying to eradicate some of the unhealthy and some-times even life threatening behaviours from their lives, including starvation, bingeing, purging or over-exercising . Add this penchant toward one’s desire to be a perfectionistic, overachieving and people-pleasing can further compel those in recovery to revert back to old behaviours in an attempt to manage their anxious feelings.
Inshallah the following strategies can help individuals protect their recovery during the month of Ramadan:
Create your Ramadan schedule carefully
Did you know that in Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time his companions used to start preparing for Ramadan six months in advance? I remember my first Ramadan in recovery was very hard on me and my family. I could not deal with the abundance of food at Iftar table. It lead to so many tears and more tears and in return it invariably has an effect on overall atmosphere. My Father said to me, ‘Maha after 15 hours of fast, all we want to do is eat in peace, we don’t have a patience to engage in word of attrition over how much oil was used in our food.’ According to him the underlying purpose of Ramadan is to exercise patience. I agree with him, Ramadan is not merely about abstaining from food and drink, it’s also about controlling your tongue, controlling your rebuke, suppressing your anger and showing love and kindness to your loved ones.
Tips: There is such a cute short book available on Amazon, Ameena’s Ramadan Diary. It’s excellent and really helps you in planning your 30 days of Ramadan. Fill your Ramadan with good activities in order to keep the demon of eating disorder away.
Does this work? My second Ramadan in recovery was planned very well. My Mother brought me a 30 Day Ramadan Planner from Pakistan with all the instructions on what to pray and how to pray and how to keep yourself occupied during Ramadan. That really helped, as it kept the horrible demon of Eating Disorder away and kept me busy with performing right actions for Ramadan.
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You will make mistakes in Ramadan: Love yourself
Love of self means you deserve to treat yourself in the best humanly possible way.
You will make Mistakes in Ramadan. In recovery, we want to be perfect in all our endeavours, we want to please and there is no room for mistakes. Our perfectionistic minds can make it difficult for us to accept when things go wrong. Work on being flexible in your thoughts. Learn to be flexible when setting guidelines for yourself and expectations of yourself and others. We will lose our temper, may indulge in backbiting and may cause intentional or unintentional hurt to our loved ones. Love yourself , forgive yourself and turn towards your Lord, Allah. This was my biggest problem. Even If I made a small mistake, I would relapse and revert back to my old Eating Disorder Behaviours. For me perfection is the key to success. I learnt from a very wise man at mosque, that Ramadan is a time to learn, not to exert extra pressure on yourself to be perfect. If you binge, purge, over eat, under eat then forgive yourself, be kind to yourself and don’t let this behaviour have an impact on rest of your Ramadan. This is a month full of blessings; don’t let your Eating Disorder take this way from you. One perceived misstep does not make or break your recovery progress. Be proud of yourself for making an effort, however big or small and whatever the outcome.
Change the focus from weight to loved ones
Worry more about the size of your heart than the size of your waist! It is Ramadan, a great time to reflect, enjoy relationships with loved ones, and most importantly, a time to feel gratitude for blessings received and to give back through loving service to others. Focus on people around you and try to understand them. “(O Prophet) tell (people) I don’t ask you any wage (in return for my prophethood) except to love my near kin. And if anyone earns any good We shall give Him an increase of good (in return for it)” (Quran 42:23). This is the time to let go of all the ill feelings and create new positive feelings towards your friends and family. How wonderful to build the relationship on mutual love and respect!
Food Food and Food
Hunger means you eat when physically hungry instead of emotionally hungry.
You don’t have to attend every Iftar party, meal to get in the spirit of Ramadan. Prioritize your health and well-being over external obligations and be realistic about what you can manage.
A person with an eating disorder can’t avoid eating and food – and therefore meal times is often the most difficult time of the day invoking overwhelming feelings of panic, anxiety, fear, and even revulsion. Allow yourself to enjoy the blessings of Ramadan rather than rigidly focusing on food and calories. Don’t forget food is also a blessed part of Ramadan. Maybe consider choosing one member of your family to be your support with food, to either help fix a plate for you or to give you sound feedback afterwards. It’s difficult but this really really helps. I used to ask my mother to make my plate. Strive to be flexible in what you can eat during the Ramadan and respect the efforts of those who have put long hours in preparing those meals for you and your family.
Write down your vision of where you would like your mind and heart to be during this month. Take time, several times per day, to find a quiet place to get in tune with your vision, to remember, to nurture, and to center yourself in the thoughts, feelings, and actions that match your vision for yourself.
Lean on your supportive network
Surround yourself with positive people. Ramadan is a time, when people will do their level best to perform as much good deeds as they can, make use of that. Don’t hold back from discussing your feelings, victories and challenges with your supportive network as they arise and before issues become significant enough to threaten recovery.
With appropriate support and a strong network of friends, family and treatment professionals, a healthy, happy Ramadan is within reach for everyone.
Avoid overstressing yourself. A lower sense of stress can decrease the perceived need to turn to eating-disordered behaviors or other unhelpful coping strategies. Cut down on unnecessary events and obligations and leave time for relaxation, prayer, meditation, contemplation, reflection and spiritual renewal. This will Inshallah help you experience and enjoy a sense of gratitude and peace.
No Weird Comments this Ramadan
We all have well meaning family members who will pass comments on our eating regime: “Shouldn’t you eat a bit more?” or “You need to lose/gain weight” are not helpful comments and can ruin progress someone with an eating disorder is making. Very kindly brief those relatives beforehand that such comments are unhelpful and Ramadan is all about kindness and acceptance.
For Friends and Family- Get Extra Blessings this Ramadan and Lend an ear:
Helping the one who is sick and serving him is an act of charity. When dealing with an eating disorder, having someone to call or talk to can be comforting and helpful. Please show kindness and help those who have an eating disorder by listening to them, encouraging them, offering reassurance and showering them with love and more love. Indeed all reward is with your Lord.