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Struggling with anorexia during Ramadan

For those living with disordered eating, Ramadan can come with many strings attached, writes Iqra Saeed.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Every year, as Ramadan rolls out, millions of Muslims around the world refrain from food and drink to develop their faith and bond with others in the community. For those living with eating disorders, however, the act of fasting can come with many strings attached.

Lina, a first-generation Australian Muslim, confesses that she used to approach fasting as a way of losing weight.

“All of a sudden, I had a tiny waist and the rolls on my body disappeared,” Lina recounted to Indian Link. “It was a weird power trip and made me feel good.”

Now 22 years old, she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in mid-2019 after dealing with disordered eating habits for over three years. It’s an eating disorder characterised by restricted energy intake stemming from body image disturbance, and a fear of gaining weight, and has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric illnesses, according to the Australian Government Department of Health.

Lina believes much of her issue stemmed from unnecessary comments about body weight and image that she’d observed in her Indian community. She still recalls harsh comments about her body from the age of nine when she had started going through puberty.

During her final high school year, she was prescribed anti-depressants which came with the side effect of weight gain.

“That was when people started commenting: ‘Oh my God, you’re so fat. Put a dupatta over your chest,’ when I was wearing a shalwar kameez. I remember people grabbing hold of my sides and saying, ‘You look chubby, if you don’t lose weight, it’s going to be so difficult for you to marry,’” she recalled.

Years of scrutiny and objectification from family and community took a toll on Lina’s mental health and body image.

Now, as one of approximately one million Australians living with an eating disorder, Lina admits Ramadan can be extremely triggering. Earlier this month, despite an emergency hospital admission in 2020 and a high risk of relapse, she wanted to fast against her psychologist’s direction.

“In the past 2-3 years, I had become this underweight, unhealthy weight, but it was a weight that everybody liked,” she revealed. “I would definitely have used [fasting] to monitor my weight because I’ve significantly gained it back.”

Unfortunately, it was misconceptions like this that led to her being blamed in Ramadan for her eating disorder when she wasn’t able to fast. To her shock, Lina was told by members of her community that ‘she’d done this to herself.’

“People don’t see it [anorexia] as a disease. I think this is a common problem within the Muslim and Indian community. Beyond physical sicknesses, it is seen as something the person wanted and inflicted upon themselves for attention,” she lamented.

This Ramadan, while she deals with relapse symptoms such as binge eating and purging, she has been able to rebuild a sense of community through Qur’an journaling and attending Iftar events.

She has also turned to an Indian therapist, who has helped her recognise patterns of body shaming and disordered eating in our community.

A seemingly innocuous question like “are you fasting?”, which most of us have surely asked from time to time, can stir feelings of guilt and shame for individuals on their journey to eating disorder recovery.

To combat the rise of eating and body image issues, we need a shift in social attitudes that prioritise a person, rather than their appearance ─ especially where one of the root sources for the problem can start in our own homes.

 

 

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