Thursday, 18 June 2015

Letting Go and Letting God: Supporting Loved Ones With Eating Disorders in the Month of Ramadan - Leanne Scorzoni

This Ramadan I will spend the weekend before cleaning my apartment from top to bottom. I will donate bags of clothes to charity and pitch tchotchkes I no longer use. I will do laundry, change my bedding and flip my mattress. I will search for an Eid outfit online, and set three alarm clocks to make sure I wake up for Fajr.

The one thing I won’t do is prepare to fast.

The reason I don’t is because I have an eating disorder.

Most people hear the term “eating disorder” and envision a skeletal woman who refuses to eat. This is not always the case. Although anorexia (attempted weight loss through severe calorie restriction), and bulimia (attempted weight loss through vomiting), are the most recognizable disorders, the definition of an eating disorder is when a person develops unhealthy emotions and behaviors surrounding weight and food. This can manifest in many forms, including BED (binge-eating disorder), EDNOS (eating disorder non-specified) and food avoidance/restriction. Eating disorder sufferers may accelerate weight loss through drug use, enemas, ingesting ipecac or laxatives to expel food from the body, over-exercise to the point of injury, or partake in “chew and spit”, an act in which food is chewed and savored, then spat out in order to limit caloric intake.

Eating disorders affect men and women from all religions and cultures, with currently 10 million active sufferers in the United States. To understand how diverse those numbers are, 10% to 15% of anorexia and bulimia sufferers are male, and celebrities who have openly struggled with eating disorders include journalist Katie Couric, comedian Russell Brand, Iranian Princess Leila Pahlavi (who died in 2001 following complications from bulimia), actor Dennis Quaid, mixed-martial artist Ronda Rousey, and singer Lady Gaga.

Leading up to Ramadan, everywhere is the Quranic passage: “Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint”. Members of the community debate the best foods for Suhoor, and Facebook is littered with Iftar recipes, pictures of dates and milk, and funny memes drawing parallels between Ramadan and the “real” Hunger Games. Without knowing it, these things can shame or isolate Muslims learning how to have a healthy relationship with food, but who are unable to participate in such a well-known pillar of Islam.

Below are helpful suggestions on how you can support Muslims in their eating disorder recovery and encourage community inclusion:

  1. Continue to wish those around you Ramadan Kareem and Ramadan Mubarak. Do not follow up the greetings by asking “Are you fasting?”

  1. Invite loved ones to share in Suhoors and Iftars, but do not push food or drink.

Some Muslims might be re-learning how to eat after years of inappropriate actions with food, be on specific food plans, or be triggered by certain food items. Remember that a person’s presence is more important than food.

  1. Shift focus from food and fasting to worship in action.

During Ramadan, we as Muslims are encouraged to donate to charity, read the Koran and focus on prayer and reflection. Ask those with food issues if they want to connect by going for a walk, volunteering, or attending a public event. Choose interactions where food is not the focus.

  1. People in recovery still eat!

Do not be afraid to eat or drink around someone in recovery unless otherwise specified. Every person is different, as well as every recovery plan. Just because I am not eating in front of you doesn’t mean I am not eating.

  1. We are not defined by our illness.

People in recovery still want to be included. Please do not skip over our invitations to parties, lectures or meals because you feel we will be uncomfortable. Let every person make their own choices and set their own boundaries.

  1. If you see a Muslim eating or drinking during fasting hours, do not pass judgment.

Some people in recovery are forbidden to skip meals, medication may require food or drink, and others are fasting “their way”; meaning smaller meals, water fasting, or choosing to fast only a specific number of hours a day. Just as there is no one way to “look” Muslim, there is no one “look” to recovery.

  1. We are not “weak”, “bad Muslims” and it’s not “all in our heads”.

Eating disorders and recovery from food addiction are complex emotional and physical addictions that require professionally managed care and life-long treatment. Force-feeding, shaming, or insisting on fasting for a spouse, relative, or friend in recovery can have devastating effects regarding their long-term recovery.

•    •    • 

For more information about various eating disorders, signs, symptoms, treatment, or how you can help support a pathway to recovery for loved ones, please visit the following sites:

National Eating Disorders Association:
National Institute of Mental Health:
National Association of Anorexic Nervosa and Associated Disorders:
National Centre for Eating Disorders (UK):
Beat: Eating Disorder Charity (UK):

Leanne Scorzoni holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maine at Farmington. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and her most recent work can be seen in AltMuslimah, Muslimah Montage, Huffington Post, and various news interviews regarding convert issues. She is the only Muslim in her family.

Next Post: Leaving Community to Find Myself - Harleen Kaur 


  1. Not a topic talked about too often. Great article!

  2. I don't have an eating-disorder but know people who have. Tip-toeing around them is not helping, as much as harrassing them to eat more / eat less / stop being picky, etc Your list of tips can help many people who have dear ones with these issues, and not only muslims.
    As a LDS, I'm encouraged to fast 1 day each month (usually the first Sunday of the month): no food, no beverage for 24 hours. The food part (when not pregnant nor breastfeeding) has never been a problem. But oh man, the water part! I have blood circulation issues and can be subjected with really acid heartburns. I have tried no water... But seing as I had pain in my leg or in my oesophagus after 12 hours of fasting, I always drink a few sips here and there. Not much. However it helps me greatly and I can do my fasting.
    No one should try to know all the details of the were-abouts of someone else regarding food in a religious context. It's something that is entirely between the person and the Divine. We shouldn't feel pushed to do "like everyone", because no. Not everyone do the same, as we have all our own trials.


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