Content warning: mentions of eating disorders

Since I was a young girl, I have had a fractured relationship with food and my body image. I have struggled with body dysmorphia for around five years and an eating disorder for two. Only in the past few months have I begun to recover and learn to love my body for all it does for me. 

Prior to this year, I associated Ramadan with food and only food. Typically, Ramadan is a month for Muslims to reflect on those who are less fortunate than us, expressing gratitude through fasting from food, and otherworldly desires such as music and shopping. It is also a month for repentance and forgiveness. However, instead of being a month for enhancing my spiritual connection to God, Ramadan was a time for me to see how much weight I could lose by not eating.

Often, I would skip suhoor, the meal in the early morning, to give my body a longer fast. Outside of Ramadan, it was an achievement if I went to bed feeling hungry. Despite any feelings of satisfaction I had, my eating habits resulted in numerous physical and mental health issues. My anxiety became extreme, and my periods were so affected that I was vomiting, passing out and experiencing unbearable pain each month; but I ignored all of that and focused on intensely working out without any food. 

Recovery is a difficult journey that does not happen overnight. I have found connecting to the spiritual aspect of Ramadan beneficial to my own recovery, using this as a month where my soul re-aligns with God’s endless mercy. It is a gift to be able to receive divine guidance, and through fasting, we are freed from the addictions and attachments of this world which enslave us in negative beliefs.

When our stomachs are empty, we surrender to God, delaying the gratification of food and entering a state of humility. It reminds me to eat intuitively in a way that honors my body, rather than forcing myself to stick to strict regimens or diets. Each person’s experience is unique and can strive to become better people in their own way. 

This month, I am grateful to be able to put my fixation on food behind me and focus on spiritual cleansing. It’s like a weight lifting from my shoulders to be able to appreciate the month for what it is, something holy and sacred, rather than be so consumed by how the lack of food is affecting me all day. 

Going through Ramadan whilst in recovery allows me to reflect back on unhealthy habits from the past, such as skipping meals or making myself throw up. As I reflect on my past habits, I feel remorseful for the way I used to treat my body but also an appreciation for everything we have gone through together. But most of all, Ramadan this year is all about acting intuitively and not forcing myself to stick to a particular routine. With what I choose to eat, with prayer and with how I look after my body. 

For me, the priority is to not fall back into old habits, no matter how tempting or easy it may seem. Skipping suhoor, or feeling guilty for eating during the end of the day because we think we ‘could have done another few hours is not healthy. Maintaining a strong mind-body relationship is crucial. A lot of these feelings would be heightened on Eid, where there are large celebrations involving lots of food. I used to be consumed with the thought of how Eid food celebrations are removing all the ‘hard work’ of fasting done prior to this, instead of enjoying myself with my friends and family. 

Ramadan can be a difficult month for many people. Some ways which I have found helped me to honor myself during times where I am struggling are: listening to affirmations, practicing yoga or pilates, doing my hair and makeup to boost my mood. We should all remind ourselves that it is equally as important to rest, and love our bodies as we take out time this month to go on a unique journey to discover divine love.

However, if you are struggling during Ramadan, know that it is okay. If you’re feeling anxious about fasting, are struggling with mental health issues and need to take a break, or relapse back into your eating disorder just remember that you don’t have to compare your spiritual journey to anyone else’s. There is no one set way to fast during the holy month, so be kind to yourself.

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    Imaan’s work is driven by a desire to dismantle popular Orientalist narratives towards Muslims and South Asians.

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