19 Mar 2024

Navigating Ramadan with an Eating Disorder


“If someone has a past eating disorder or is currently struggling with one, it is likely that they may feel triggered in some capacity during Ramadan, especially if they are not well supported.”

In this blog post, Butterfly’s Clinical Operations Lead Ayesha explains why this is the case and how people with a lived experience of an eating disorder can look after themselves during Ramadan.

What is Ramadan about?

Ramadan is easily the most exciting and spiritually enriching time for practicing Muslims all around the world. Ramadan marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar where Muslims are required to engage in “sawm” (literal Arabic meaning “to refrain”) abstaining from any food or drink from dawn to sunset.

During this month, Muslims especially dedicate time reflecting on their relationship with Allah (God) by exercising spiritual discipline – embodying piety, humility, generosity, charity, virtuous actions, and abstaining from wrongdoings (which would include refraining from gossiping, back-biting, lying or even getting angry). The breaking of the fast each day usually brings families and communities together as food is prepared and shared generously. The end of this holy month in Islam is marked by Eid which is a festive celebration enjoyed by everyone in the community.

How might Ramadan impact someone with an eating disorder?

If someone has a past eating disorder or is currently struggling with one, it is likely that they may feel triggered in some capacity during Ramadan, especially if they are not well supported.

We know that disruption in regular eating can be a slippery slope for someone with a lived experience of an eating disorder, as it may trigger some disordered eating thoughts and patterns. At times, individuals may find themselves struggling with perceived or real social pressures to observe fasting too. Social gatherings during this time may result in unwelcome remarks about a person’s eating or physical appearance which can also negatively impact one’s recovery journey.

What are some exceptions to fasting?

There are dispensations in Islam for a person who may not be in an optimal state of physical or mental health – this includes exemption from fasting for children, the sick, the elderly, menstruating women, pregnant women, breast-feeding women and those travelling. There is an expectation to make up for missed fasts when one is physically capable, or offer compensation by means of feeding the needy instead.

Some verses in the Quran (the holy book of Islam) that relate to this, mention-

  • “[Fasting is for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] – then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] – a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day].” Quran 2:184
  • “It is the month of Ramadan when the Quran was sent down. [The Qur’ān] is a guidance for people, clear proof of guidance and a criterion, and whoever remains present in the month of Ramadan, he should fast, and whoever is sick or on a journey, [he should fast] the same number on other days. God desires ease not hardship for you and in order that you may complete the number of days [of fasting in Ramadan],and mention the greatness of God for he guided you, and that you may give thanks.” Quran 2:185

How can one navigate Ramadan with an eating disorder?

Guilt and shame often accompany the inability to fast during Ramadan. This makes it especially important to be self-aware and have a plan for Ramadan. Here are some suggestions to help prepare for this period-

Reflect on the purpose of Ramadan

Remember that abstaining from food and drink is only but an aspect to maximizing the spiritual gains of this sacred month. The aim of observing Ramadan is not to starve oneself, but to grow a deeper sense of piety, humble oneself, practice gratitude, patience and generosity – to support overall character transformation and foster closeness to Allah (God).
It’s crucial to reflect on your intentions for fasting: is it genuinely fulfilling a spiritual need, or is it amplifying the eating disorder voice?

Be kind to yourself

Ramadan is considered to be the month of mercy – and it is especially important to extend some self-compassion for the emotional turmoil one may experience, in not being able to engage in the fasting aspect of Ramadan because of an eating disorder struggle. It is the month of reflection, which can be used as an opportunity to explore one’s values around health and holistic wellbeing.

Reflect on other ways to make the most of Ramadan

Remind yourself that Ramadan is a time for spiritual reformation and growth so it may be worth exploring – what are some other aspects of Ramadan that you can participate in, should fasting not be applicable to you? Some ideas may include abstaining from mindless scrolling on social media, spending time engaging in extended prayers, deliberately helping with family chores, volunteering, doing good deeds, and charity.

Seek guidance from an Islamic scholar/leader

Missing out on the communal aspect of fasting in Ramadan can be isolating and weigh heavily on a person. You can consult with an imam at a nearby mosque to discuss your personal situation and dilemmas. They can provide spiritual guidance, suggestions around alternative worship practices, clarity on fasting exemptions, and share information about relevant community supports and events.

Involve personal supports

Speak with your family and friends who will be around during this time so they can be aware of your experience and provide the needed support. This may include planning what will be available for food if it helps you feel prepared, or even coming up with a signal or code word if you are needing more support in a gathering.

Consult with your professional support network

An eating disorder is a serious mental health illness that can pose significant risks to a person’s physical health. This makes safety paramount when participating in practices involving dietary changes, especially fasting. It is important to work closely with your GP, psychologist, and dietitian around this time, to receive their insights and support in aligning your values with your health priorities.

Get further support

For further support with eating disorders and body image concerns, call Butterfly’s National Helpline on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), chat online or email support@butterfly.org.au | Confidential and free support is available 7 days a week, 8am-midnight (AEDT/AEST).

If you are from a non-English speaking background, we have a telephone translation and interpreting available. Call 131 450 to access our telephone interpreting service and ask to be connected with Butterfly’s Helpline.

Written by Ayesha Khan, the Clinical Operations Lead for Butterfly’s National Helpline 1800 ED HOPE. Her roles at Butterfly have included serving as both a helpline supervisor and a helpline counsellor, where she has dedicated over three years to supporting those impacted by eating disorders and body image concerns. With a background in psychology and counselling, she also has experience in school counselling and AOD (alcohol and other drugs) counselling.

Further reading

Related tags: eating disorder support eating disorders fasting get support Islam Muslim Ramadan ramadan and eating disorders