Fasting associated with the observation of Ramadan may lead to unique challenges if you have an eating disorder. Finding support, skipping some activities, and having a structured plan may help.

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You may still observe the holy month of Ramadan in different ways, even if you don’t fast. (Bhongsatorn Hengsuwanich/Getty Images)

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims across the world. During the holy month, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise until sunset. Instead, they focus on spiritual growth, reflection, worship, and acts of service.

For Muslims who have an eating disorder, Ramadan may feel conflicting and challenging. The daily cycle of fasting and eating may make you feel the need to restrict your food intake, eat large amounts at one time, or purge after eating.

While Ramadan is meant to be challenging in many ways, it isn’t meant to have a negative impact on your mental or physical health.

If you’re a Muslim living with an eating disorder, it’s important to treat yourself with compassion during the holy month and take some time to decide whether fasting is the safest choice for you.

Getting through Ramadan when you have an eating disorder can be difficult. But you can do many things to make observing the holy month easier for you. This may include:

1. Setting boundaries

A huge part of Ramadan can revolve around the idea of feasting with others, with different Muslim cultures across the world making the evening meal (iftar) into a social event.

Many Muslims may host dinner parties with loved ones or attend community iftars.

Setting boundaries may involve choosing not to attend dinner parties or excusing yourself from conversations about feasting if these make you feel uncomfortable or anxious.

But doing this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the social elements of the holy month. Consider asking loved ones whether they’d like to meet at the mosque for the night prayer (Tarawih) or volunteer for a local charity event together.

2. Making time for suhoor

During Ramadan, Muslims around the world wake before sunrise to eat the morning meal, known as suhoor, in order to begin a day of fasting.

If you choose to fast, it’s important to make time to eat suhoor in order to preserve energy throughout the day.

Consider eating meals that are high in protein and contain healthy fats and complex carbs. These foods may reduce the likelihood that you’ll feel fatigued or sluggish during the day.

It may also be helpful to plan your meals in advance to reduce your chances of feeling overwhelmed when deciding what to eat each day.

3. Keeping a Ramadan reflection journal

Getting through Ramadan may require lots of strength and determination, and this can be more intense if you have an eating disorder.

Journaling can be a great way to identify and keep track of how you’re feeling throughout the month.

Possible journal prompts include:

  • What emotions came up for you surrounding food today?
  • Were there any situations that activated anxious thoughts or feelings?
  • How did you manage those situations, or how could you manage them next time?
  • Were there any moments that felt joyful?
  • How can tomorrow be better?

4. Seeing Salah as an opportunity for mindfulness

Salah, or salat, is the obligatory prayer given five times a day in Islam. It can provide a great opportunity to take a break from your daily tasks and find time for mindfulness.

Salah time could look like seeking out a quiet place to pray, taking your time to be in contemplation, and focusing on your movements.

A 2017 study found that people who regularly offered prayer while incorporating mindfulness experienced better mental health than those who did not incorporate mindfulness.

5. Having a prevention plan ready

If you think Ramadan may intensify your eating disorder symptoms or lead you to experience a recurrence of unwanted behaviors, it can be beneficial to put together a recurrence prevention plan before the holy month begins or at any time during the month.

The plan may include a list of:

  • your known triggers, so you can think about ways to avoid them
  • coping strategies that have worked for you that you can use again
  • new tools you can implement to reduce the chance of experiencing a setback
  • people you can rely on in challenging situations, such as trusted loved ones or a therapist
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If you decide not to fast during Ramadan, you can observe the holy month in several other ways.

Focusing on the spiritual aspects of Ramadan, such as prayer, reflection, and community, may help shift the focus away from food, advises Rachel Goldberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles who specializes in eating disorders and is the founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy.

You may want to observe Ramadan without fasting by:

  • Volunteering your time: During Ramadan, Muslims increase their acts of charity, also known as sadaqah. While this typically includes financial donations, it can also involve volunteering your time to a cause you support, such as a community project.
  • Increasing your acts of worship: Spending more time in prayer can be a great way to feel more a part of Ramadan. If you’re comfortable doing so, consider visiting your local mosque after iftar, as most Muslims will gather there to worship together until the late hours, creating a lively and joyful environment.
  • Learning more about Islam: Ramadan can be a great time to learn more about your Islamic interests through reading Islamic literature and attending religious lectures.

Culturally competent care is healthcare that accounts for a person’s culturally specific needs to ensure they can receive the best quality of care.

If you have an eating disorder, culturally competent care can help you reach and maintain recovery. Most importantly, it may allow for a support plan that considers your cultural and religious beliefs as well as your values surrounding food.

A 2020 research review found that it’s important for healthcare professionals, including dietitians, to have an understanding of cultural beliefs in order to help educate others.

Examples of culturally competent care resources that may support Muslims include:

  • Ruh Care, where you can find a Muslim therapist who understands your individual needs
  • Clinicians of Color to find a therapist who relates to your culture
  • Muslim Youth Helpline to access support that’s sensitive to your faith and culture via phone, live chat, text, or email

The end of Ramadan is marked by the arrival of a new moon and the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. It can provide a great opportunity to reflect on the month that has passed, the challenges you’ve overcome, and the ways you may have grown closer to your faith.

If you did experience difficulties related to an eating disorder, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or your loved ones for support.

“It’s important to practice self-compassion, recognizing the difficulty of the situation and treating [yourself] with kindness and understanding, rather than self-criticism,” says Goldberg.

Acknowledging any setbacks can be the first step in processing and overcoming your challenges. A therapist can help you identify coping strategies and tools to support your process.

Ramadan is the most important month of the Islamic calendar and involves fasting from sunrise until sunset. For Muslims who have an eating disorder, the holy month may be challenging.

It’s important to treat yourself with compassion during this time and to do what you can to make the month feel easier. Setting boundaries, finding opportunities for mindfulness, and having a prevention plan ready may help.

Ramadan is not just about fasting. It may be useful to think about what spiritual goals you would like to achieve during the month in a way that feels accessible and compassionate toward your individual needs.