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Of Eating Disorders And Instagram Diets: Managing Our Relationship With Food This Ramadan



The mention of Ramadan immediately conjures certain feelings and images for Muslims around the world. Many look forward to the family and community gatherings that are increased during the month. Some are eagerly anticipating the feelings of closeness to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that can intensify, fueled by an increase in worship and a decrease in focus on food throughout the day. ‘Starve the ego, feed the soul’ as they say. Images of certain foods specific to Ramadan might also appear in one’s consciousness. It is a time when many people find joy in feeding others as well as partaking in their favorite foods at the time with which to the open the fast. 

However, for many people, it is not warm, fuzzy feelings that emerge during this time, but feelings of anxiety and dread. For people who have had a challenging relationship with food outside of Ramadan, it can often be intensified during this month as there is a great deal of focus on either eating or not eating throughout the thirty days. 

Some of the more common eating disorders that come to mind when they are mentioned are anorexia and bulimia; the former consisting of severe dietary restriction, and the latter including recurrent episodes of binge eating. Although both have a component of fear of gaining weight, there is much more beneath both conditions, and ideally, people will work with a team of professionals to heal. 

“An Unhealthy Focus on Eating Healthily…”

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Another condition that has become more visible and common in the past few years is ‘orthorexia.’ A basic definition of this is, ‘an unhealthy focus on eating in a healthy way.’ Many people are falling into this pattern more after the advent of the internet. One cannot spend even ten minutes on social media without coming across someone -often a self-proclaimed health expert (without any formal medical training)- telling us which foods are good to eat and which foods are bad to eat. This advice is often given as a blanket statement without any mention of ‘check with your doctor before doing xyz.’ In fact, a 2017 study demonstrated that ‘higher Instagram usage was associated with a greater tendency towards Orthorexia Nervosa.’

PC: Charles de Luvio (unsplash)

This is not surprising as there are posts vilifying nearly every food group. One day it’s gluten, one day it’s dairy, one day it’s soy, corn…, etc. That’s not to say that certain foods may not agree with certain people’s bodies. But, when one gets in the habit of making sweeping generalizations about any food without taking into account the person eating it, it is bound to cause confusion. We need only to look at the comedians to see what satire their latest comics contain and one that comes to mind is a meme showing what a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free meal looks like….and it’s a plate of ice. 

This leaves people feeling defeated, stressed, and hopeless when it comes to knowing what they should eat. This feeling of frustration can be heightened during Ramadan as people are presented with all kinds of delectable foods at breakfast time as guests in people’s homes, masajid, and other functions. 

Some signs and symptoms of orthorexia can include, but are not limited to:

  • Self-esteem is based on eating healthy foods
  • Increasingly critical and more rigid about eating
  • Feeling as if certain foods are dangerous
  • Feeling guilt or ashamed when unable to maintain diet standards
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed because they are solely involved in eating healthy
  • Thinking critically of others who don’t follow a strict diet
  • Spends extreme amounts of time and money on meal planning and food preparation
  • Total elimination of entire food groups in an attempt to eat clean
  • Avoidance of social events involving food due to fear of being unable to comply with diet
  • Has severe anxiety about how food is prepared

Overcoming the Struggle

So, how do we manage food and our relationship with it during the month of Ramadan? My general advice is that I don’t advise using Ramadan as a time to start a new diet or exercise routine. It could very well lead to even more stress during a month where the focus is ideally the soul and eternal salvation. That being said, there are some small adjustments that can support us in having the energy we need this month to optimally benefit. Some of them can be focused on before Ramadan, and some during.

It is important to work closely with one’s personal physician, especially if one is confused about what to eat. As I mentioned earlier, some foods do not agree with certain people’s bodies and that can be a real thing. However, is a person unable to tolerate gluten because of true celiac disease (which requires absolutely strict avoidance of gluten or the consequence could be damage to the small intestine)? Or, does one have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity which means that the body is reacting to some component of gluten, but not to the level of celiac disease? There are tests that your doctor can perform to help sort this out. 

If one finds that their body is reactive to many foods (sometimes this is found on food allergy tests), it could point to an unhealthy gut or an overactive nervous system that will react to anything, including supplements. The former requires some work on healing the gut, and the latter may include work on calming down the nervous system, and/or therapy. 


PC: Valeriya Avdeeva (unsplash)

These are questions that one should look into well before Ramadan, and if Ramadan has already started, don’t make it a source of more stress. Mindset and dua’ can support one’s interaction with food by making dua’ to get the benefit from whatever food we are eating, and that anything that is not beneficial leaves our bodies with ease. A quote I once read about food encompasses this beautifully, “The only relationship we should have with our food is one of gratitude.” We avoid vilifying any food and labeling it as, ‘bad.’ as even sugar (one of the frequently vilified foods) could be a much-needed source of life for a starving person. 

  1. Focus on adding in things that can be supportive to one’s body during Ramadan, rather than focusing on what one feels they must avoid. For example, if the food at the iftar party consisted of many fried foods and foods one does not normally eat a lot of, see where some greens could be added in. Perhaps the post-tarawih snack that many people have after a few hours of praying. Suhur is also a good time to add in nourishing foods. This helps to take the focus off of fearing certain foods and flips the script to see how many choices there are and adding in nourishing foods. 
  2. With the long fasts, and little time to actually eat during the day, it is almost challenging to overeat. A bigger challenge for some is to ensure adequate hydration. A good rule of thumb for water intake is usually about eight glasses a day. If one cannot reach this goal in Ramadan, one can still fast. The human body can go days without drinking in reality. We are talking about optimizing energy in this case. 
  3. Breathing is so important. Of course, we are all breathing whether we are conscious of it or not. But, we are often not taking in full diaphragmatic breaths, which can be accomplished by filling the abdomen with air and then the chest. When we are stressed, we don’t fully breathe, and this can lead to fatigue. Even pausing throughout the day for a few good, complete diaphragmatic breaths can leave us feeling more energized. 

All this is to say to keep things simple in Ramadan. Our intention for this month is to focus on Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the Quran, and to maximize our time in worship. When it comes to food and drink, tying them to our intention can support us in making decisions. I don’t recommend starting a new, vigorous fitness program in Ramadan, or deciding this is the month to eliminate gluten, dairy, soy, corn….etc.; unless either of those will support one in their worship. There are eleven other months in the year when one can expend hours of time and energy to complete in-depth fitness and nutrition programs. 

May we all benefit from the month of Ramadan and come out with a sound heart, mind, and body inshaAllah.



Eating Disorders And Ramadan: Debunking The Myths, Mechanisms To Cope –

4 Eating Habits You Should Avoid This Ramadan –


Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Dr. Saadia Mian is a board-certified Endocrinologist who works at Metro Detroit Endocrinology Center. She also runs an online program called 'The Holistic Endocrinologist' where she merges her passion for allopathic and holistic medicine. She got her tajwid ijaza from Shaykh Al-Kurdi (may Allah ﷻ be pleased with him) and another one from Shaykh Krayem ar-Raji and went on to memorize the Quran. She wrote the book, 'The Crowning Venture: Inspiration From Women Who Have Memorized the Quran' along with a companion journal. She is a founding member of Rabata and continues to serve on the board while also teaching classes. She has a special interest in transformational leadership and health/life coaching to support women to bring their own visions to life.

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