'It makes me feel horrible': What it's like to live with an eating disorder during Ramadan

Three women tell ITV News' Here's The Story about how they live with their eating disorder during the month of Ramadan.

Words by Amani Ibrahimi, ITV News

It's nearly the end of another year of Ramadan - a time when Muslims fast for a whole month - but for those with eating disorders, it can be the most triggering time of the year.

Ramadan is currently being observed by Muslims across the world. It allows them to devote themselves to their religion and to teach self-discipline. It’s also a reminder of the suffering of those who are less fortunate.

The month involves fasting, prayer, reading the Quran, and giving to charity.

Eid-Al-Fitr, the celebration to mark the end of Ramadan is predicted to fall on Monday 2 May. Eid is celebrated over three days but which day it begins depends on the sighting of the moon.

But despite the other practices during the holy month, one of its main features is abstaining from food or drink between dawn until sunset.

Fasting can feel like a huge part of the month but it’s not something that all Muslims can take part in.

It’s also a time when family and friends come together for Iftar, a meal to break their fast at sunset every day during Ramadan.

For many suffering with eating disorders, this can be very triggering, putting a lot of pressure on their relationship with food.

Because of that, some people can’t take part in fasting, with some feeling guilty about it.

Joury Alsalman has struggled with bingeing since secondary school Credit: ITV News

17-year-old Joury Alsalman from London has struggled with bingeing since she was in secondary school.

"I never understood why I was struggling, I always thought it was hormonal or I’m just eating and not healthy but no you’re probably suffering from a problem that could be an eating disorder", she told ITV News' Here's The Story.

Joury finds Ramadan a difficult time because of what happens after Iftar. She gets an urge to binge.

She says although the holy month allows her to practice self control, once she breaks her fast, sometimes she can’t help but grab whatever to eat.

"Growing up, I’ve always had bad eating habits and those bad habits was bingeing a lot.

"A lot of my family members don’t know that I really struggle with it", says Joury.

Ilka Najam is taking part in her second year of fasting, after not being able to fast for more than 10 years Credit: ITV News

Ilka Najam, 33, who’s also from London is participating in her second year of fasting after not fasting for almost 10 years because of her eating disorder. Her eating disorder developed when she was 15 after being bullied.

She says she struggles in Ramadan with eating with family and controlling when to eat. As fasting during the month involves two meals at specific times, Ilka feels like she loses a bit of control.

"It’s a saddening realisation knowing you can’t take part without it being triggering", she says.

In a video diary she recorded for ITV News, she talks about being invited to open her fast with friends but later declining because of the anxiety it triggered.

Maha Khan started her own website to help other Muslims with eating disorders Credit: ITV News

Maha Khan, who was diagnosed with anorexia started her own website War against Eating Disorders to help others in the same situation.

She says she was first diagnosed when she had gone to her GP to get clearance to travel for an internship.

"I went on the scale and she said my weight was low so she couldn’t give me the clearance to travel. Instead, she referred me to the services for eating disorders.

"I didn’t realise that mentally my subconscious mind had changed so much that I was living in this world I wasn’t aware of and I was so horribly mentally sick."

Maha uses her website to help others suffering who aren’t able to afford treatment.

"I couldn’t understand why treatment is so expensive, so that’s when I said I’m never going to take anything for my work, never for financial reasons."

In Islam, if you’re unwell it’s advised that you do not fast.

"God says you’re exempt so there is no way the imam is going to tell you, you still have to fast", says Maha.

"What they will tell you is, yes you’re exempt, but there are certain conditions of exemption.

"You still have to give to charity, pray, self-reflect and participate in this month for the spiritual reasons."

The eating disorder charity Beat estimates that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder.

The charity says it receives a small but growing number of calls every year during Ramadan from Muslims who need help with their eating disorder.

Helplines for support:

  • Beat: 0808 801 0677

  • Anorexia and Bulimia Care: 03000 11 12 13

  • Samaritans: 116 123

  • YoungMinds: 0808 802 5544

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