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The Silent Struggle: Living with an Eating Disorder during Ramadan

April 5, 2024


The beginning of Ramadan usually brings about a flurry of excitement—family gatherings, delectable dishes, and an opportunity to deepen one’s connection with God. But for me, it is a starkly different experience. It is when the weight of stress seems to intensify.

My relationship with my weight has always been tumultuous, sullied by incessant teasing and criticism from my family. Their words cut deep, chipping away at my self-esteem. At the tender age of 13, I was engulfed by a wave of sickness that culminated in an episode of vomiting. Strangely, amidst the discomfort, I found a peculiar sense of relief. It dawned on me that if I overindulged, I could simply purge and feel better.

Initially sporadic, it soon evolved into a distressing routine: monthly, then weekly, until it became a daily ritual. The pounds melted away, drawing praise from a family member who remarked on my newfound slimness, comparing it to my former protruding belly.

The turning point in my battle against bulimia came during a pivotal psychology lecture in college. Bulimia nervosa, as outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), involves recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting.

It is a vicious cycle characterized by feelings of loss of control and a desperate attempt to mitigate the perceived consequences of overeating.

The toll on the body is profound.

Bulimia wreaks havoc on one’s physical health, manifesting in a myriad of ways. From the erosion of tooth enamel due to frequent vomiting to the inflammation of the throat and salivary glands, the repercussions are far-reaching. Acid reflux, tooth decay, and hormonal imbalances are just a few of the potential side effects that can arise from the relentless cycle of binging and purging.

As my course professor outlined these consequences, it felt as though a harsh light was being shone on the hidden dangers of my disorder. It was a sobering realization—one that prompted me to seek help and confront the destructive patterns that had taken hold of my life.

The journey to overcome my struggles with bulimia has been a long and arduous one. It took years of trial and error to figure out how to regain control over my eating habits and nurture a healthier relationship with food.

Ramadan, however, remains a never-ending trial, fraught with the specter of relapse. Fasting all day only to confront a sumptuous feast at sundown—a battleground for my psyche, tempting me to succumb to old habits.

Yet, through painstaking trial and error, I devised a strategy: the past few years have marked a significant milestone for me since I was 13, and I did not succumb to binging and purging. Instead, I developed a structured approach to breaking my fast: half a glass of milk and three dates, sometimes pushing it to five if I felt bold. I refrained from eating anything else until I felt my stomach had received its fill, typically waiting an hour before indulging in a light starter like soup or salad. Two hours later, I would partake in the iftar meal. Admittedly, this meant skipping suhoor altogether, opting instead for a cup of tea and some water before resuming fasting.

This newfound system has been a game-changer for me, significantly alleviating the grip of my disorder. However, despite this progress, the fear of relapse always lingers in the back of my mind.

Reflecting on my journey, I have often pondered why eating disorders remain largely unaddressed in Egypt and many other Arab countries, especially when discussions surrounding a woman’s weight are so prevalent. It is a cultural blind spot that perpetuates suffering in silence.

Moreover, in today’s social media landscape, where unrealistic standards of beauty proliferate, the quest for the ‘perfect’ body creates a cycle of insecurity and self-harm. It is a phenomenon not confined to women alone but one that affects men as well, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and fostering unhealthy obsessions.

From the pursuit of a chiseled “gym bod” to the embrace of the more relaxed “dad bod,” body image trends fluctuate with alarming speed. It is a phenomenon that has left me bewildered, witnessing firsthand how the ideal physique has shifted over time.

Until now, I cannot help but wonder how many young souls, like my former self, suffer in silence, ignorant of the dangers they face and the underlying psychological turmoil driving their behavior.

Who bears responsibility for this epidemic? How do we dismantle the toxic culture of dieting and instill a message of self-acceptance and holistic health? These are questions that demand answers and solutions that require collective action.

The journey to recovery has been arduous, marked by moments of despair and triumph alike. But amidst the struggle, I have learned a valuable lesson: while sticks and stones may break bones, it is the words we internalize that leave the deepest scars and wounds that may never fully heal.

Looking back now, I piece together the pieces of a journey of self-discovery, one marked by resilience and self-compassion—a journey toward healing, acceptance, and ultimately, liberation from the shackles of societal expectations.

The opinions and ideas expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Egyptian Streets’ editorial team. To submit an opinion article, please email [email protected].


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