“Is it possible to honour your spiritual practice, and honour your body at the same time?”
This was the topic of conversation with my young adult Muslim client this week about navigating the holy month of Ramadan, part of which is the abstaining from food from sunrise to sunset each day. For the many people who struggle in their relationship with food and eating, or who are recovering from an Eating Disorder, yet wish to express their spiritual practice and participate in the social aspects of Ramadan it can be a very difficult time of year. As someone who has navigated Ramadan annually, both with and without an Eating Disorder, she had some amazing ideas which she generously agreed to share with you all.
You may feel, for a variety of reasons, that it’s nearly impossible to avoid the fasting and feasting that may actually be quite problematic for your physical or mental health. This is a special and important time for your community and you may or may not have the support that ideally you need. These suggestions are neither exhaustive nor a new set of rules to follow. Please honour your own needs and treat yourself with the compassion that your spiritual practice invites of you. If you, or someone you know, is struggling to navigate the difficult and unique combination of medical, spiritual, emotional and social factors inherent in the decisions around fasting, please make sure you make time to talk it through with a trusted health professional.
If you do decide to participate in (some or all of) the fasting aspects of Ramadan and you’re also healing your relationship with food, here are some tips from us, to you:
Honouring your spiritual practice alongside honouring your healing might mean:
Nourishing your body:
If your behaviours tend to be restrictive, please take care. Your good work towards recovery and peace can be undone quickly, and it’s OK if you need to take a break from fasting
Wake up prior to sunrise to have a meal, taking the pressure off having the “perfect” meal (don’t consult the internet too thoroughly on this one!)
Set up some structure for yourself in the day that may usually have been around mealtimes
Find ways of supporting your body in fasting rather than giving it more work to do – be mindful of how much activity you do.
Aim to still have 3 meals each day, but you might need to change the times around eg. 5:30am, 6:30pm, 9:30pm
Develop a mid-day ritual to break up your day at a time when you may usually have eaten your meal
Try not to feel under pressure to eat more than you feel comfortable
Have some easy and convenient meals ready to go at the end of the day
Speak to a trusted friend or health professional if you have any worries or concerns through the month
Pull in a support buddy (perhaps another Muslim friend) who can support you during the month
Stay connected with your health team and GP, make appointments in advance throughout the month
Know your red flags, and act earlier rather than later
Expressing your spirituality:
Abstaining from food during the day is only one aspect of Ramadan. Develop some personal spiritual intentions that are not around food – my lovely clients calls Ramadan “spiritual bootcamp” which I think is a wonderful way to look at it!
Develop your own Ramadan “mission” – what does your faith mean to you?
Actively look for opportunities to enact kindness towards yourself, and others.
Take time before going to family celebrations to spend some time quietly contemplating any coping skills you may need to enact eg. difficult conversations, large amounts of food available.
There’s going to be days where things go better than others – be kind and compassionate towards yourself
Pace yourself – it’s a marathon, not a sprint
Have a plan for shitty days
Keep a list of coping strategies handy
There are lots of ways to express your spirituality and celebrate this important time of year. You might like to get festive! Make some decorations, put on some music, celebrate in ways that feel good to you. Surround yourself as much as possible with people who either understand what you’re going through, or respect your dilemmas around participating 100% in the fasting aspect of Ramadan.
And one last piece of wisdom from my spectacular client, from one person healing to another –