As the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins, Habiba says she is “terrified” by the thought of fasting this year.
After her disordered eating patterns spiraled into bulimia and binge eating disorder during her mid-teens, she says the ritual of abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset can exacerbate the need to restrict her eating further and risk slipping into a toxic cycle.
But making the decision to refrain from the practice feels like she is neglecting a key part of her faith, she says.
“I don’t trust myself with keeping a fast because I know … I’ll start to enjoy the feelings of hunger and I’m terrified (of) what that will do to me,” said the 30-year-old UK-based Muslim editor, who asked CNN to use only her first name for privacy reasons. “I do feel sad. I feel like I’m missing out on a really spiritual experience.”
Habiba was nine years old when she first had the urge to make herself sick, she says. By the age of about 16 she says she was skipping meals, tracking calories, blacking out as a result of hunger, overexercising and vomiting at least 15 times a day.
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“I would never wish something like bulimia, especially, on anyone, because it’s like an addiction.”
Habiba is not alone in her experience. A growing number of Muslim doctors and psychologists are trying to bridge the gap between faith leaders and worshippers like Habiba, who say they face marginalization when trying to access support within their own communities, as well as in the public health system.
“Minorities are underrepresented. It’s not that they don’t have eating disorders or suffer, but there is all this stigma around who comes to get help,” Dr. Omara Naseem, a UK-based counseling psychologist who specializes in treating eating disorders, said. These are “invisible and indiscriminate” illnesses that transcend age, religion, gender and sexuality, she added.
“It’s an act of worship to take care of your body and health. Therefore, go and get the right help that you need,” she said.