Sunday, July 28, 2013

Stealth Eating and Eating Disorders in Ramadhaan

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barkatu!

Insha Allaah everyone's Ramadhaan is going well, and bringing forgiveness and blessings for you all.  Ameen!

Muslims the world over are fasting for this month of Ramadhaan, many going without food and water for long, long hours.  

Where I live, the thermometers hovered around 100 degrees or more, plus stifling humidity,  in the beginning of the holy month.

Facebook posts and Tweets and conversations with Muslims show that most of us are gladly enduring it, together with more prayer and more good deeds, to fulfill our obligation to Allaah!

BUT ...

What about those of us who cannot fast in Ramadhaan?  The Muslims who are temporarily ill, or those who suffer from chronic illnesses that fasting makes worse for various reasons?

Allaah t'ala in His infinite Wisdom and Mercy has given compensation to those Muslims who fall into this category.  We can make up fasts if we are temporarily ill, or feed hungry people if we are chronically ill.

I am a Muslim who falls into the chronically ill category.  The details aren't necessary (okay, they're private), but I'd like to share at least one of the details with you, and some of the issues it raises for me.

Along with my other chronic illnesses which necessitate medication during the fasting hours, I have an eating disorder.  Very few Muslims, until now because I'm writing about it, know this about me.

I have Bulimia and am an overeater.  There.  I said it.  I came out.  I'm out of the closet filled with dirty dishes, used candy wrappers, and pastry crumbs.  

Whew!  Alhamdulillah!

Ramadhaan has always presented a special challenge for me because it disrupts the eating routine I've developed in an attempt to keep my eating disorder in check.  

How?  Ramadhaan forces me to "stealth eat," that is, I hide and eat.

It's not so bad when I'm home alone during the day.  But when my fasting husband is home, off from work, or on the weekends, my eating disorder and "stealth eating" kicks into overdrive.  It also happens when I'm at work.

I relapse.

Muslims are encouraged not to eat in front of fasting persons in Ramadhaan. Some Muslim-majority countries even have laws against it.  My husband has told me that he REALLY doesn't mind if I eat in front of him.  He used to work in a juvenile facility where he had to supervise kids in the chow hall while he was fasting in Ramadhaan.  Alhamdulillah, my husband has the discipline of the Man of Steel (Superman), but still ... I feel guilty eating in front of him while he's home.

So I stealth eat.  And I relapse.

Add to that that I am a Muslim chaplain in a prison, surrounded by Muslims who are fasting, and some staff on the hunt to catch "fake Muslims" who stealth eat.  During Ramadhaan, I avoid the staff dining room.  Our Chapel is on top of our Visiting Room where there are food vending machines for the visitors.  So, I go down there and buy something to eat for lunch/dinner since it's too hot to bring lunch and eat in my car (I have no air conditioning in my car, lol).  I can't bring my own lunch to work because staff aren't allowed to bring food into the prison.

Ah, sneaking, even though I'm alone, down the back stairs of the Chapel to the Visiting Room, lights out after all the visitors and staff have left for the day, quickly pushing coins into the slots, buying something to eat, knowing all the while that the security cameras can see me, the officer monitoring the cameras probably snickering at my actions ...  

Me returning to my office upstairs, devouring my carbohydrate over-processed food (another trigger) ... only after I've locked the Chapel door so no one will come in and catch me ... 

When finished, rolling up the food wrappers and leftover scraps and putting it into another garbage can other than the one in my own office so the staff using my office after me doesn't figure out I'm not fasting ...

Hiding and eating, and waiting to be alone to eat is a relapse trigger for people in recovery from eating disorders.  So are the rituals associated with stealth eating like I've described above.  Sneaking off to eat or drink something and then quickly trying to hide the evidence when someone's coming ... horrified that the smell of your food may waft off to the noses of others and expose you,  is pure psychological torture.  

Bold inquiring minds want to know:  "Sister, are you fasting?"  When I became a Muslim, I was taught that it's bad manners to ask someone if they're fasting.  I think it would be better to say something like, "How's your Ramdhaan going?"  Then the non-fasting Muslim can honestly reply, "Alhamdulillah!  And yours?"  Because even if one isn't fasting, they can still be participating in the holy month by doing extra prayer and good deeds.

Asking a Muslim if they're fasting is also like asking them if they're giving extra sadaqa, attending taraweeh prayers, or reading the daily amounts of Qur'aan.  

Muslims don't ask other Muslims "Sister, are you doing extra good deeds?" or "Sister, are you getting all your Qur'aan reading in?"  So, why do they ask whether or not you're fasting?!

Worse yet is when the bold inquiring minds feel they're owed an explanation when they find out I'm not fasting.

The audacity of some Muslims for an explanation is not only an invasion of privacy, but is also a self-righteous, arrogant, and ignorant.  After all, everyone is a doctor or a sheikh in Ramadhaan, ready and willing to advise people like me, and eager to share the cases they personally know which they insist are exactly like mine.

Worse yet for me is the look on their faces when you tell them you can't fast.  It's the same look they get when you tell them you can't have or don't have children, or if you tell them you're not married.

You know that look:  the look that something is wrong with you.  

 It all causes a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, especially for Muslims with eating disorders, and as well, results in overeating.  It can make many of us feel like "bad and weak" Muslims.  Many of us don't feel like we're "a part of" something so spiritual and unique that is being experienced by the global ummah as a whole.  

I don't know what the answer is.  Truth be told, there's probably no answer.  But maybe writing and disclosing it is a start.

Say dua for me and other Muslims with eating disorders.