I was tempted to title this post, 33 Things Not to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder During Ramadan, but let’s be real. Some comments just shouldn’t be said to anyone.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s important to keep in mind that while Ramadan is a holy month and should be full of joy and compassion, it’s a very difficult time for some. Rather than alienating and guilting those who struggle during Ramadan, it is imperative that we work towards just the opposite. Words of love, shows of support, and even a smile can go a long way.
If you’re unfamiliar with some of the terms associated with fasting and Ramadan, don’t worry! Here are the most common ones.
Ramadan terms to know
Ramadan: The 9th month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar. Ramadan is characterized as a time for daily fasting from sunup to sundown; Muslims who recognize Ramadan should seek to increase in their charity work, exercise more patience, refrain from acts such as swearing and backbiting, and just work to better their character overall to then carry this way of living over into the other months of the year. Ramadan usually also means more community breakfasts and dinners, which can trigger disordered habits and stress for people who suffer from an eating disorder or other related issues.
Suhoor: Essentially, breakfast. This is the pre-dawn meal. A person can begin eating suhoor at anytime during the night, but they must finish eating by the beginning of the call to prayer for Fajr, the pre-dawn prayer.
Iftar: The meal used to break the fast at sunset. It is customary to initially break the fast with a date and water, but this is not required. Iftar is soon followed by Maghrib, the sunset prayer.
Imam: A spiritual leader for a Muslim congregation. Sort of an Islamic version of a preacher or rabbi.
Salaam: Shortened version of Assalamu Alaikum, or peace be upon you. It is the Muslim greeting of peace and love and is used to say good-bye as well.
Not included in the list below, but good to know:
Tarawih: An optional prayer after the 5th (last) obligatory prayer of the night. Tarawih typically lasts about 45 minutes to an hour and a half and typically involves more time standing than other prayers.
Salah: Prayer performed physically, facing in the direction of Mecca. Salah is mandatory 5 times a day, during specific time ranges, but may be done more throughout the day. It is understood to have greater reward from God during the month of Ramadan.
Now, let’s take a look at some of those potentially triggering phrases to avoid, particularly around those who already struggle with food and body image.
33 Things NOT to say to someone during Ramadan
1. You look thinner today!
2. You’ve been having some big iftars, huh? Looks like you’ve gained some weight.
3. I have these special diet recipes for when you break your fast to help you lose weight.
4. Skip suhoor.
5. Skip iftar.
6. FINALLY, Ramadan is HERE! Time for all of us to lose some weight and look better.
7. How much weight have you lost?
8. How much weight have you gained?
9. Tell us your secret! How are you losing weight?
10. That food looks so fattening.
11. Eat a little bit in the morning and save your calories for dinner.
12. Eat more, you need to bulk up.
13. So and so has the same condition, they were able to fast.
14. I’ve been good today, so I’m going to let myself eat this now.
15. Just fast anyway, God will make it easy for you.
16. Are you counting your calories?
17. When are you going to find time to work out?
18. It doesn’t look like you have a problem with food.
19. Did a doctor say it was okay not to fast? A real doctor?
20. Don’t worry about your disorder this month, you need to be fasting.
21. Mental illness is not a reason not to fast. It’s not a physical disease.
22. I bet you’re excited to have an excuse not to eat all day.
23. Fasting will cure your [insert mental/emotional struggle].
24. Did the imam give you permission not to fast?
25. Does your family know you’re not fasting today?
26. Why aren’t you fasting?
27. Don’t eat this.
28. Don’t eat that.
29. Don’t drink those.
30. It’s not possible to be depressed/anxious during Ramadan.
31. Ramadan is a holy month, you should not be sad.
32. It’s not appropriate to cry, this is a happy time.
33. Drinking a lot of coffee will fill you up, that way you don’t have to eat as much
(note: coffee loading is a very serious and fatal form of dieting. For more on this, I recommend the insightful, funny, and very real TedTalk by stand-up comedian Dave Chawner).
There’s a right and wrong way
You should absolutely take care of your loved ones during Ramadan. That might include asking them about their food and exercise to ensure that they are remaining healthy.
However, understand that even if you are trying to help, there are right, and many wrong ways to approach the situation. If you think someone is engaging in harmful behaviors during Ramadan (restrictive dieting, binge eating, excessive exercise, etc.), privacy, sensitivity, and tact are key.
If you’re not able to pull the person aside and speak with them privately for whatever reason, use your best judgement. It may even be appropriate to just not get involved (particularly if you don’t know the person well and are operating strictly on assumptions) or ask for help from someone close to that person who will keep the matter confidential.
Remember: your words are powerful.