“Mariam look at my tummy, I just can’t make this budge.”
“If I just go Keto, I’ll get abs like Sara on instagram.”
“I only do plant-based, organic, no gluten, diary…oh and no carbs.”
We are constantly bombarded with #thinspiration, #thighgap, #howthehelldidigain2kilos!l #’Thisbetterbewaterretention!’
Here’s some statistics; eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of mental illnesses. An estimated 70 million people suffer globally. In reality the numbers are significantly higher as many do not come forward for diagnosis.
Studies show that many eating disorders stem from childhood trauma such as sexual assault, parental neglect and/or emotional abuse. We will specifically focus on how a diet-fixated society is seizing already vulnerable individuals into eating disorders.
The more we live in an artificial world of media, the more we wire our brain to believe that the filtered, unrealistic and photoshopped bodies are real. Western dysmorphia that equates beauty to thinness has caused a wave of a diet obsessed generation fixated on the ideal body (whatever that may be).
And thanks to the advent of television, this view is now global. In 1982, Harvard Medical School Psychiatrist, Anne Becker, conducted the famous study of young Fijian girls being introduced to television. The results were startling. In 1995, without television, girls in Fiji appeared to be free of the eating disorders common in the West. But by 1998, after just a few years of sexy soap operas and seductive commercials, 11.3% of adolescent girls reported they had at least once purged to lose weight.
The windows of the eyes play a significant role in our thought processes and our thoughts impact the way we feel about ourselves. The images we allow to enter, directly impact the way we speak to ourselves.
Studies highlight that the root of many eating disorders is self-loathing. So in essence, changing the way we speak to ourselves will change the way we feel about ourselves and in turn affects our behaviour.
Today’s ideal body is simply not attainable, sustainable and is downright dangerous.
To strive to achieve this ideal weight, we place our bodies in cycles of trauma. We go on semi-starvation diets by calorie restrictions. We are unable to cope with the famine, so by night we have an uncontrollable binge. After we snap out of this spell-bound state; reality hits. An overwhelming sense of guilt envelopes us, so we starve ourselves again by going on a ‘cleanse’ and promising ourselves we will never do that again. Two days later, we binge eat again, feel guilty but don’t want to starve again so we decide to purge as a clever trick to stay skinny. And there you have it…welcome eating disorder.
According to the set point theory, we all have a healthy weight range our bodies perform best and our bodies fights to stay there. Our diet obsessed culture has made us muddle up our set-point mechanism. When we constantly starve ourselves through unhealthy diets, our bodies attempt for survival is to store fat and slow our metabolism. To fight the fat and maintain that ‘thigh gap’ we continue to lower our calorie intake and increase exercise hoping to maintain that weight but end up continuously slowing our metabolism and gaining it all back as this endeavour is unsustainable.
Studies reveal that eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders have been directly linked to our fixation on diets. It is clear that dieting is simply not working. If it was successful, then we would have fixed the obesity epidemic and there would not be a new diet out every season. The definition of insanity is knowing something is not going to work yet repeating it over again.
With excessive dieting and binging this will cause your body to no longer trust you. So when you lose that initial weight through calorie restriction, it is only temporary. Unlike our mind, our body does not care about our appearance, rather it is concerned about survival. As you begin to lose the initial drastic weight it then stores fat with any increase of calories in your diet. To put it simple, you will need to continuously restrict calories in order to ‘maintain’ that lean physique. This can lead to serious disordered eating. Rather we aim to eat from a variety of food groups in moderation, which will then allow your body to balance your hormones and increase your metabolism; transforming the body to a healthy weight naturally.
Allah ﷻ tells us in the Quran:
“O People! Eat of what is lawful and good on the Earth and do not follow the footsteps of Shaitan, for he is your open enemy.”
We are comprised of body, mind and soul. It is essential that we nourish each aspect of ourselves in order to live our best lives for this world and the Hereafter.
Yet when we try to cure the internal with that which is external we tip our equilibrium.
Psychological studies show that when our focus solely becomes on our appearance, it actually decreases our self-worth and can lead to disordered eating. Our purpose here on this earth is a lot grander than obsessing over diet and body. This obsession is likely to drown out the signals pointing to our true purpose.
Food is an integral part of our lives. As believers, we find a balance of consuming halal but also healthy food in moderation. The Prophet ﷺ did not demonise food, yet ate from a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy, legumes, spices and small portions of meat. This method allows us to be at peace with food.
Allah has created this incredible body that knows how to balance itself, yet the problem lies when we interfere with its in-built mechanism. Restrictive eating and obsession with body appearance is a torturing self-made prison. To set yourself free and live a life of sakeena being at peace with your body, we need to accept the body Allah has given us and recognise that it is simply a vehicle to carry something far more precious; your soul. Let us not allow eating disorders to snatch another treasured moment in our lives.
Implementing a prophetic lifestyle in relation to food and honouring our hunger cues allows us to refocus our energy on our connection with our Creator, rebuild broken relationships and develop self-love and gratitude; paving the way for goodness in the Ummah.
Riley, G. (2005) Eating Less; Say goodbye to overeating
Oras, E. (2016) BrainwashED: Diet-Induced Eating Disorders; How you got sucked in and how to recover
(Kotecki Markey) Rose, K. (2017) Damn the Diets
Dr. Clower, W. (2006) The French Don’t Diet Plan: 10 simple ways to stay thin for life
Cooper, M. and Fairchild, H. (2010) vol 11 239-246: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471015310000504
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