This blog is based on a webinar by Dua Aldasouqi, MA, RDN (she/her) and Yaffi Lvova, RDN (she/her), Fasting & Feasting for Religious Clients, which they presented to the EDRD Pro community in September 2022.
Written by Kristen Nyampong and edited by Greta Jarvis
Our identities and spiritual beliefs deeply impact our philosophy on food as well as our nutritional status. Building cultural and religious awareness, then, is integral when working with clients of faith – especially those whose backgrounds differ from our own. Fasting and feasting are two examples of food-related spiritual practices observed within several faiths, including Judaism and Islam. To support us in navigating these traditions alongside our clients in eating disorder recovery, Yaffi Lvova, RDN (she/her) and Dua Aldasouqi, MA, RDN (she/her) joined us to present Fasting & Feasting for Religious Clients.
Fasting is common in Islamic communities during Ramadan, the 9th month of the lunar calendar. This time of heightened spirituality is often referred to as the month of the Quran and, for many Muslims, provides an opportunity to reflect on their faith and make adjustments where needed. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunup to sundown, abstaining from anything that reaches down the throat. This includes eating, drinking (even water), smoking, using nasal sprays, or engaging in sensual activities. Muslims who are “of sound mind” and “physically capable” are required to fast once they come of age, although many start earlier. Notably, this does not include people who are menstruating or postpartum bleeding, pregnant or breastfeeding, traveling, and/or experiencing acute illness. Those who have developmental delays, as well as those who are mentally unstable, elderly, or experiencing a chronic illness, are also exempted from fasting during Ramadan. Eating disorders can fall under the chronic illness umbrella, as fasting can exacerbate symptoms and interfere with recovery.
The Jewish tradition observes fasting on six days throughout the year. Four of these fasting days are classified as minor, occurring from sunrise to when there are three visible stars in the sky, while the other two are major, occurring from sunset to the end of the following day. During both minor and major fasts, food and water are not allowed for twelve to twenty-five hours. The two major fasts, Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur, also involve morning rituals that include no leather shoes, no bathing, no oiling of the body, and no sexual relations. On fasting days, Jews spend extra time with community and in prayer.
In addition to fasting, both Judaism and Islam involve dietary laws in which levels of accordance vary widely. Kosher is the set of Jewish dietary laws stemming from the Torah and oral tradition. Abstaining from blood, insects, and certain parts of an animal are examples of Kosher laws. Halal is the term for “lawful” practices within Islam – applying to food and beyond. Pork and wine are prohibited, for instance, while slaughtering animals must follow a specific set of requirements.
For religious clients, then, food and faith are often inextricably linked, adding a sense of spiritual morality in eating that impacts one’s personal relationship with the divine. This can mirror the eating disorder voice, as symptoms such as body checking or restricting eating can imbue a sense of moral superiority. In this way, supporting clients in disentangling the sacred values and practices of their faith from the eating disorder voice is a crucial component of recovery. For many, fasting may be unsafe in the first years of their recovery journey. Both Islam and Judaism offer space and compassion for these scenarios – empathy, non-judgment, and compassion are key. It is not our job to tell our clients how to practice their faith: respecting their religious traditions can sometimes mean collaborating with and/or referring to other faith-based professionals. As with all of our clients, proper documentation, notes, and diagnoses are part of mapping out individualized plans of care.
When approached mindfully and intentionally, a client’s faith can serve as a source of strength and support, as they move toward a healthier relationship with food, body, and self.
For further training on this topic, check out the replay of Fasting & Feasting for Religious Clients in our webinar library!