The Unexpected Expectation of Going to the Gym During Ramadan

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Yusra Iftikhar

Ramadan is like a Spiderman movie.

I wait anxiously all year for its release. Once it arrives, it ends way too quickly. Afterwards, however, I am happy knowing that, inevitably, there will always be next year.

If you’re not a Spiderman fan (but…but…James Franco!), just fill in with your choice of Avengers/Harry Potter spinoff/Emma Watson project.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is characterized by sunup to sundown fasting. That means no food, water, gum, and some argue even toothpaste for 15+ hours of the day. Refraining from food all day also makes Ramadan a lot about community dinners, going out to eat with friends, and constant recipe sharing.

The increased focus on food in communal settings can be a scary time for someone in eating disorder recovery. Someone like me.

A lack of food and water during the day leaves me especially drained and unmotivated to exercise. I assume many others feel the same, as nighttime gym attendance by Muslims seemingly skyrockets during this month.

It makes sensethat’s the only time that we can eat and drink.

So, going to the gym becomes a prime social opportunity. The guys have their basketball GroupMe, a couple of friends have let me crash their weightlifting routine, and even some of the moms have joined us via treadmill.

In fact, even when I exercise just a few yards from my friends, I feel like I’m missing out. I’ll tailor my workout to my friends’ whereabouts; the FOMO really kicks in when you’re the only one chest-pressing and you can hear everyone else arguing about the height of their high jump in the dance studio.

However, as much as I love to be amongst friends during Ramadan, as someone who is recovering from using exercise as punishment, nightly gym time has often been a way for me to validate my disordered habits.

Increased exercise during a time when “everyone else” is resting is applauded. Weight loss in this month is envied.

This year, Ramadan is in the summer. That means long days and short nights, leaving little time to both break my fast and then eat the pre-dawn meal. It can feel like a lot of food in a narrow timespana dangerous case for someone who will search for ways to rid themselves of the guilt of those calories.

Translation: more time in the gym.

I, like many, tend to overeat when it is time to break my fast in an effort to compensate for the day’s lost opportunities. Although the food is always great, I get an overwhelming feeling of “I need to go burn this off” soon after.

However, I have hope.

Even as I progress through this Ramadan, I notice my sense of obligation to the gym slowly beginning to shift.

Last week, my friend was working the front desk and I ended up catching up with her for two hours and then simply leaving. I had a great time chatting with her about everything from work and religion to boys and our respective Starbucks go-tos.

I was pleasantly shocked that I was able to leave the gym knowing that 1. I hadn’t worked out and that 2. My friends probably saw that I left without working out.

That night, I had nothing to prove. To anyone.

I don’t know if it was because the conversation was just that fun or because I’m #overit, but moments like those give me hope. That one day I’ll completely ignore the pressure to compensate for food I’ve eaten. That one day I’ll go to the gym on my own time, not needing to prove my athletic abilities to anyone else.

It’s a cool feeling to finally be able to look past my disorder and see a day of comfort and confidence fast approaching.

Movement is great, within reason. If you are fasting this Ramadan, I urge you to speak with a health professional who knows your condition well, and can work with you to make an informed decision about exercise.

Ramadan is an opportunity for overall betterment of spirituality, character, and letting go of those voices that tell you that you’re not enough.

You are so much more than enough already. I hope you know that, and that you can use the power of knowing that to move forward.

With or without a dumbbell in hand.

Yusra is a writer, blogger, and fierce mental health advocate currently facilitating a peer support group for young Muslims in the Southern Indiana area until she returns to her home state of North Carolina to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree this fall. Yusra is an avid writer and her pieces on mental illness and recovery have been featured on The Mighty and Recovery Warriors. She channels her passions through her blog, The DPT Diaries, and Instagram page to spread mental health awareness and provide help to pre-physical therapy students as they apply to graduate school. Check out her pages to stay up-to-date on all of her recovery adventures!