Ramadan is just a few days away, and every household is busy prepping for it. With various food outlets and grocery stores putting up a countdown till the first of Ramadan, it has created a huge buzz all around.
In every household, the common talk is all about what we should prepare for Suhoor and Iftar. Traditionally people put so much emphasis on throwing up bountiful meals to celebrate this month. The women are supposed to toil away many hours just preparing the most amazing delicacies for family and friends.
Now, this causes weight gain in many people, despite the long hours of fasting. Weight gains can seriously have negative consequences on your health. According to Mayo clinic research, gaining a few kilos of belly fat can eventually put an individual at greater risk of increased blood pressure and increased heart attack rates, and stroke.
Even while fasting, how do people gain weight:
Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset; even with an average of 12 hours of fasting, Muslims still tend to gain weight. The primary reason being a high-calorie intake than usual and very less physical activity. Thanks to the variety of food choices available at various supermarkets, Muslims overeat during Suhoor and Iftar during the month of Ramadan. There is a large intake of fatty and sugary foods and attending lavish iftar parties, all of which causes an increase in weight gain.
Another important reason for weight gain is the disruptive sleep cycle that releases hormones that regulate carbohydrate metabolism and metabolic rate.
Can we use Ramadan as an opportunity to lose weight?
Ramadan is a month to get closer to Allah and not a month-long annual food fest. Viewing this month as an opportunity to prepare the most delicious food as we are not eating all day and should be rewarded is not the correct mindset.
Ramadan or no Ramadan, our concern with food should be the same. Fasting is for Allah, and Allah will give the rewards. It doesn’t fit the purpose of rewarding oneself by staying excess hours in the kitchen, keeping the primary focus on enhancing one’s spiritual being rather than a physical being.
First, we need to understand the various health benefits that fasting offers if done the right way.
Fasting is not starvation:
Most of the iftar prep goes around with this mindset that we have been fasting for the past 10 to 12 hours, so now it’s time to fill ourselves. This notion of starvation makes people pile up food for Iftar. Fasting is not starvation. Fasting is not eating or drinking, while starving is to go for days without essential nutrition. To fill up our bellies the moment we open our fast thinking we have been starved all this while is highly absurd.
Fasting increases health and fitness:
Miqdam bin Madikarib said:
“I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: ‘A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one-third of food, one third for drink and one third for air.’”
حَدَّثَنَا هِشَامُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْمَلِكِ الْحِمْصِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ حَرْبٍ، حَدَّثَتْنِي أُمِّي، عَنْ أُمِّهَا، أَنَّهَا سَمِعَتِ الْمِقْدَامَ بْنَ مَعْدِيكَرِبَ، يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ يَقُولُ “ مَا مَلأَ آدَمِيٌّ وِعَاءً شَرًّا مِنْ بَطْنٍ حَسْبُ الآدَمِيِّ لُقَيْمَاتٌ يُقِمْنَ صُلْبَهُ فَإِنْ غَلَبَتِ الآدَمِيَّ نَفْسُهُ فَثُلُثٌ لِلطَّعَامِ وَثُلُثٌ لِلشَّرَابِ وَثُلُثٌ لِلنَّفَسِ ” .
Fasting is the perfect time to disciplining our bodies to eat what it needs and not simply demand what it wants. Fasting eventually helps us realize our genuine needs and recognizes that sometimes less food is better for our minds and bodies to perform at the optimum level. Fasting is a way to purify our bodies and souls so that we seek a higher connection with Allah. It completely defeats the link if we put our focus only on food in this blessed month.
Al-Bukhaari (1761) and Muslim (1946) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Allaah said: ‘Every deed of the son of Adam is for him except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward it.”
Being mindful of our bodies and considering them as an Amanah (GIFT) from Allah will help us get plenty of benefits from Ramadan. Ramadan is and should not be regarded as a 30-day weight loss boot camp. Our primary aim should be the spiritual aspect. Yes, indeed, it is an excellent opportunity to lose weight or choose a healthy diet.
Benefits of fasting:
Of the many benefits fasting has on the spiritual side of an individual, let’s look at some of the physical benefits:
- Fasting during Ramadan comes under intermittent fasting; this type of fasting helps considerably lose weight, as it allows the body to burn fat cells more effectively than regular dieting.
- Fasting controls binge eating disorder, helps you increase self-control, and overcome various food addictions.
- According to research, fasting plays a vital role as a natural detox; not eating for a day helps you can’t drop the body, clean up the toxins, and regulate the functions of organs such as the liver and kidneys.
- Fasting can regulate your digestion and promote healthy bowel function, thus improving the metabolic process. It gives the digestive system much-needed rest, which energies your metabolism to burn calories more efficiently.
Even though fasting has so many benefits, it must be kept in mind that the weight loss and fitness won’t be permanent if we jump back into our routine once Ramadan gets over. Ramadan fasting can help you jump-start a weight loss process, but it is not the permanent solution.
1. Apart from fasting, what can help you to lose weight loss during Ramadan:
- Exercise: Yes, you can’t drop an essential part of weight loss even when you are fasting. Most people stop exercise altogether in Ramadan, which would eventually lead to an increase in weight gain.
If you exercise regularly, maintain it by shifting the time from early morning to after Isha prayer but reduce the intensity and duration; most importantly, make sure you are taking a sufficient amount of water.
If you do not exercise, you can opt for a brisk walk after dinner for a minimum of half an hour.
2. Changes in eating habits: Some basic steps you need to follow throughout Ramadan to ensure you lose and maintain weight
- Avoid overeating at Iftar
- Eat slowly and chew every bite of the food till the end.
- Eat the main course or dinner after an hour or two of Iftar to not overload yourself.
- Optimize your fluid intake to about 6 to 8 glasses of water during non-fasting hours.
- Avoid fatty, oily, and spicy foods, especially during Suhoor, as it may cause bloating, indigestion, and heartburn during fasting.
Perfect foods to include in a Ramadan diet:
The perfect foods for our body would be the earth-grown greens that answer most of our lifestyle-acquired diseases. A well-balanced diet should include foods from these four main groups:
- Bread cereals and other grain products
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat fish and poultry
- Milk cheese and yogurt
Foods that give energy
- Brown rice
- Eggs, poultry, and fish
Foods easy on your digestion
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
What to eat for Suhoor and Iftar?
Suhoor: Food for Suhoor should always contain food that would retain you and help you throughout the day. It should be fulfilling and highly nutritious too. We must include foods that are slow digesting and can delay the pangs of hunger. Carbs tend to burn out quickly, so try to avoid them.
Also, avoid high salt content foods as they eventually make you thirstier during the day. Include foods that are high in protein content. Smoothies are a good option as they help you stay hydrated and give your body nutrition to work throughout the day.
Along with the smoothies, one can opt for a good Turkish breakfast. The fantastic thing about this Mediterranean cuisine is that it is highly fulfilling and healthy. A typical Turkish breakfast would include bread (multigrain or brown preferably) with vegetables like tomato cucumber and olives jams with low sugar and honey.
Try to make the process of preparing Suhoor food easy and not take much of your time in the early mornings, which would be the best time to indulge in prayers.
Try to prepare the smoothies way ahead of Ramadan. You are not blending them every day, blend a significant portion, store them in flask bottles, and freeze them. Before going to bed, place them on the counter, and till Suhoor time, they would be ready to consume.
Food for Iftar:
Now is when we need to display a bit of self-control, as we have maintained during fasting. Most commonly, as soon as we open our fast, everything goes into our mouth; stuffing ourselves with food makes us feel bloated and kills the purpose of immediate being healthy for us all together.
This meal should include dates as it’s just not only a sunnah, but they also provide a refreshing burst of much-needed energy. Again, foods that are rich in protein such as legumes and plenty of fruits. Instead of water, try drinking coconut water and some fresh juices low on sugar, then opting for carbonated beverages such as cocoa, Pepsi which are high in preservatives and sugars.
What not to have during Iftar:
- Sweets with high sugar content like Gulab jamun, pastries, candies, jellies.
- Dairy products with a high-fat content like cheese, foods filled with butter, ice creams.
- Deep-fried foods like samosas, pakoras, dumplings, etc
- Fast foods such as noodles, pizza, burgers.
- Heavily processed foods like sausages.
- Meat products would include foods such as Haleem, tikkas, etc.
- Foods high on salt content: chips, pickles
Foods that are healthy and needs to be included:
- Samosa that is baked, shallow fried or fried in an air fryer.
- parathas/chapatis that have no oil
- Fruit chaat/chana chaat/ragda chaat that are low on spices
- Smoothies made from fresh juice with low sugar
- Grilled /barbequed chicken or fish
- Fattoush (salad made of vegetables and pita bread)
- Tabbouleh (salads made from fresh tomatoes, parsley, garlic, and bulgur wheat.)
- Ful Medammes (fava beans cooked with garlic and spread on bread)
Now, I get it. You might find these things boring, but you need to look at them creatively, just as you would to the foods that would harm you in the long run.
Trying to understand that Ramadan is not a 30 day-long food festival but a way of connecting with Allah sincerely.
By planning ahead of Ramadan and making a firm intention to make this Ramadan completely different from the rest, we can use this Ramadan as a catalyst to get started on a fitter body.
Let’s give our body the proper nutrition. After all, our bodies are an Amanah from Allah, which has to be taken care of so that we can worship Him in the best possible sense.
There are specific blogs/ videos on youtube that give a complete diet plan on losing weight. Do try to follow what would suit you best.
In the end, everybody is different and may react to a certain food in a different way if you are pretty sure about dropping off those extra kilos it’s always better to talk to a nutritionist and get a personalized diet plan that would work for you.
May Allah accept our prayers and intentions and hope Allah helps us celebrate this month in its true sense of serving Allah.