What happens during Ramadan fasting?
Ramadan or Ramzan is the Islamic holy month where healthy Muslims fast. Muslims fasting should refrain from food and liquids between dawn and sunset, which is the period of fasting. The duration of fast depends on the country you live in, it can vary from a few hours to more than 18 hours.
There are several beliefs among Muslims as to what should be done and what is restricted during the month of Ramadan. There are no restrictions on food or fluid intake between sunset and dawn. Two meals per day is recommended, that is at Sehri (before dawn) and Iftari (after sunset). If you are in doubt, please consult your local Imam.
Ramadan is recommended for healthy Muslims but exempted for the following groups:
- Young Children
- Pregnant or nursing mothers
- Menstruating women
- People with chronic illness (e.g. diabetes, heart disease)
- Any acute illness
If you have diabetes and you are planning on fasting learn more about Ramadan and diabetes, click here. People who miss fasting days due to illness can compensate by fasting at a later date when they have recovered.
Weight Loss & Ramadan
The month of Ramadan makes you a better and stronger person physically and spiritually. Whilst the unequivocal focus of Ramadan is on spiritual development and devotion, some may use this month to improve their health and well-being. Weight loss could be considered for people who are overweight or obese. Traditionally as this is also a festive occasion, families meet up at time of breaking fast (Iftar). People tend to have a large meal often including fried, salty foods, which may be followed by sweet treats. It is recommended that Muslims break their fast on dates and water or a simple soup, perform their prayers and then eat a moderate iftar. Eating a large iftar when breaking fast can lead to weight gain over the month.
Most people do not realise that they are eating more because the feel that they have not had any food throughout the day and hence feel that having a bit more when breaking fast is okay. However, many of us fail to realise that we regularly make do with a small or moderate sized breakfast and continue working hard in our daily lives. As soon as you start programming your body and mind to a fasting mode, your hunger pattern changes and you feel more hungry, more so in the first few days of Ramadan.
Why is it difficult to manage weight during Ramadan?
So, why is it difficult to fast during the first few days of Ramadan but easier over time? You also find that after Ramadan and during the celebration of Eid, you are not able to eat as well you did before Ramadan. During fasting there is switch in your metabolism. Your body, particularly the brain, needs glucose to function normally. Whilst fasting, sugar intake could be reduced and your body uses up the sugar stored in the liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is converted to glucose and is used by your body, however after a few days all the glycogen is used up and your body starts breaking down the fat, which results in the production of ketones such as acetic acid, acetoacetic acid and beta hydroxy butyric acid. All these ketones blunt your hunger by suppressing your appetite or satiety centre in the brain. As your hunger is blocked by ketones you gradually stop craving food at sunset.
In Ramadan, some families have iftar, which tends to be quite large and feasting continues throughout the night with several visits from family and friends. To avoid this you need to plan ahead with family and friends; agree on a healthy meal plan, which is portion, controlled. You may also wish to keep a personal food diary or a family food diary. It is much easier to be healthier collectively than on your own!
Tips to eating healthier during this month
Try and avoid the following during Ramadan:
- Processed food
- Sugary drinks like fruit juice (it’s healthier and more filling to have a piece of fruit instead)
- Fizzy drinks like cola, pepsi or lemonade
- Deep fried foods like pakoras, samosas, Bhajji’s and fried dumplings
- Sweets such as gulab jamun, rasgulla, balushahi etc.
- Avoid eating & drinking salty food that makes you more thirsty
- High intensity exercises or anything that causes excessive sweating leading to dehydration
If possible stick to the rule of 50/25/25: your plate should have 50% vegetables, 25% starchy/carbohydrate foods like bread, pasta, rice, roti, naan etc. and the other 25% should be proteins such as lentils, chicken, beans etc. Always start with your vegetables and later finish of the proteins and finally the starchy food.
Can I still exercise?
Discontinuing exercise can spoil your routine. Fasting does not mean you should not exercise at all. However if you have a medical condition, do consult your doctor before embarking on any kind of exercise. Do ensure you spend some time walking and if possible go for a brisk walk. The amount of energy you can put in depends on the duration of fasting in your location.. For sustained weight loss increasing your muscle bulk is crucial so light resistance or weight-training exercises may be beneficial.
Restrain from having fruit juices, sugary coke and too much caffeine. Fruit juice adds on to your total daily sugar intake. Carbonated beverages and caffeine can upset your sleep and good quality sleep is essential for weight loss. It can be quite difficult to get your quota of sleep especially in the early days and if the night is short. Inadequate sleep time can alter your hunger pattern and result in weight gain.
Some final advice…
Points to remember for successful weight loss
- Plan ahead, discuss meals with your family
- Have a meal plan for the next week (preferably as a family)
- Increase your vegetable portions and cut down on fruits, salty snacks and fried foods
- Ensure you have all the ingredients necessary to cook next week’s meals
- Drink plenty of water and aim for 2-3 litres per day
- Go for a brisk walk every day if you can
- Ensure you do not skip the meal before dawn (Suhur)
If you’re already on a weight loss plan and have been losing weight before Ramadan then do not worry. Simply continue with your healthy eating plan. However if you have been crash dieting and trying plans which does not prescribe to balanced meals, please make the necessary adjustments to your diet.
Please note that there is no particular time of the year when you should switch to a healthy eating plan. As mentioned above please do not focus solely on losing weight this Ramadan but understand and perceive the deeper spiritual purpose of fasting.
For healthy recipe ideas you could use during the month of Ramadan, please visit our blog page by clicking here. You can also register on our parent website, www.simplyweight.co.uk for free tools, videos, articles and downloads related to weight management. If you have any queries related to our blogs or general weight loss, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0208 903 4819.
We wish you a very happy, healthy and blessed Ramadan!
The simplyweight Team