By Zahra Osman
Ramadan is here and we’re all excited. Some of you are excited because you can’t wait for the seasonal Ramadan dishes. Some of you are excited because Ramadan can be a kickstart for your weight loss regime. And some of you are excited simply because its Ramadan. You’re anticipating the rewards and benefits that come along with the challenges of this blessed month. Hopefully, most of you fall into the third category! But even if you’re in this third group, it’s possible that your eating habits in the nights of Ramadan are harming your performance throughout the entire month.
Ramadan is like a marathon; not eating during the race is the easy part. It is the other factors like focus, discipline, and strategizing your time and energy that help you win the race. And during training, what you eat and how you eat can make the race more difficult or it can put you ahead of the competition. In other words, your post-iftar eating habits can either help you make the most of Ramadan or it can lead to the laziness and sicknesses that prevent too many people from maximizing the potential rewards that await them. There are people who get so sick during Ramadan because of their eating choices that the doctor actually orders them to stop fasting! Now, if you don’t want that happening to you, then pay close attention to these common practices that are cutting into our Ramadan performance power.
1. Breaking your fast with greasy foods
Somosas, springrolls, pakora, fried dumplings, fried chicken, french fries, wings, etc. The iftar meal is hardly ever missing one of these snacks. I know, they seem to taste so much better during Ramadan, but you’re doing a huge disservice to your digestive system when you break your fast with such items. Eating greasy foods on an empty stomach can lead to indigestion, which is responsible for the stomach cramping and bloating that makes you want to skip out on taraweeh. It’s also extremely counter-productive to your health and fitness goals.
To be honest, you’re not entirely to blame for craving these foods at iftar time. Researchers using functional MRI brain scans found that, on an empty stomach, the body focuses on feeding itself high-calorie foods to try to get blood sugar levels back to normal. This is why, when you’re hungry, you’re almost willing to eat anything, especially fatty foods.
So what should I do?
Follow the sunnah. “The Prophet used to break his fast with fresh dates before he prayed. If he did not find fresh dates then he would use dried dates. If he did not find that also he drank a few sips of water”. [Ahmad and Abu Dawood]. Dates are extremely effective in raising blood sugars quickly because they’re easily and quickly absorbed. This is a much healthier alternative than turning to fatty foods to normalize blood sugar.
Eat fruits. When you eat fruits on an empty stomach it does a much better job at detoxifying your system and supplying you with tons of energy, than if you were to eat it after your meal. Its a win-win situation because you get the health benefits of the fruits and you’re well fuelled for the night of ibaadah ahead.
I can’t tell you to completely abandon the samosas, so if you can’t resist, then eat in moderation and limit the number. At least this way you won’t put so much pressure on your digestive system. Or you may want to consider baking them like I do.
2. Eating too quickly
I know, you need to catch the salaah. But slow down. Chew. Sit and enjoy. Your brain needs about 15-20 minutes before it signals to your stomach that you’re full. This means that if you’re eating faster than your brain can signal, you can end up eating a lot more than you need . One Japanese study found that eating too quickly was strongly associated with being overweight. Also, I don’t have to tell you about the discomfort that comes with overeatting. Productive Muslim has a fantastic cartoon detailing that.
So What Should I do?
Converse while you eat. I don’t mean to talk with your mouthful, but chat with your family members and those at the table with you. Conversing will help slow down your pace of eating, which should give you more time to chew as you listen, and breaks between bites as you speak. The Prophet would speak with his companions while he ate. For example, the ahaadith, “Mention the name of Allah and eat from that which is closest to you” and “What a good condiment vinegar is” and many more were said by the Prophet during a meal.
Also, from his sunnah is to eat with three fingers. This will help you take smaller portion bites. Or you may want to physically place your fork or spoon down between bites so that your stomach has more time to register the food coming in.
3. Not drinking enough fluids
Some of us barely drink enough water in a normal day, and with only about a 6 hour eating window, it’s not surprising that we may be on the brink of dehydration. Water is important brothers and sisters, especially during this month. You’re fasting and it’s hot outside! Not drinking enough fluids can lead to dehydration, constipation and other digestive illnesses which can make the month of striving a month of medical intervention.
So What Should I do?
Simple; drink more fluids. If you’re not much of a water drinker, try to have soups and eat fruits with large water content. Avoid sugary drinks and too much caffeine because they can inhibit water absorption.
4. Skipping Suhoor
Some people skip suhoor because they say it makes them hungrier?! And some people just want that extra bit of sleep. Its true that eating suhoor is a sunnah and so one has the choice, but when you skip it, not only are you missing out on major rewards, but you’re also setting yourself up for failure. How? There are tons of studies showing that eating a healthy breakfast produces tremendous physical and mental benefits which leave you feeling good for most of the day.
Also, when you skip out on breakfast or suhoor, you are less likely to get the recommended servings of fibre, vitamins, and minerals which could be crucial in helping you achieve the optimal health necessary for surviving this month of jihad.
So What Should I do?
Simple. Eat suhoor! But don’t make the mistake of eating just anything, like leftover pizza and samosas from iftar. Aim for foods rich in fiber and those that provide you with a good source of energy. You may want to try preparing suhoor before going to bed so that not much effort is required in the morning. Preparing in advance also comes in handy for those days you oversleep.
Ramadan is the month of the Quran, a month for striving to seek closeness with Allah. But we can’t ignore the seasonal experience and beautiful atmosphere it brings along with it, and for many cultures and traditions food is part of that experience. In some homes, Ramadan may be the only time the entire family sits together for a meal. Also iftar parties help bring people together who are often too busy during the year to connect. So we can’t downplay the role food plays during this blessed season. However, we must make the right choices so that we can combine pleasure with productivity!
There is so much to say and to add to this topic of good and bad eating habits during Ramadan. What are some traditions, habits and foods you eat during Ramadan that help you stay productive? I’d love to hear some of your tips and suggestions on how we can improve our eating habits for optimal health and fitness. Remember that all actions are by intentions. And so, if you intend to adjust your eating style to be stronger so that you can worship Allah better, then the reward is in that delicious meal!
Bio: Zahra Osman is a teacher and is currently pursing a masters in education with a focus on curriculum and pedagogy. She is passionate about empowering Muslims to be high achievers and building confidence in their Islamic identities. She maintains a blog at www.ummempowered.com, a personal development platform dedicated to inspiring and motivating Muslim moms to realize their full potential.