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Ramadan Offers an Excellent “Weight Control” Strategy

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By Ahmed Motiar

In June, more than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will begin to observe Ramadan. For Muslims fasting is a religious obligation (al-Qur’an 2:183), it being the fourth pillar of Islam. Yet fasting is also an excellent “weight control” strategy. The key point is not “weight loss” but rather “weight control”. While those who fast admit they lose some weight during Ramadan, few have actually considered its significance as a “weight control” mechanism, nor its value as a “behavior modifier”, nor even its merits to “fine tune and tone” the human body and its various systems. All these benefits, as well its spiritual advantages, were understood by the bygone Prophets.

The Muslim fast, as prescribed for those past the age of puberty, is simple. It requires one to abstain from taking any food or liquids at all from dawn until dusk. Between hunger and thirst, most find thirst to be more difficult to cope with, especially on very long and hot days as Ramadan fasts will be in the northern hemisphere. As the fasting month is determined by the lunar calendar, which is 10 or 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, in 36 years every Muslim in both hemispheres will have the opportunity to fast during all four seasons. This ensures equity in terms of both ease and hardships endured for people living in both hemispheres.

The Best-kept “Diet” Secret

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Around the world diet-books fly off store-shelves in record numbers, as diet gurus offer their latest fads for losing weight to a population that is grossly overweight because of over-indulgence. Many of those who have gone on such diets appear on radio and TV talk shows to narrate their personal experiences. The overwhelming opinion seems to be that most diets work for a short time, but as soon as the dieter stops dieting the lost weight reappears; some dieters even exceed their previous weight. In all the shared experiences about such diets, one centuries-old formula is seldom or never mentioned. It is the simple fast that the Prophets of all the major faiths engaged in regularly and enjoined their followers to do the same.  Fasting is not new, yet it seems that, as a possible diet option, it is one of the best-kept secrets and no one seems to have explored its potential.

Encouraged to Eat in Moderation

At the end of the fasting day Muslims are enjoined to eat in moderation and engage in worship (ibadah), meditation (dhikr) and contemplation or thought analysis (tafakkur). The emphasis is on small simple meals, yet many ignore this injunction and consume large and elaborate meals. However, Allah’s divine scheme is unbeatable: humans are created in such a way that the body itself brings one round to eating smaller meals. Those who eat heavy meals at the end of the day often suffer from constipation and other discomforts. It is interesting to note that at the end of the fast, because of the hunger pangs one thinks that one will be able to eat much more than one normally eats. However, one discovers that this is not so.

This discovery usually comes about after a few days of fasting when one begins to find one is unable to finish the food in one’s plate. Often the amount one is able to eat is less than the normal meal one would have consumed in the regular three-meals-a-day routine. This is because as the fasting days increase, the body undergoes a physiological change as the stomach begins to shrink and, however much one may desire to have more at the end of the day, the shrunken stomach limits the amount of food that can be consumed. It is critical that one takes heed of these body signals and not disregard them by gorging one’s self to an extra helping of food or be seduced by the many “varieties” of food some families spend hours preparing. This kind of extensive table spread of food is so totally contrary to the purpose of fasting but it also hampers the stomach from achieving its full shrinking potential.

For those who do not gorge and restrict themselves to one simple meal at the end of the fast, are the ones most likely to experience the full benefit of the stomach shrinking which ensures the fasting person will lose some weight by the end of the month. While the “weight loss” is obvious, the inevitable follow-up question is how fasting is a “weight control” tool, a “behavior modifier” or a means of “fine-tuning and toning” one’s body?

Most diets fail because they do not bring about a change in the dieter’s “physiological” condition, as the month-long fast does. Fasting helps one to alter one’s unhealthy over-eating habits and establish a moderate intake of food. If one looks at the example of the Prophet, we find even when the month of Ramadhan ended, he celebrated Eid with rejoicing and “feasting” – sharing a simple meal with neighbours, relatives and, most important, the needy. He also emphasized the need on this festive day to visit the sick and give charity (sadaqa). It is important to clarify that “feasting” according to the Prophet’s practice was not self-indulgent. For the Prophet, “feasting” was an occasion for “sharing” Allah’s bounties with others, especially the poor and the needy. For the wealthy who may have food in abundance, it is the “sharing” of Allah’s bounties with the poor that is intended by “feasting”.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) deplored over-eating by saying, “Kill not your hearts with excess of eating and drinking.” Over-eating, especially on the day of Eid, (when folks are seduced by the many favourite dishes families prepare for this day) is the quickest way to undo the benefits achieved during Ramadhan. The physiological change that facilitates moderate eating is the secret of fasting as a “weight control” mechanism. Although over a period of time the moderate eating habits developed during Ramadhan usually get somewhat eroded, the fasting month returns after 11 months to re-establish the good habits. However, it is possible to sustain the physiological change which ensures “weight control” by reinforcing the habit of moderation by also fasting at other times during the year, which the Prophet did regularly.

Fasting as a Means to Fine-tune our Bodies

We often overlook the fact that fasting is Allah’s prescription for humans to fine-tune their bodies, especially the digestive system. All body systems or parts need rest. Sleep is one way for some organs to achieve this; the eyes, mind and muscles are obvious examples. The heart and the digestive system achieve their rest by actively slowing the system or “reversing” the system operation, somewhat similar to a “reverse flush” that is done to clean radiator pipes in a vehicle. Standing on one’s head provides a good means of rest for the heart because it reverses the pull of gravity against the normal flow of blood, just as putting down one’s arms does when one is painting a ceiling. For the digestive system, “fasting” offers the best rest. It is a welcome respite from frequent meals, snacks and drinks such as tea or coffee. This “rest” gives the digestive system the opportunity to clean and rejuvenate itself and thereby make it more efficient, just as a farmer leaves a field fallow or uncultivated for a year so that they provide better and more abundant crops the following year.

Fasting as a Means of Spiritual Cleansing

Fasting, as prescribed in Islam, also requires spiritual cleansing, which at the practical level is reflected in modifying behavior to meet higher ideals. Fasting without worship and contemplation achieves little merit in Islam. In worship a Muslim can seek Allah’s help to become a righteous person who stands up against injustice and oppression. In contemplation a Muslim can examine the behaviours that undermine efforts to come closer to fellow human beings, namely, family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances and others. Modifying behaviour is integral to fasting. A Muslim’s behaviour or attitude to others must reflect respect, kindness and justice.  The Prophet himself reminds us: “A keeper of the fast who does not abandon lying and evil ways, Allah cares not about his [or her] leaving off eating and drinking.”

Fasting is probably the best way for one to get to feel the pangs of the hungry family, the misery of the homeless person and the suffering of the downtrodden individual. Creating empathy for the destitute is Islam’s way of stirring our conscience to become actively involved in addressing the needs of the most unfortunate and most marginalised in society. It is related that someone asked Imam Husain (ra): “What is the lesson of fasting?” He replied: “The rich should feel the pangs of hunger and appreciate what the poor have to endure, and therefore share Allah’s bounty with them.”

At a higher spiritual level, fasting in Islam is seen as an armour against evil. Those who are able to renounce lawful satisfaction of desires in obedience to Allah’s command are more able to renounce unlawful gratifications. Just as physical exercise strengthens the body, so mental, spiritual, ethical and moral exercise through fasting builds willpower to conquer physical appetites and abstain from what is wicked and wrong. The strength built during Ramadhan is only the beginning of the journey towards getting closer to God by becoming a better human being through empathy with and concern for one’s fellow human beings. We are reminded of this when our Prophet said: “If you love your Creator, then love your fellow-beings first.” May Allah help us all to progress along this journey not only in the month of Ramadhan but throughout our lives.


 

Ahmed Motiar, is the author of “What makes Islam the fastest growing Religion in the World” and is the inventor of  the Award-winning “3E Reading System”, and the recipient of the prestigious (Canadian) Prime Minister’s Award of Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology and Mathematics for the Math Games he developed. His most recent book is: “THE RESERVE BANK = A License to Steal Money from Citizens?” More information about his works can be accessed from: http://www.MathAndLiteracyAfrica.co.za   or reached at  ahmedmotiar@gmail.com

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Noor

    May 28, 2016 at 3:43 AM

    Ramadhan is not a month of any strategies, weight control or weght loss. Ramadhan is the month of the Quran, reciting as much Quran as possible is what a muslim should do in this month in addition to Salah, taraweeh and tahajjud. Then comes the Ibadat of Dua. Dua is the weapon of a believer. For duas and their miracles read an inspiring online monthly magazine Blossoms.

    • Jen

      May 28, 2016 at 9:52 AM

      Knowing sisters who have struggled with anorexia, I’m shocked that Muslim Matters posted such an irresponsible article. Fasting is to gain taqwa and is not, nor should be encouraged as a form of weight control. Ramadan can be a triggering time for individuals with eating disorders and this article is not helping.

  2. Avin

    May 28, 2016 at 5:44 PM

    I believe the article is reming us the benefits and wisdom behind the ruling of fasting, not why we should fast. Muslims will fast and follow Allah’s rulings seeking His pleasure, this is obvious. But there is nothing wrong in discussing our eating habits in ramadan as this is a very serious issue considering that many of us in spite of fasting 20/24 hours a day, gain weight in ramadan instead of losing it. Filling our tables by varieties of food, as in many cultures happen, and people eating heavy food until the last second before the call of morning prayer does make you wonder if ramadan has become the month of eating instead of fasting and worship for the current Muslim community.

  3. Jamie Alison

    May 28, 2016 at 7:18 PM

    Losing weight is 80% diet and 20% fat, there’s no point in doing hours and hours of cardio and weight training if you’re still eating junk food, because you will not lose any weight, sure you may get fitter but you won’t lose any fat.

    Also, if you can’t fit 30 minutes of cardio in a day, 7 minutes will do the trick tremendously, well that’s only if you’re doing 7 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity).

    Do at least a 20 second sprint then a 20 second run, alternate for 7 minutes, everyday, you will feel great and revitalized after.

    Be careful in which guides you follow, there are TONS of fad diets and lies. Here’s a great weight loss program I used to lose weight and permanently keep it off: http://thehealthspecialists.com

  4. Omer Riaz

    May 30, 2016 at 2:44 AM

    Totally Agree with Noor. .Ramadhan has nothing to do with the loosing weight. Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking; it is a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-discipline and sacrifice.

    • Ema Bijedic - rabinowitz

      May 31, 2016 at 5:22 AM

      Asselamu alaykum

      Not eating and drinking is to help us to a wake compassion to the hungry and needy. Al ghazali told us that for those who can control their stomach and sexual desires, everything else would become much more easier to handle with. So feeling Hunger is from huge impotsnce. BUT I see also importance of this artikle, because as many people die from Hunger so many people die because of their eating habbits. So Ramadan IS also month of getting our nafs under control. We have to do so become the body has also rights over us. Ramadan is month of gaining Spiritualit health but body health as well.

      Asselamu alaykum we rahmetullahi we Barakatuh!

  5. Nona

    June 2, 2016 at 2:42 PM

    Assalamualaikum,

    Amidst the comments that may or may not be encouraging, I would like to say thank you for the article. While Ramadhan is in essence the form of spiritual building and development, it is also beneficial to read it in other ways or perspectives, for example how it integrates in other aspects of life that can be seen and habitually done physically, not just inwardly. Some may not like it, some may. Anyway, continue on writing.All the best!

  6. Sam

    June 2, 2016 at 9:13 PM

    Assalamu-alaikum. The author I do not think, meant to distract from the blessings of Ramadan. Aren’t there so many ahadith that talk about the benefits of various forms of Ibadah, even to the degree of blessings of a particular Salah? With Salah being the 2nd pillar of faith, don’t some of the wordly benefits mentioned sometimes act as incentives for some of us to pray on time?

    With obesity becoming pandemic and being a major problem for the Muslim world, with obesity, sloth, gluttony being highly discouraged in Islam, I think the article is valuable.

  7. Kristy

    June 3, 2016 at 9:58 PM

    I am not a muslim but I practice Biblical fasting for an extended weekend each month. In fasting I seek spiritual closeness to GOD, enlightenment on Scriptures I study while fasting, go deeper into prayer, seek God’s gracious forgiveness of my sins, thankfulness of His blessings, and spiritual satisfaction of my soul.
    But the last thing I desire from my fasting is to lose weight. That seems like an inappropriate, secular, prideful human desire, not Biblical and not of GOD.
    I was surprised to read such an article focusing on Islamic fasting.

  8. Nuraini Ghaifullah

    June 6, 2016 at 1:07 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    Islam is wholesome, and I thank the author to highlight some of the benefits of fasting.
    For someone who is struggling with weight and depression, this article is useful. I can focus on both spiritual and body cleansing.
    Jazakillahi bikhair.

  9. RJ

    June 10, 2016 at 12:31 PM

    Interesting article on losing weight – I think it’s not a smart argument to make a spiritual practice and paint it as a weight-loss or weight-management strategy. If the article included information about how fasting had similar effects to intermittent fasting, sure but that’s a comparison.

  10. William Madison

    July 12, 2016 at 8:23 AM

    In the past, I used to struggle every time I had to lose weight. I used to follow all kinds of crazy diets: Atkins, Dukan, Nutrisystem, you name it. And even though I did lose weight at first and I never managed to keep the weight off for long. I regained every single pound I had lost and even more. The reason for my failure was that I didn’t understand the basic mechanisms behind weight loss. I kept looking for the magic food that would help me lose weight fast and effortlessly. Once I accepted that the only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit, my life became a lot easier. Now I can enjoy my favourite foods (in moderation, of course!) and still keep my weight steady. A great resource that has helped me in my journey is: http://topweightlossmethods.blogspot.com

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