Ramadan is just round the corner, alhamdulillah! May God make this month a means for us to purify our hearts and strengthen our belief, unite together as an Ummah and become firmer on our acts of worship not only during this month, but for the months following up, inshaAllah!
During this month, Muslims fast (abstain from food, drink and sexual relationships) from sunrise to sunset for the duration of 29 or 30 days. For those of us in the UK, this means our fasts will be up to 19hrs long! Going without food and drink for so long, something very obvious is bound to happen. Yes, hunger pangs, severe thirst, feeling faint and dizzy, feelings of ‘omgomgomg I need to devour errrrrrrthaaaang‘ are going to be inevitable. Whilst feeling all this, it is very easy to become preoccupied with thoughts of food, which takes our attention away from the worship we could be better spending our time doing. It’s far easier to stay in bed and sleep than to engage in the crucial worship that make this month so special. And then when it’s Iftar time, how easy is it to stuff ourselves till the breaking point?
Please don’t do this. Brothers and sisters, this isn’t the purpose of Ramadan. The purpose of Ramadan is to rekindle and strengthen our connection with our Lord and to please him through our fasts – by spending the entire day fixated on food and then eating way past the level of comfort we are only putting ourselves in discomfort and losing focus from the true purpose of our fasts. Yes, food is an enjoyable element of Ramadan and we are entitled to enjoying what we have been blessed with. But always keep in mind that food is not the most important element of this most blessed month.
So how do we avoid overdoing it this Ramadan? We’re so ravenous by Iftar time and it’s so hard to control ourselves – how do we deal with this? Here are some tips to help keep ourselves in line, prevent us from eating more than we need to and to help us avoid the vicious cycle of starvation pre-Iftar and that bloated and heavy feeling post-Iftar.
12 TIPS FOR A HEALTHIER RAMADAN
- Start your fast the right way! That means making sure your Suhoor is full of fibre, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein rich foods that will digest slowly, provide a constant stream of energy throughout the day and keep hunger at bay. Keeping hunger to a minimum will mean you won’t be as hungry at Iftar, meaning you won’t be inclined to stuff yourself!
- Avoid sugary white carbs such as white bread, sweets, chocolates and certain cereals such as Coco Pops and Rice Krispies. These simple carbs digest very fast and won’t provide you with energy you need throughout the day. For those of us in the UK, they will probably have released all their energy before the day has even started! They also work terribly bad for keeping us full for long.
- Avoid caffiene. This goes for me a hundred times over, as I am a coffee FIEND! Why avoid caffiene? Because it is a diuretic, meaning it leads to water loss and dehydration. Dehydration is the last thing we need during the summer fasts!
- DRINK WATER! I can’t stress this enough! Dehydration leads to a whole collection of nasty side effects, including headaches, lethargy, decreased concentration, constipation and skin dryness just to name a few. Dehydration will just make fasting more difficult, so drink up! We want to aim for a MINIMUM of 2 litres between Suhoor and Iftar! A good tip is to drink half a glass between Raka’ahs of Taraweeh – this helps me get to 2l very quickly alhamdulillah.
- Don’t slack on your fruit and veggies. Include 2-3 portions in your Suhoor and the same again for Iftar. It is vital to ensure you’re getting enough fruit and veg as this equates to that healthy dose of nutrients, minerals and vitamins that are essential to health and optimal functioning. Try having a green smoothie and/or a veggie omelette for Suhoor, and then a vegetable curry and fruit salad for Iftar! (RECIPE: SLOW COOKED MIXED VEGETABLE CURRY)
- Keep the fried food to a minimum. Yes, I know, Desis love their fried foods and very few Iftar tables are without them! If you are solely responsible for the cooking, my best advice is to not fry daily. Instead, fry 1-2 times a week MAX and ensure that fried food is only a side dish and an accompaniment to a more wholesome main dish. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have any fried food on the table, period, but as I’m married to a man who has only ever eaten fried food during Ramadan, I know how difficult it is to get those bad habits out of the window! My husband can’t comprehend an Iftar table without pakoras, samosas and spring rolls, and I come from a family where Iftar was a normal dinner for us with rarely anything fried! I find striking a compromise to be the best way out of this sensitive situation – I’ll fry one or two things for him and then make a well-rounded main meal that we both have. Maybe one day he will be able to get used to the idea of an non-fried Iftar table, but till then it’s his choice to eat what he pleases but the least I can do is keep myself away from it most of the time.
- Try baking instead of frying. Many things can be baked! Examples include kebabs, falafels and chips! In fact, I’ve even seen people baking samosas and spring rolls – it is possible! Less oil = healthier food, less weight gain, less load on your digestive system and reduced feelings of heaviness and bloating post-Iftar!
- Don’t let this month be an excuse for physical inactivity. Keeping sedentary is something to avoid always, and Ramadan is no exception. Keeping active will keep your mind fresh and active. You’ll be able to keep your mind more focused and you’ll find that you’ll be more productive. Try to squeeze in a walk daily (nothing too extreme!) and your body will thank you.
- Include soup on your Iftar table. I find that opening the fast with soup is easy on the stomach, replinishes the body with some much-needed fluids and helps the stomach open up to something solid after a long break. Have a bowl of soup, pray Maghrib and then come back to eat the rest of your meal. By then, the ‘omgomgomg EAT EVERYTHING’ feeling should have passed. (RECIPE: IRAQI CABBAGE & LAMB SOUP)
- Now is NOT the time to diet! Don’t use Ramadan as a crash diet! This is a month of worship so it is imperative that we respect that. Eat enough food at Suhoor and Iftar to maintain optimal energy levels so that you have the fuel to go about your daily routine as well as worship your Lord with a clear heart and mind. If you try to restrict your food during Ramadan, you will naturally have to compromise on the amount of worship you can get done and this disrespects the purpose of our fasts
- Easy on the salt. Sodium causes dehydration and we really don’t want that! On the other hand, potassium has the opposite effect, so be sure to keep a light hand on the salt, avoid canned and processed junk and consume potassium rich foods such as bananas, mushrooms, squash and spinach (RECIPE: SIMPLE PALAK (SPINACH) CURRY)
- Finally, always have a good intention! SubhanAllah, our Lord is the most Kind and Merciful. He rewards us for even our good intentions! If we keep the intention that we will eat nutritious and healthy foods so that we can keep our energy levels up for worship, then we will even be rewarded for our intention and for eating! SubhanAllah, how amazing is that?!
EXAMPLES OF FOODS TO EAT
- Examples of fibre-rich foods include dates, prunes, lentils, wheat bran, flaxseeds, wholegrains and virtually all fruit and vegetables. Fibre keeps us full, keeps a steady stream of energy coming in and helps our digestive system function normally.
- Examples of complex carbohydrates include wholegrains, lentils, bean, oatmeal and grains such as quinoa and bulgar wheat. Complex carbs function similar to fibre but also have other benefits such as maintaining brain function and concentration.
- Examples of protein rich foods include eggs, Greek yogurt, chicken, fish and beef. Protein is essential to keep us from ‘burning out’, to minimise muscle catabolism (when your body begins to use muscle to fuel itself – we don’t want that at all!) and to keep us full.
- Examples of healthy fats include nuts, avocados, nut butters, fatty fish such as salmon, raw olive oil and coconut oil. Don’t skip these, as they are important for our general health, especially for women. A diet low in healthy fats can lead to constipation, skin problems, dysfunctional hormone levels and poor vitamin absorption – yikes!
What are your tips to prevent overeating and overindulging during Ramadan? I would love to hear! Leave me a comment below and I will add it to the post, inshaAllah!
In advance, I’d like to wish you all a very warm Ramadan Mubarak.
With love, Fatima.