Weight loss and Ramadan
Ramadan or Ramzan is the Islamic holy month where healthy Muslims fast. Muslims fasting should refrain from food and liquids between sunrise 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 the 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 sunrise. Two meals per day is recommended, that is at Suhur (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 (The Koran specifically exempts sick people from fasting, Al-Bakarah, 183–185):
- 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.
The month of Ramadan makes you a better and stronger person physically and spiritually. This month could be used to improve your health and at the same time 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 usually consisting of fried food, which may be salty, followed by lot of sweets. 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.
Most people do not realise that they are eating more because they 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, you do not realise that most of the year you are having a small or no breakfast and still working hard for 10-12 hours. 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.
So, why is it difficult to fast during the first few days of Ramadan and later you get used it? 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 your 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 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.
Avoid the following during Ramadan
- Processed food
- Sugary drinks like fruit juice
- Fizzy drinks like coke
- 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 foods like bread, pasta, rice, roti, nan, etc. and the other 25% should be proteins, which could be lentils, chicken, beans. etc. Always start with your vegetables, then the proteins and finally the starchy food.
Discontinuing exercise can spoil your routine. Fasting does not mean you should not exercise; 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. Again it depends on how long the fasting duration is, depending on the country you live in. For sustained weight loss increasing your muscle bulk is crucial.
Restrain from having fruit juices, sugary coke and too much caffeine. Fruit juice adds to the sugar you consume. Carbonated beverages and caffeine can upset your sleep. Good sleep is essential for weight loss. It can be quite difficult to get your quota of sleep especially during the first two weeks and also if the night is short and if you happen to be working during the day. Inadequate sleep time can alter your hunger pattern and result in weight gain.
Points to remember for successful weight loss:
- Plan ahead, discuss with your family
- Have a meal plan for the next week
- Increase your vegetable portions and cut down on fruits, salty snacks and fried foods
- Always ensure you have all the material needed to cook for the next weeks meal
- Drink plenty of water and aim for 2-3 litres per day
- Go for a brisk walk, if you can every day
- Ensure you do not skip meal before dawn (Suhur)
If you’re already on a weight loss plan & have been losing weight before Ramadan then do not worry, continue with your plan of healthy eating. However if you are on a fad diet, which does not prescribe to a balanced diet, please switch to a balanced diet. Please click here for some healthy options.
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 on losing weight this Ramadan, understand and perceive the deeper meaning of Ramadan.
For a weight loss menu, which could be followed during the month of Ramadan, please click here.