In the first instance before you start reading this blog, you need to understand that fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan is not to be intended for weight loss. This Holy Month is intended to be a time for spiritual reflection and increasing devotion. However, if you follow the recommendations provided you will not only benefit spiritually but also improve your physical and mental health.
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.
Who can and cannot fast during Ramadan?
Ramadan is recommended for healthy Muslims but exempted for the following groups (The Koran specifically exempts sick people from fasting, Al-Baqarah, 183–185):
- Young Children
- Pregnant or nursing mothers
- Menstruating women
- People with chronic illness (e.g. diabetes, heart disease)
- Any acute illness
For missed fasting days, one could make up these days by fasting at a later date. In cases where an individual is unable to fast at all, a religious donation of food or money (known as Fidyah) is made to the needy.
If you have diabetes and you are planning on fasting click here to learn more about Ramadan and diabetes.
Iftar and Sehri (Suhoor)
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 dawn. Two meals per day is recommended, that is at Sehri (before dawn) and Iftar (after sunset). If you are in doubt, please consult your local Imam.
The month of Ramadan makes you a better and stronger person physically and spiritually. This month could also be used to improve your health by developing better habits. People who are overweight or obese will benefit from following the advice. You not only eat healthily but begin to have greater control over your hunger. 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 salty and fried food (e.g. pakoras, samosas, kebabs etc.), 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. The amount of calories taken in during the short period between sunset and dawn is often exceeds what you would normally consume in a whole day. The fasting body will naturally crave foods high in energy to keep it satiated.
Sehri or Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal, referring to the meal consumed early in the morning before fasting. If the day are long and the Iftar was just a few hours ago it is always difficult to have a pre-dawn meal.
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.
Why is fasting difficult during the first few days of Ramadan?
It is 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 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 from 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 for food at sunset.
In Ramadan, some families have iftar, which tends to be quite large and feasting continues through out 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.
What foods items to be avoided during Ramadan?
Avoiding the following during Ramadan, will ensure you continue to have a healthy meal and will also ensure you do not end up consuming too many calories.
- Processed food
- Sugary drinks like fruit juice. It is better to consume whole fruits as you take in fibre which helps you stay full for longer.
- 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
Why people prefer fried food during Ramadan?
People prefer fried food during the month of Ramadan, more so in countries where the fasting duration is prolonged and if Ramadan falls during a cold season. For example in the UK, fasting can last for nearly 18 hours and it can be cold even in Summer months.
Fried food is energy dense, which means there are more calories for the same portion of food. One gram of carbohydrate or protein provides 4 calories, whereas one gram of fat provides 9 calories. Fried food contains more oil, which may be either vegetable oil or from animal fat. Fried food not only provides more calories but also slows digestion and makes you feel full for a longer duration. Hence when fasting people tend to prefer deep fried food items.
Balanced meals during Ramadan
If possible stick to the rule of 50/25/25: Your plate should have 50% vegetables, 25 % starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice, roti, naan etc. and the rest of 25% should be proteins, which could be lentils, chicken, beans etc. Always start with your vegetables, move onto the proteins next and finally end with the starchy food. Try to slow down your eating slightly and you may even find yourself having to leave a mouthful of food behind!
Restrain from having fruit juices, sugary coke and too much of caffeine. Fruit juice quickly adds to the sugar you consume. 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 during the first two weeks, particularly if the night is short or if you happen to be working during the day. Inadequate sleep time can alter your hunger pattern and result in weight gain.
Exercise during Ramadan
Discontinuing exercise can spoil your routine and lead to muscle loss over the one month period. 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, in the country you live in. For sustained weight loss increasing your muscle bulk is crucial.
Points to remember for successful weight loss during Ramadan:
- Plan ahead, discuss with your family on preparing healthy Iftar meals
- Have a meal plan for the next week (ideally a shared meal plan)
- Increase your vegetable portions and cut down on fruits, salty snacks and fried foods
- Always ensure you have all the materials needed to cook for the next week’s meal
- Drink plenty of water and aim for 2-3 litres per day
- Go for a brisk walk (daily, if you can)
- Ensure you do not skip the pre-dawn meal (Suhoor)
If you’re already on a weight loss plan & have been losing weight before Ramadan then do not worry and simply continue with your plan of healthy eating. However if you are on a fad diet, which does not prescribe to a balanced meal, please switch to a balanced meal plan.
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.
Can you regain weight after Ramadan?
Yes, the chance of regaining weight after Ramadan is high. But do not blame yourself if this happens. During the holy month, your routine of sleeping and eating is different and your body starts to get accustomed to fasting long hours. People who do follow the rules strictly and continue to have a healthy meal do lose some weight. However, there are changes within your body including hormonal changes which are likely to alter your hunger and metabolism.
Research has shown that when you lose weight, the hormone ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels in the body is high and can remain elevated for up to one year after weight loss. Once you stop fasting and are not bound by any rules, ghrelin will gradually increase your hunger and you find that you start to consume more food and thereby gain weight. You also need to understand that the window period of when you can eat especially when you are awake is also increased, resulting in increased food intake.
Your basal metabolic rate also gets reset as you lose weight. So if start to eat normally after Ramadan you will effectively be consuming more calories than what your body needs, resulting in weight gain.
You can follow our blog for more weight loss articles. We will be covering other Ramadan related topics such as “Healthy Meal Plan during Ramadan”, “Diabetes & Ramadan” and “How to prevent weight regain after Ramadan”.
Also watch our youtube video on “Weight Loss during Ramadan”.
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