There is no doubt that Ramadan is a month of cleansing for both the mind and body but, with the availability of rich, delicious food, coupled with lavish Iftars thrown by the hospitality industry, it can also become a month of over-indulgence.
Unfortunately, this means that despite abstaining from food and drink for the greater part of the day, many people tend to actually gain weight during the month of fasting.
However, to avoid falling into the Ramadan weight trap, we can set ourselves goals and follow basic guidelines to keep our health and wellbeing in check.
Control your calories:Much of the food prepared for Ramadan meals is rich, greasy and filled with calories. The trick is to avoid indulging in calorie-laden dishes and focus on healthy food, along with activities to increase metabolism. We tend to consume more food during Ramadan, but remember, fasting all day does not give you the license to stuff yourself with food, as doing so destroys the health benefits gained through the day.
Traditionally, the fast was broken with just water and dates followed by dinner after the Maghrib (sunset) prayers. Sadly, we do not follow this tradition anymore and head straight for the heavy meal at Iftar.
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Healthy eating in Ramadan
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Some modern-day diets prescribe fasting to detox and cleanse the body, but why follow a fad when you are already doing this for a month every year? In the past, fasting was practised to give the body some respite and allow it to remove toxins and other impurities that are the result of unhealthy, excessive eating of processed rather than organic foods.
Think of Ramadan as the perfect time to detox and combine fasting with healthy eating to achieve weight loss, while simultaneously cleaning the digestive system.
When our bodies sense a lack of food, we burn existing fat to make energy, resulting in weight loss. But you must be careful to avoid reaching a stage where the body starts breaking down muscle protein for energy. When glucose - which is normally stored in the liver and muscles - runs out, fat is the next source for energy.
This is why a healthy Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) is essential. It is better to eat fresh, wholesome food, as well as slow-releasing foods such as oats that make you feel full for the majority of the day.
Do light exercises:
It is well known that light exercises while fasting can help us further reduce toxins stored in the body. Also, when we exercise, higher levels of endorphins are released, making us feel good and mentally alert. Doing light exercises or yoga before Iftar can help calm us both physically and spiritually, keeping our mind off food.
Get enough sleep:
Balancing meals in terms of protein and carbohydrates, and eating fresh, wholesome food is important – but sleep will help your body just as much, so you don’t feel dull and fatigued all day. Tiredness makes you feel low overall and, quite often, we then find ourselves indulging in greasy, sugary food at the end of the fasting day as compensation. Such sluggishness is less to do with the fasting itself, and more to do with the lack of sleep.
Ramadan is an excellent opportunity to shed some extra pounds as you are already resetting your metabolic system. Make resolutions with set deadlines and monitor your progress through the month to avoid putting on weight. For example, you may choose to limit the number of lavish Iftar buffets you attend this year. If you must go, try to fill up on salads instead of richer fare. Remember that breaking your fast with a feast will make you gain weight instead of losing it.
Avoid binge-eating all night:
While Ramadan social gatherings are fun, it is easy to end up eating late into the night - or sometimes into the early hours of the morning - which undoubtedly expands our waistlines. The energy stored from late-night eating is not expended, as you go to bed soon after. Falling asleep with a full stomach also slows down your metabolic rate, making you feel sluggish the next day. All your hard work during the day to give the stomach a rest from food will be wasted.
Prepare grocery lists:
If you are responsible for preparing the Iftar meal in your home, prepare a list of what food you need and don’t splurge on lots of processed foods, full of sugar or grease. Stock up on fresh and healthy foods, including a variety of vegetables, lean meats and fruits.
Get a Ramadan buddy:
If you are serious about losing weight in Ramadan, it may be easier to achieve your goals by sharing them with people you see every day. Your family and friends will be more supportive if they know your goals and may have similar weight loss aspirations – or at least be there to keep you on track.
Monitor weight every few days:
If done correctly, fasting can be the ticket to great health, a fabulous body and mental wellbeing. Establishing a plan to monitor your food intake, the portions you eat, the time you eat and your weight will motivate you further.
Without planning ahead, you may find yourself focusing on your weight instead of your spiritual goals. The trick is to start making healthy eating a part of your life from now, and to keep the same discipline throughout the fasting period. It is all about self-discipline... which, after all, is the underlying message behind Ramadan.