It’s that time of the year again – Ramadan – and while we realize it might not mean much change for people of other (or no) faiths, for Muslims (like us) it means waking up way earlier than we’re used to for Sehri – basically super early breakfast. This year here in Islamabad we’re waking up at around 3 am. Sehri is made precious by the simple fact that, that’s all we get to eat or drink until sundown (Iftar). Silly Muslims, you may be thinking. What’s the point of starving yourselves?
Well we don’t have answers to everything and that’s not what this blog post is about so we won’t dilly dally on it. We can tell you one thing though – you never appreciate food more than when you have to abstain from eating it. We’re so used to our six-figure salaries and the Civics our daddy’s paid for that for many people we know, fasting seems near impossible.
“Oh my God. I’m dying. I’m so hungry.“
Correction: You’re very much alive. You’re just learning something the world is in dire need of – self control!
Rest assured, that self-control is quickly dashed to pieces at sundown. Here in Pakistan, we pile our plates high with fatty fried foods, and drink sweetened refreshers like Rooh Afza, so much so that it’s a well known joke that Muslims end up fatter after Ramadan than they were before it. This post is aimed at those who wish to change that stereotype and use the month of worship to shed a few extra pounds.
So here is our guide to a healthy eating all this Ramadan and for those not fasting otherwise, these ideas are bound to keep healthy and running, so don’t lose interest and keep reading !
Eating to Your Fullest Vs Starving
Our body acts very intelligently to all the eating habit changes it undergoes, thus in turn altering certain aspects of metabolism. If we eat throughout the day our body takes most of the food and stores it as energy in form of fat cells, muscle fibers and glycogen molecules. All of this is done through insulin, so this very hormone will tell our body that it is full and thus it must store some energy.
So question arises what happens when we are fasting or have not taken food in a while, our body begins to break down and use its stored energy. It begins by first breaking down glycogen, then protein and then fat (although at many times these three might break down at same time to varying degrees). A hormone called Glucagon, makes this happen and works completely opposite to insulin. Thus in result the Glucagon increases the energy of our body in form of blood sugar.
I Eat So Less But Why Is There Not Any Weight Loss During Ramadan?
When we are fasting we now know that we are actually in a starving state, and our body is busy breaking down the stored energy. It might seem logical that we must be losing weight, but normally this is not the case. As we have already told you before that our bodies are rather intelligent, they know we are not eating as much we normally do, thus it breaks down the stored energy very slowly (apparently in survival mode).
The stored energy is utilized slowly in this ‘survival mode’ which compensates for our starvation throughout the day. Finally when we eat and break our fast our body re-stores all the energy we consumed. Thus we generally do not lose too much weight in Ramadan, and in many instances, actually end up gaining it.
Fasting Leaves Us Tired Why ?
As we are fasting our blood sugar level keeps on dropping as it is being depleted by continuous consumption by the body, at the same time it is not being replaced as our body is not receiving any sugar back from any kind of food. So our brain comes in aid of our body and tells us to relax so that we don’t continue using up the little sugar and energy that remains in our blood. This cause us to feel tired.
Now you must be thinking what about using up the stored fat? Well that process is also slowed down to keep our body running in survival mode.
Why Do I Get Mood Swings and Dizzy When I Fast?
The brain’s main source of energy is Glucose, the body’s form of sugar. So when the blood sugar starts dropping and reaches near 65 or below (varies from person to person), our brain begins to react differently, resulting in mood swings and causing us to make thoughtless and irrational decisions.
A fasting person may perform relatively poor in exams or any mind intense activity or may even find it hard to make some split second decision. This all happens because of that fact that the brain of a fasting person is deprived of the food it used to get to perform at its optimal level. Depending upon the metabolism of a person, one can also feel dizzy, dull and weak while fasting.
Oh Dear ! So How Do I Stay Healthy ?
As opposed to general belief in the west, fasting actually is something majority of us can handle and very beneficial for our body if done correctly. It gives our bodies some rest and take a break from constantly digesting and working. Many studies have even shown that a controlled calorie intake decreases the chance of cancer and tissue damage, as well increase our life span. However some steps must be taken for this to work out well.
Food eaten during the break in the fast is important to keep energy and hydration levels up during the fasting hours. Complex carbohydrates are foods that will help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting. Some of the most common carboydrate-rich foods include barley, wheat, dates, oats, bananas, pasta, muffins, apples, millets, corn, beans, lentils, chocolate milk, cakes, potato, carrot, wholemeal flour, cookies, chocolates, pastries and basmati rice.
Fibre-rich foods also come into the category of slowly digested food. Some common fibre-rich food include broccoli, Apple(with skin), strawberries, bananas, bran, cereals, whole wheat spaghetti, whole wheat, grains, savoy cabbage, baked beans and seeds, potatoes and various fruits, vegetables and whole plant foods.
Foods to avoid are the heavily-processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar, white flour, etc., as well as, of course, too much fatty food, such as meat, poultry, fish, white rice, fried foods, caffeine, tea, cold drinks, milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc.
Do not forget to hydrate yourself properly as one the most common problems people face while fasting is dehydration.