For new Muslims or those who plan on fasting for the first time this Ramadan, the month looms largely. It is a source of hope and excitement.
But for those new to fasting, it can also be a source of anxiety especially when Ramadan falls in a summer month when days are long and hot.
Add to anxieties the fact that a new Muslim may not have the foundations of faith to take spiritual advice on fasting to heart yet. And all this can take the joy right out of Ramadan.
To ease anxieties, new Muslims or those new to fasting can start preparing now before Ramadan even begins. This preparation for the newcomer should include understanding the physical logistics of fasting. And once this foundation is laid the New Muslim can begin to rely on a spiritual strength to succeed in Ramadan.
Getting into Fasting Shape
No one would expect a 95lb person to lift a 200lb weight. But it is not impossible for that person to become strong enough to do so over time.
The same building of strength is true of fasting.
Many born Muslims have been trained throughout their lives to become adapted to fasting. They have been in fasting training. As someone new to fasting you haven’t had this lifetime opportunity. But you do have a couple of months to gear up and practice fasting to get into the swing of things.
Understanding Your Hunger Cycle
As you fast you will feel hungry. This is the nature of the fast and it has its purpose. But you have to understand that hunger pains are cyclical.
During the day hunger pains will come and go. It is easy to resist eating or drinking when you understand that hunger pain doesn’t just build and build and build without easing. If you just have patience, ease will come.
And as you continue this practice day by day, the pains will be less frequent, your stomach will eventually adjust and fasting will become easy.
Know What to Eat and Drink
If you can’t make it the whole day in your pre-Ramadan fasts, that is OK. That’s why you started early to train for the main event. If this is the case and you break your optional fast early, try to take a look at what you are eating before sunrise and after sunset.
If you are stuffing yourself with too much food at these meals, you will stretch your stomach. Being overly full causes more fatigue and sluggishness at the time of the morning and evening meals (and the prayers that coordinate with them). A stretched stomach will also cause more hunger later, making it harder to fast.
If you are eating sweets and foods with not a lot of nutritional value, it will be difficult to sustain your fast. Eat foods with high carbohydrates, protein and fiber content. These foods will keep you fuller for longer and will help you maintain mental clarity and focus throughout the day. Oatmeal, beans or quinoa are fasting musts because they are all nutritional powerhouses.
Even if you do not feel like eating, which might happen as your stomach shrinks, you should try to eat a little at these times to give yourself the strength you need, even if it is just a date.
Don’t forget to hydrate. The body can survive for long periods without food but can only survive 3-5 days without water. Try to steer clear of sodas that contain calories but no nutrition. Water or sports drinks are best.
Know How to Get over the Mental Fog
Physical challenges of fasting are one thing, but you may also experience a mental fog.
What you eat at sahoor and sunset can help with this. But also, when you feel your mental acuity slipping, allow yourself a few moments to space out. Then breathe deeply and move, even if it is just standing up and sitting down. This will allow the oxygen to circulate through your body and invigorate you.
Don’t let this oxygen invigoration go to waste. Introduce yourself to a serious distraction. TV or movies won’t be enough to distract you from your hunger or thirst—especially with the amount of food and drink commercials that come on—and are not beneficial use of your Ramadan time. If you are at work, become obsessed with your work. If you are in school, throw yourself into your studies.
When day to day obligations have been met, become obsessed with learning about Islam. Learn the history of Ramadan. Learn what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them) would do while fasting. Learn Quran. Do something and do it with your entire mind. This will take you away from thoughts of your stomach.
Don’t Be Negative
While you are becoming obsessed, don’t turn to negative thinking. When thoughts do drift away from you, take control and steer them toward the positive. Remind yourself that if it were impossible to fast, Allah would not have required it of us.
Too often we let our own lack of self-confidence affect our outcome. Remind yourself of times when your strength was greater than you imagined. And draw on that strength to stay the course.
Take a Nap
It was the habit of the Prophet and his companions to nap during midday. If you are in the office or school, use your lunch time to close your eyes and rest. It only takes a 15-30 minute nap to feel revived.
Don’t Give up
Don’t let fasting slip-ups set you back. Keep on trying. We all fail, but failure doesn’t mean defeat when Allah is the most merciful.
Even if you are committing some sins in your life, don’t let it hold you back from fasting or any other obligatory acts. The obligatory acts are where we get the strength to leave the sins behind. How will we leave the sins if we leave the obligatory?
Reflect on the Spiritual
Once you have disciplined your body to fast, notice how you feel spiritually when you are in the middle of a fast compared to how you feel when you are stuffed after a meal. You will start to recognize a stark difference between the two states. When our stomachs are full we often feel spiritually numb. And when our spirits are full it becomes easier to ignore the impulses of the body.
We spend most of our lives feeding our bodies and ignoring our souls, especially those of us living in the West. Take this time to reflect on how you feel spiritually.
Reflect on how it feels to rely on Allah and the spiritual strength He has given you. Use this strength to increase in your faith little by little like the 95lb person builds a little muscle at a time to lift heavier and heavier weights.
There is nothing in this world that is sweeter than the taste of faith, a sweetness we get the opportunity to taste during Ramadan.
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)