Since becoming Muslim 20 years ago, the month-long fast of Ramadan has been a challenge for me.
While I could willingly abstain from food and drink all day long for the sake of Allah SWT, controlling what I ate at suhoor and iftaar was difficult.
It was so tempting to binge on unhealthy foods during those few hours when I could eat! Decadent desserts, fried foods, and rich meals seemed like treats that I deserved after a long day of deprivation. I felt justified eating more than my body actually needed to replenish its energy.
If I gained weight during Ramadan, I certainly wasn’t alone! According to an article in the L.A. Times, many Muslims around the world actually get heavier during the month of fasting.
Due to overeating at iftaar time, sleeping much of the day away, and consuming too many fatty or sugary foods, many people actually damage their health throughout the holiest month.
While Ramadan was never meant to be a fad diet or fitness regime — we fast in order to gain taqwa or God-consciousness — it could actually have significant health benefits, if we handle it judiciously.
New Fasting Mindset
This year, for the first time, I am approaching Ramadan with a more appropriate mindset. I have always fasted for the sake of Allah SWT, now my focus has shifted. It’s less on the food at sunset, more on the rewards of self-discipline and the blessings of Ramadan.
Fasting has been much easier and healthier thanks to the wellness regime I’ve been following for the past 10 months. Following the guidelines in the book Bright Line Eating by Susan Peirce Thompson, PhD., I have been nourishing my body with healthy foods in appropriate quantities that make my mental and physical health drastically better.
Thanks to Bright Line Eating (BLE), I have not endured cravings, headaches, extreme fatigue, or moodiness this Ramadan. I feel so much better knowing the foods I eat at suhoor and iftaar are actually benefiting my body. No more foods that encouraging me to be gluttonous in a month that is supposed to be about self-discipline.
Adjusting the guidelines of BLE, I combine three daily meals into two (suhoor and iftaar) during Ramadan. I follow the weight loss guidelines for women and eat measured portions of the following foods:
- Whole grains like oats, rice, shredded wheat, or potato
- Whole fruits (not juice) and/or vegetables
- Protein like eggs, unsweetened yogurt, cottage cheese, or nuts
- Healthy fats like olive oil, butter, avocado
- A huge serving of vegetables, as these are the main components of a Bright lunch and dinner (and I am combining those 2 meals during Ramadan)
- Protein (either meat, like chicken, or plant-based protein, like hummus)
- Healthy fats
Notice that cookies, ice cream, chocolate, potato chips, soda, bread, pasta, pastries, and other “comfort” foods are not listed. Thompson’s book explains how flour and sugar are highly addictive substances to some people.
As addictive, in fact, as cocaine or heroin, and eliminating them completely is necessary to healing. Nowadays, any sweetness I ingest comes from whole fruits (like mashed banana on my oatmeal) or vegetables (many of which taste very sweet once your palate has adjusted to a sugar-free lifestyle).
If this food plan seems too draconian to you, I understand how you feel. There was a time I could not imagine my life without those tempting foods. Not coincidentally, that was also the time in my life that I suffered from many health problems due to being overweight yet undernourished.
If I had to choose between my favorite donuts and a disease-free, vibrant body, I will definitely choose the latter!
Anyone who struggles with their relationship with food (binge eating, emotional eating, overeating, or food addiction) during Ramadan or any time of year would benefit immensely from reading the book Bright Line Eating. It has transformed my life.
If you have started Ramadan off on a not-so-healthy note, please know that there is time to turn things around! Start now and know that caring for your health and making positive lifestyle changes can be a beautiful act of worship.
After all, our body is an amana from Allah, and we need to take care of it! I encourage you to use Ramadan as a springboard to start instilling good habits that will continue for the rest of the year, insha Allah.