By Ameera Chowdhury
Ramadan is an important month for Muslims. Every day, from dawn till dusk, it is obligatory for healthy and able adults to refrain from eating and drinking. The aim is to become closer to Allah (God), feel what the less fortunate feel and to practise religion more actively.
Due to the Islamic lunar calendar, the month doesn’t occur at the same time every year. When Ramadan occurs during the summer months – where the daylight hours are a lot longer than they are in winter – of course, the fast is a lot longer and more difficult to cope with. Although the intention should be religious and not health related, health should still be kept in mind.
Here are six snippets of advice:
Save time to digest
Waking up before dawn and topping up with food before the start of the fasting day (called Sehri or Suhoor) can be a struggle. The rushed food consumption in order to hurry back to bed is not ideal and can give rise to abdominal pains. Try to finish eating about an hour before you return to sleep to allow the body plenty of time for digestion.
Be productive during the day
When fasting, the body will have a presence of increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, due to the prolonged periods of an unfilled stomach. This is a physiological trigger that can’t be avoided. However, keeping yourself occupied throughout the day is a great way to forget about the hungry feeling.
Don’t forget physical activity
A difficulty often experienced during the month is finding a good time to exercise without risking dehydration. With the combination of an empty stomach and a warm summer’s day, it’s best to put off your physical activity until near the end of the day. Perhaps carry out light exercise such as a slow walk just before breaking the fast. This way, you’ll be able to restock soon after.
When the sun sets and it’s time to break the fast (called iftar), food can often be swallowed at a very fast rate. You’re aiming to eat a full day’s worth of food within a few hours (which is tough), so make sure to take your time and use the whole evening rather than eating everything in one sitting. In the book Be Good To Your Gut (Piatkus, £20), Eve Kalinik recommends chewing 30 times per bite whenever you eat!
Keep to a healthy diet
The food you eat is just as significant as the timing. Continue with a balanced diet as you would normally, including plenty of variety. You’ll need carbohydrates – which break down into glucose for energy – plus fibre to feel fuller for longer. Also, take care with cooking methods as cultural traditions can often lead to more deep-frying than grilling or baking.
Drink plenty of water and refrain from caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic so causes more water to remain in urine rather than being reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
Make sure you rest
Fasting will cause the body to lack energy, although this will be worse if you aren’t getting enough sleep overnight. Aim to retire for the day as soon as you’ve completed the evening prayer (called Taraweeh) to make up for sleep lost during the pre-dawn meal.