A guide to a healthy Ramadan and fasting

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Some of our community members have to navigate religious and cultural holidays during the year so I asked a registered dietician friend of mine Kelly Scholtz to write something for us on the topic of a brief Ramadan survival guide. We have also included a bit at the bottom about the benefits of Intermittent Fasting in general that ANYONE can benefit from regardless of your religion.


 

Ramadan can seem daunting when you have been trying to make positive lifestyle changes. It is tempting to let go of your goals for a few weeks just because you do not see a way to continue your healthy eating and training regime while you are fasting all day. There are ways that you can make this time a continuation of your lifestyle change. See it as a challenge and focus on what you can do, rather than what seems impossible to sustain.

There is some excitement when you begin fasting and you see that you have lost weight in the first day or two. Unfortunately, that is usually just dehydration and many people find that they end up gaining some weight longer term during Ramadan. This is likely because it is very easy to overeat at night after a long day of fasting. Eating a very large meal – which is seen as quite normal during Ramadan – can cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, followed by an insulin spike. Insulin is the hormone our bodies release that allows us to take up the sugar from our blood to use as fuel. If there is an excess of fuel, the insulin helps us to store it as fat.

The best way to avoid this kind of insulin spike is to try and distribute your meals a bit better during the hours when you can eat.

  • Wake up and have a decent breakfast that includes plenty of protein and some fat – an omelette for example – and some carbs e.g. from one or two pieces of fruit.
  • Also make sure you drink at least 2 or 3 cups of water or caffeine-free herbal tea before sunrise.
  • When you break your fast, it is fine to have a small amount of traditional food, e.g. dates. Keep it to no more than a closed handful. Try to drink some fluid then as well.
  • Later, have a moderate and balanced dinner. There is no need to cram all your daily allowance of food into one or two meals. Just make sure you are getting enough protein and vegetables and a little of fat and carbs e.g. chicken or fish with a cup of cooked vegetables, some olive oil or avocado and up to 1 cup of sweet potato. Otherwise eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Sip on 3-4 cups of water or caffeine-free herbal tea during the evening.
  • Plan one more snack or mini meal about 2-3 hours after your main meal and before bed e.g. a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts or a smoothie made with some berries and coconut milk.
  • Avoid eating desserts and junk foods. These foods are often served in abundance during Ramadan. Allow yourself a treat once or twice a week, but keep focused during the week and eat good, real food as much as possible.

It is not ideal to train when you are dehydrated – your performance and recovery will not be optimal. Instead of training in the afternoon on the day of a fast, try to train in the very early morning before breakfast, or as soon after breakfast as possible, or during the evening when you can eat and drink around that training.

Kelly Schreuder, Registered Dietician


 

According to Authority Nutrition, Intermittent Fasting (IF) is one of the world’s most popular recent health trends that involves cycles or periods of fasting and eating – quite a lot like what is practiced during Ramadan although it is not done for religious reasons and can follow different time-frames.

Studies show that IF can be rather beneficial to some, causing weight loss, improved metabolic health, protecting against disease and event perhaps help you live longer (1, 2).

Despite it’s seemingly “faddish” style of hype and widespread testimony, humans have actually been fasting for thousands of years. Sometimes it was done out of necessity when there simply wasn’t any food available, and in other instances it was done for religious reasons. There is nothing “unnatural” about fasting, and our bodies are generally very well equipped to handle extended periods of not eating (although you should always monitor your vitals very closely and if you suffer from any existing medical conditions then first consult with your doctor).

Humans and other animals also often instinctively fast when sick.

Why might one want to intentionally fast for non-religious reasons?

  • All sorts of processes in the body change when we don’t eat for a while, in order to allow our bodies to thrive during a period of famine. It has to do with hormones, genes and important cellular repair processes (3).
  • When fasted, we get significant reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as a drastic increase in human growth hormone (4, 5).
  • Many people do intermittent fasting in order to lose weight, as it is a very simple and effective way to restrict calories and burn fat (6, 7, 8).
  • Others do it for the metabolic health benefits, as it can improve various different risk factors and health markers (9).
  • There is also some evidence that intermittent fasting can help you live longer. Studies in rodents show that it can extend lifespan as effectively as calorie restriction (10, 11).
  • Some research also suggests that it can help protect against diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and others (12, 13).
  • Other people simply like the convenience of intermittent fasting.
  • It is an effective “life hack” that makes your life simpler, while improving your health at the same time. The fewer meals you need to plan for, the simpler your life will be.

Not having to eat 3-4+ times per day (with the preparation and cleaning involved) also saves time. A lot of it.

If you wish to explore the topic of Intermittent Fasting further, Precision Nutrition have written a great deal about it’s benefits, drawbacks, and the other various intricacies of what makes it successful or not so much for different people.


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