How to stay healthy during Ramadan
With long periods of fasting during Ramadan, it can be easy to make the wrong food choices when breaking fast. Banin Shahine has been the resident nutrition expert at Fitness First for over five years. As someone who has fasted most of her life, she is perfectly placed to provide insightful advice and tips on how best to manage the effects that fasting has on our bodies, and to shine some light on the benefits of this controversial diet revelation.
As with anything, preparation is key. Fasting may only last for 30-days, however, considerable thought should go into the days, weeks and months, leading up to Ramadan.
“I first prepare for the caffeine withdrawal. Two weeks before Ramadan begins, I start to prepare my body and delay my morning coffee to the afternoon which reduces the risk of headaches,” says Banin. She advises you should try to fast one day a week in the lead up to Ramadan, increasing this to a couple of days if you can. “That is what I normally do with my kids. We start for half a day and increase the time over the months until we reach a full day. This allows an adjustment period for our bodies and decreases the side effects of fasting.”
Managing Your Eating Habits
“It is all about how you manage your eating habits. If you eat and drink properly between Suhoor and Iftar, you will give your body what it needs in order to cope with fasting,” says Banine.
The right carbohydrates will give you energy; ensure that they are high in water and fibre and low in sugar. Banin suggests making salads and soups, “Carbohydrates does not just mean rice, bread and pasta, add high value carbs to your soups such as sweet potatoes, beets, squash and broccoli or add green leafy vegetables to your salad.
“With an unusual sleeping pattern, fish is the best source of protein as it is light, highly nutritional and full of good fats. If you do, however, want to consume red meat, ensure you are leaving 4-6 hours until you sleep as you may encounter digestive problems if you don’t. Also, don’t obsess about evening sleeping habits, you can sleep during the day, but you cannot eat during the day, so prioritise meal times.” Banin advises splitting the main meal into three or four portions, and steering clear of traditional fried foods and sweets shared at gatherings.
Commenting on the myth about fats being bad for you, she says: “Good fats are not bad, people should understand the value and benefits of fat in the body. Good fats include vegetable oils, raw nuts and avocado, not fried fat or high sugar food.”
Talking about the psychology behind fasting, Banin says: “It is all in your mind. If you convince yourself it is easy, it will be easy and it will go quickly. There will always be ups and downs so you need to know how to manage yourself.”
Banin also reminds those who are fasting not to lose sight of the real reason behind it, “we fast to remind ourselves of how it feels to be hungry. There are a lot of people dying from hunger, they don’t have any access to food and so we have to appreciate what we have.” She says as soon as you remember this, it is far easier to control your cravings and food intake.
- Read more: Health Benefits of Ramadan Fast
Ramadan for many is a period of lower calorie intake and therefore weight-loss. However, for some people, if not managed properly, weight gain can occur immediately after Ramadan. One of the most common habits Banin sees is people indulging in unhealthy food as a reward.
“People think because they have been good for one month they can stop monitoring what they eat and if they do manage to lose any weight, they regain it straight away.”
Banin has clients who continue to fast for two to three days over a period of a couple of weeks to help them to adjust, as it is an effective way to keep the weight off. She advises that if you do go straight back to three meals a day, to try having smaller portions, not pre-Ramadan size.
One of the most common questions Banin gets asked is how to stay fit during Ramadan. The hard truth of the matter is that you can lose that great body in a month if you do nothing, “You need to exercise your muscles in order to feed them. I have people training early morning and late at night, they finish work, they pray, have their meal and then work out. Some of our clubs are open until 1am and the majority extend their operational hours during the holy month so there’s no excuse.”
Hydration is possibly the most critical thing during Ramadan. Drinking enough water is vital, particularly as Ramadan is now falling in the hotter months of the year. “If you eat too much you are not drinking enough water. Your body needs two to three cups of water at any one time, if you drink in excess, water will turn to urine and not be absorbed. People have problems with digestion and constipation whilst fasting and it is because of dehydration.”
The question Banin finds herself getting asked the most is just how much water does your body need? “Multiply your body weight (Kg) by (0.03×1.4), the number you are left with is in litres what your body needs.”
- Read more: Tips to Stay Hydrated During Summer
Is fasting good for you?
Fasting has recently become a popular diet trend and one that has caused much debate over how many meals you should be eating a day. Banin says, “Fasting has beneficial effects on our blood sugar levels and also on your emotional connection with food. People are becoming very emotionally attached to food and it’s important to remember that we are not living to eat, we need food to live only.”
“Fasting has to be done in the right way. I would never advise to fast for days at a time but for 12-18 hours at a time. If you can control your cravings then great, but if you fast and then reward yourself with unhealthy food it’s not good for you.”
Aside from the people who fast for the health benefits, Banin has respect for those (non-muslims) who try to fast over Ramadan to understand the process. “You can try and if you don’t feel comfortable, tired or sick you can break it. This goes for anyone on medication too, remember that you can break it.”
Ultimately life is all about balance she says, “have the right balance between nutrition and fitness and you’ll have the best results.”