*Words by Cynthia Bou Khalil, Nutritional Consultant and Clinical Manager Excellence
Ramadan, a period dedicated to spirituality, self-reflection and spending time with loved ones, no doubt affects people’s daily lives, especially those who fast. Given that Ramadan is a month dedicated to abstaining from food, the general perception remains that the people fasting will lose weight. However, in a survey conducted by Nutrition Journal, wherein a total of 153 families were interviewed, it was concluded that 59.5% of people noticed an increase in their weight during the holy month. The unsolicited weight that we gain during the holy month can leave us scratching our heads (and bellies) in confusion. However, the weight is a result of several factors, the most common being overindulgence during Suhoor and Iftar.
Whilst consuming copious amounts of junk food will definitely have an impact on one’s weight, even some of the healthiest people who make conscious efforts to avoid eating unhealthily, or even exercise frequently, find themselves gaining some inches. Why is that you ask? Well, the simple answer is often portion control. On regular days, when we are not fasting, we sometimes find ourselves consciously and unconsciously giving into cravings or adding a little extra onto our plate, so it is understandable as to why the temptation to indulge after a full day of fasting could be at an all-time high. And this often leads to people consuming more food than what the body requires or can handle at once, resulting in unwelcome weight gain, and in some cases, other medical complications.
Whether you are a full health junkie, snacking on celery sticks, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables or your vices are donuts, chocolates and a multitude of sweet and savoury treats, if not consumed in moderation, you can do your body more harm than good. This is why it is important that people pay attention to what they eat and how much, and understand when to stop. However, that’s easier said than done and requires education, discipline, and often, the support of a professional.
I have dedicated much of my career as a nutritionist to reviewing and finding solutions for those looking to not only lead a healthier lifestyle long term but to those who are struggling to lose stubborn weight that just never seems to shift, despite their best efforts. And along this journey, it always comes back to portion control and that horrible feeling of never feeling full. To tackle this I joined forces with Allurion, the world’s first and only weight loss device that requires no surgery, endoscopy, or anaesthesia, to provide patients with the chance to take a break from dieting and the feeling of hunger associated. Along with this rest bite, continues a holistic approach where I ensure patients are fully supported on their journey to being the healthiest version of themselves for the long term.
With this in mind, the holy month of Ramadan can provide a unique opportunity to reconnect with our bodies, as well as our minds and our faith. When followed mindfully, fasting can create many lasting health benefits and a natural detox. To make sure that this Ramadan and beyond, your body thanks you, here are some of my simple guidelines, through which you will be able to also lose weight and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check.
Proper nutrition: This is one of the key aspects of maintaining a fully functioning body and fasting during the month of Ramadan should not be an exception. During Ramadan, your metabolism is ultimately trying to adapt to the sudden change in diet and sleep schedule, so you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle, to ensure you are meeting your body’s nutrient requirements. The first step to maintaining proper nutrition is to not skip Suhoor. One must consume a wholesome meal during Suhoor to provide the body with energy to carry on with the rest of the day without severe exhaustion. Remember to account for any pre-existing health problems, as this will affect the adjustments you make.
Planning and developing good habits: Planning and developing some good habits ahead of time can have a positive effect on your routine and wellbeing throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is also important to set realistic goals, as opposed to radically changing your lifestyle, so you can continue this once Ramadan is over. If you are looking to lose weight, you must always look at it through a 360-degree spectrum, using a holistic approach. This means a combination of science and good health care support. In fact, at Allurion, we firmly believe that no process to lose weight is a magic bullet and this belief is what led to the Elipse Program, by Allurion which is a 16-week balloon placement coupled with a lifestyle modification program that focuses on diet and exercise, resulting in more weight loss than diet or exercise alone.
Breaking your fast: A full stomach causes one to feel weak, lazy and drowsy. To avoid overloading the body with fats and salts, start with a glass of water or two to three dates as it has a high fiber content. Fruits and vegetables are also very rich in fibre and must be included in your meal, but of course, in moderation. When consumed slowly, they help create a feeling of fullness whilst also aiding digestion.
Stay hydrated: Drinking water frequently is essential, when not fasting. As reported in a study published on Nutrition Bulletin based on hydration and health, it is shown that even 1% dehydration (loss of fluid by 1% of your body weight) has a negative effect on psychological and physical functions, causing headaches, fatigue, and lack of concentration. Higher temperatures which we are all too familiar with in the region can also cause dehydration, so you want to give preference to more hydrating foods during Ramadan but as usual, in adequate portions.
Granted, our lifestyle patterns are affected by numerous factors, whether or not it is the month of fasting. Therefore, the approach to proper eating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle should remain the same all year round. When it comes to diet, your food should be balanced and varied. And for those who are looking to lose weight, Ramadan can be a great period to get on the health wagon.