In the UK this year, the fasting day is longer than it’s been for over 30 years. At the moment, Muslims in Birmingham are eating their last meal at around 2.50am before fasting for over 18 hours.
Our Health Trainers have put together some advice to address the most common issues around fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Hydration is an issue during any Ramadan but particularly in the summertime. Fasting hours are longer and, if it’s warm, your body will lose more fluids through perspiration.
Our advice is to drink plenty of fluids when you can, and to try and avoid caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee. When it’s particularly warm, try and avoid staying out in the sun or doing activities that will make you hot.
Health Trainer Usman Ahmed says, “Drink plenty, even if you don’t feel like it. When you’re eating a big meal first thing in the morning, or when your fast opens in the evening, you may feel too full to drink water, but you really must. You lose water throughout the day anyway, but you lose even more when it’s warm.”
It’s easy to binge when you finally eat after a day of fasting, but try and take it easy.
Usman says, “When the fast opens, that’s when all the nice foods come out – the rich, oily foods like kebabs and samosas. Try and limit these and pace yourself so that you can enjoy your main meal later on. It’s also worth mentioning that you can cook things like samosas and kebabs in a healthier way: by oven cooking instead of deep frying.”
Conserve your energy
Usman’s advice is to make the early morning meal work for you. “Try and eat starchier foods, rather than sugars. Things like beans, eggs, porridge and whole grains will break down more slowly, and release energy throughout the day, making you feel fuller for longer.”
If you are ill, or pregnant: don’t fast
If you find that you are vomiting, or you start feeling dizzy during the day and realise you’re not going to make it to the ‘finish line’, it’s OK to break your fast. If you urgently need to rehydrate, you should do so, rather than risking long term health problems.
Many people with long term illnesses are exempt from fasting. Birmingham City Council published some advice for people with diabetes, urging them not to put their health at risk by unnecessarily fasting during the month of Ramadan.
And for pregnant women, there is advice from NHS Choices:
There’s medical evidence to show that fasting in pregnancy is not a good idea. If a pregnant woman feels strong and healthy enough to fast, especially during the early part of the pregnancy, she may do so. If she doesn’t feel well enough to fast, Islamic law gives her clear permission not to fast, and to make up the missed fasts later. If she is unable to do this, she must perform fidyah (a method of compensation for a missed act of worship).
Usman says, “Fasting isn’t really about food. It’s about self control, empathy and helping others through charity. It’s a very spiritual time.
“For most Muslims, the thought of why you’re fasting, and the reward for doing so, is worth a few side-effects. The longer the hours, the more satisfying and rewarding it is to break your fast at the end of the day.
“When my fast opens, just after 9.30 each evening, it’s the best feeling ever. I feel grateful for what I have and I’m very conscious of those around the world who don’t have any choice but to go without.”
…can benefit your health
Ramadan is about self-discipline and self-control, so many people like to use it as an opportunity to challenge unhealthy habits. Eating and living mindfully is a good grounding for better health.
Usman says, “This is a good time to start thinking about new lifestyle habits. You become very aware of what you’d normally be putting into your body.”
Don’t assume you’ll lose weight during your fast, but do try and stay healthy by sticking with a balanced diet and normal sized portions. And if you smoke, now is a good time to cut down; ask your doctor or Health Trainer for advice about giving up smoking.