Jerusalem24 – As Muslim families everywhere are about to tuck in to their fifth iftar this Ramadan, Ramallah-based nutritionist Zaina Barghouti has some advice on how to adapt to the shifting eating and sleeping patterns that affect those who choose to fast.
During the holy month, we stay up late, nap in daylight, and eat only two meals – iftar (sunset breakfast) and suhoor (the last meal before dawn). So how can we help our bodies cope?
“It’s normal for sleeping and eating routines to get disturbed during Ramadan,” Zaina tells Jerusalem24. “The types of food that are actually being eaten during Ramadan also affect our sleep quality.”
Gathering with family and staying out late, before waking up from a quick nap to eat suhoor, and then sleeping half the day, are typical Ramadan habits which affect our energy levels and productivity.
Zaina encourages everyone to implement and maintain a sleep routine prior to Ramadan, making it a habit to go to bed earlier long before the fasting even begins.
Quality and Quantity
Muslims only partake in two daily meals throughout Ramadan, and both of them are very important, says Zaina.
First and foremost, never skip suhoor!
“Suhoor is a very important meal, to cover the nutrients that he or she needs to get,” she says. “It’s also considered an early breakfast.”
We should focus on both the quality and the quantity of our chosen meals, to make sure we consume the necessary amount of nutrients as well as balance nutritional values. “Break your fast with water and a date, as we should include fibers in our iftar,” she adds.
Tipping the scales
Some people tend to lose weight during Ramadan while others find they will typically gain a few pounds. Zaina says this primarily depends on factors such as our sleep routine, the type of food we eat, and also the activities we may or may not maintain while we fast.
While some see Ramadan as an opportunity to cut fats and carbs and even lose weight, “many people tend to eat a lot of sweets and fast food – night eating,” Zaina explains. “Many people stay up late for so long, and whenever we stay up late our appetite is stimulated.”
On this year’s calendar, nearly 16 hours go by between sunrise and sunset. Such a long fast saps a lot of our energy and many people are less – or not at all! – active during the holy month.
Moreover, many families treat iftar as a feast. While the tradition provides an important moment of family bonding, we should still keep an eye on what goes onto our plates.
“The most important thing is to consider iftar a [normal] meal,” she emphasizes. “Many people consider iftar a huge meal and they overindulge, and overeat.”
And for those who nevertheless plan on lavishly partaking in the best of festive Palestinian cuisine, Zaina points out that finding the time to work out will not only help keep you healthy while you fast, but also help to keep your energy levels up, your mind clear and your metabolism stable.
And just when should you schedule your daily work out? It depends on the type of exercise and on the person, Zaina says. Cardio training in particular is best before breaking your fast. If you plan on exercising afterwards, you should wait at least two hours after iftar, Zaina recommends.
To fast or not to fast?
Fasting from dawn until dusk for 28 consecutive days, while no small feat for anyone, can be particularly challenging for those suffering from chronic conditions.
Zaina says anyone in this position should consult with their doctor or nutritionist. While certain people may partake in fasting while bearing in mind the type of nutrition they should include in their daily meals, others may not be eligible to fast at all.
“It’s very important to consult the doctor,” Zaina stresses.
And Zaina points out that people with eating disorders run a particular risk of putting an additional strain on their mental health and exacerbating their condition.
“Sometimes, [fasting] may not be the safest option.”
Listen to the full interview on Vibes.