The month of Ramadan is filled with so many blessings, yet we often fail to reap the benefits to the fullest. In order to make this month effective, we all need to nourish our bodies as well as detoxifying our mind and soul.
It can sometimes be one of the toughest challenges to maintain our general health during this month, seen as we go long hours without food or water in this hot weather and when we break our fast, we have such a small eating window that it becomes hard to fit in time for exercise or working out.
Many of you can relate to the struggle, especially if you have a family to feed. It is often a challenge trying to prepare meals that will satisfy everyone and keep them going throughout the day. Therefore, we have prepared a list of our five top tips on how to have a healthy Ramadan.
1. Stay hydrated:
Time and time again, we hear the same advice: 'stay hydrated', 'drink plenty of water' et cetera, et cetera. Well why is it so important to top up on the fluids? Fasting long hours in this hot summer weather means that the body is deprived of water all day, causing it to retain water. This prevents toxins to be removed from the system, which can impact the functioning of the brain and body. Remember that all organs need plenty of water to function properly and since 75% of the brain is made up of water, it only makes sense to feed it what it needs the most.
The ultimate purpose of Ramadan is to focus on our spirituality, and so the lack of focus as a result of dehydration can make simple tasks such as prayer and reading the Quran very difficult. Even though we can't drink during the day, the water we drink between iftaar and sahoor will keep us hydrated throughout the day.
It can be very tempting to substitute water with other types of fluids such as fruit juices, milkshakes or even worst, soft drinks! It is advisable to simply drink plain water when breaking the fast and the time between sahoor, try to away from any other drinks as they are likely to be high in sugar and will slow down your metabolism.
2. Make the right food choices:
When it comes to food, we can learn from the best example which is that of the sunnah. It is advised to fill 1/3 of the stomach with food, 1/3 with water and leave 1/3 for air. It seems that during Ramadan, this simple rule goes out the window and by and large, the month of fasting becomes the month of feasting. Not only does this defeat the entire purpose of fasting but also is detrimental to health. A recent report has indicated that hundreds of people are admitted to hospitals every year during Ramadan as a result of overeating. Eating too much, too quickly after breaking the fast can cause gastroenteritis, vomiting, diarrhoea, acute stomach pain and indigestion.
Keep in mind that your stomach is in sleep mode and you have to wake it up gradually. The fast should be broken with a few dates and water, and the rest of the meal should follow after the maghrib prayer. We all love to gorge on carbohydrate-rich food and deep fried savories at iftaar. Just the thought of crispy samosa's served with some fresh chutney will make anyone's mouth water! Overindulging in a high-sodium diet will only make you feel thirsty, sleepy and lethargic the next day.
Since we only eat two meals a day, our body loses nutrients a lot quicker, so aim for having more whole grains, fruit, vegetables and plenty of protein which can be found in meat, nuts and dairy products. A healthy balanced diet will help you stay fuller for longer throughout the day.
Another very common mistake is skipping the sahoor meal. Yes, it is hard to get up at this hour, which is why it has many benefits and rewards. Sahoor is regarded as a benefit of the blessings which allows the person fasting to avoid the crankiness or the weakness caused by the fast. Many people eat a late night meal and sleep through till the dawn prayers. This is totally not advisable because it prolongs the fasting period and encourages over-eating at iftaar, causing unhealthy weight gain.
3. Sleep well:
It is inevitable that during Ramadan, your sleep pattern will go through a dramatic change. The disruptive effects of Ramadan on our sleep pattern are well-known to many who observe the month. Short-term spiritual adrenaline alone may help mitigate the effects briefly, but typically it is followed by a crash of fatigue, often at the times we want to be increasing our spiritual efforts the most in the second half of the month.
Ensure you get enough hours in a consolidated block of sleep throughout the night, instead of during the day. It is vital to get exposure to daylight during the day to strengthen your circadian rhythm. The first two points mentioned about eating well and staying hydrated also go hand in hand. A healthy, balanced diet will help you sleep well, where as a heavy meal soon before bed can interrupt sleep. Some recommend a warm glass of milk, as it contains tryptophan, which acts as a natural sleep inducer.
During Ramadan, people often experience chronic insomnia, which means difficulty sleeping for a few nights, followed by a few nights of adequate sleep before the problem returns. Avoiding exposure to artificial light at night, including electronic devices and entertainment can increase your chances of getting a good night asleep.
The sunnah nap taken between Dhuhr and Asr prayer, known as Qaylula, has great benefits on the nervous system and can recharge the whole system, allowing you to go a long way in improving productivity. As Ramadan is about nourishing ourselves spiritually, sleep deprivation can interfere with our brain function which makes it harder to focus on prayers and day to day duties.
4. Keep active:
One of the biggest misconceptions about fasting is the idea that it is acceptable not to take part in any type of physical activity. Many people have trained their minds to believe that engaging in normal day tasks will have a significant toll on their health. It is true that we should avoid any excruciating task as it will make the fast harder for us and Allah only wants ease for us. However, fasting is not an excuse to refuse doing everyday tasks.
Remaining active all day by doing simple chores around the house or just fulfilling the everyday duties will keep you distracted from thinking about food and will also increase your metabolism. An entire month of inactivity can give you significant setbacks with regards to cardiovascular and resistance adaptations.
It is imperative to maintain an exercise routine throughout the month. The best time to work out is between iftaar and sahoor, as this allows you to drink water in between to stay hydrated. Even a 15-minute session of burst training will help keep the body active throughout the month. Sitting straight after your iftaar meal will slow down the process of digestion which can cause bloating and heartburn. Therefore, engaging in simple physical activity such as a short brisk walk will speed up the process and allow room for you sahoor meal.
5. Manage stress:
Ramadan is not only a period of fasting and spiritual growth, but also an underutilized opportunity to ring in a holistic lifestyle that could allow us to reap lasting spiritual and health benefits if consistently practiced throughout the year.
Just as important as it is to practice and instill virtues characteristics such patience and anger management, we can take take this month as an opportunity to understand how stress can affect our health and therefore, learn how to minimise it. Maintaining our emotional health and well-being is vital for our self-esteem, positivity, resilience and contentment.
While stress may be necessary for human survival, the excess of it certainly affects our health and productivity. By deeply connecting with ourselves and realising our life purpose, we can fully achieve our potential and thrive as successful Muslim women.