Fasting the right way can help to improve your well-being. Often that fasting is seen as an opportunity to lose weight, if done correctly. If you are not careful however, self-restraint will be compensated with binge eating, and subsequently unnecessary weight gain.
After a prolonged period of fasting, energy stores in your body will start to be utilised after your gut has completely absorb all nutrients from the food you last took. Normally, the glucose storage in the liver and muscles will be used up first because glucose is our body’s main source of energy. Once this storage is depleted, then fat become the next source of energy. Over time, with repetition, this fat storage will be used up more frequently and eventually, will be reduced. This is how fasting helps in losing weight. Any longer however, the body will begin to use protein as energy, which is unhealthy because that would eat up the muscles. This is the sort of weight loss that we would want to avoid as it makes you weaker.
A weight loss of 5-10% from usual body weight for those who are overweight has shown to be beneficial in diabetes control, reducing blood cholesterol level, and even to reduce blood pressure. Fasting also allows for detoxification, and this will reflect on an improved mental health.
The guide to healthy fasting should not differ much from healthy eating beyond the fasting month. The same rules apply: a healthy balanced diet. Your diet during the fasting month should be the same as that of your normal days. It should follow the food pyramid; containing all the food groups:
- Rice, bread, cereals and starchy food
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat, fish, egg, and soy
- Milk and dairy products
- Food containing fat and sugar
One healthy way to cope with fasting is to incorporate more complex carbohydrates in your diet. Complex carbohydrate release energy at a slower rate. This helps you to sustain longer throughout the day. Moreover, a slower release of energy ensures a slow and steady release of glucose into your body, which is proven to be beneficial for diabetics. Examples of complex carbohydrates are brown rice, basmati rice, oat, wheat, barley, whole meal flour, and lentils. Complex carbohydrate is also a good source of dietary fibre.
Fruits and vegetables too are rich in dietary fibre. Fibre is useful for an effective digestive system, but more importantly, they provide the bulk to make you feel full after meals. Simple carbohydrates are easily digested and absorbed almost immediately. This will make you feel hungry fast. By adding dietary fibre to your meal, nutrients will be absorbed slower and satiety will last longer. The addition of fruits and vegetable will also provide for vitamins and minerals.
Heavily processed food that contains refined carbohydrates, or sugar, should be avoided because they would burn faster. This is why one would feel hungry much faster after taking instant noodle as opposed to when they eat a small bowl of oat. Fatty food should also be avoided because, firstly, it is unhealthy; and secondly, it induces heartburn that often occurs during the fasting period.
It is worth to note that caffeine is a mild form of diuretics. Which means you would lose water faster through urination if you were to take caffeine. A faster and excessive water loss can cause dehydration. It will be helpful to reduce intake of caffeine-based drinks, such as tea, coffee and cola.
Sahur, being your first meal of the day, should be wholesome and well-balanced. Try to incorporate more complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre as it is more filling and will provide lasting energy for you to sustain the day. A balanced meal for sahur will ensure nutrient sufficiency, particularly in micronutrients. Taking adequate amount of protein will help to prevent muscle breakdown resultant of prolonged fasting. Avoid deep-fried food for sahur if you are prone to heartburn as fat will aggravate the condition. Opt for healthy cooking methods such as baking, grilling, steaming, boiling and stir-frying.
Taking dates at iftar is part of the Prophet’s tradition or sunnah. It is encouraged among Muslims to practice. Dates is a type of simple carbohydrates that gives an instant boost of energy. Fruit juices and sweet desserts will exert the same effect. Precaution should be given to diabetics for this practice as taking dates at the break of fast will cause blood sugar level to spike and may lead to deranged sugar control throughout the evening. Rehydrate yourself upon iftar to replace water loss, and at the same time, to make you feel full and avoid overindulgence. It is crucial to watch over your intake after iftar to prevent overeating. Fasting should not be an excuse to eat more than you usually do. Otherwise, it will contribute towards unwanted weight gain. If possible, try to take small and frequent meals as it distributes the energy more evenly and helps to boost your metabolism.
Whether or not it is the fasting month, the approach to healthy eating is the same. It should be well-balanced, in a variety, and less energy dense. This should be a lasting practice and not just be confined during Ramadan so that you can achieve a healthier you.