Thursday, August 27, 2009

Intentional Fasting

Yay! I'm happy to say that in the last year (or so) I've lost 30 pounds! Reaching the 30-pound mark has been particularly exciting for me (alhamdulillah, and more on that later inshaaAllaah) but now, it'll nice to say goodbye inshaaAllaah to many more.

Which brings up an interesting point as we enter Ramadan (Ramadan Mubarak, by the way!) What should a person do, who is trying to lose weight/be healthy, when days are to be filled with fasting, and nights with prayer? Right before the start of this blessed month, I received an email filled with excellent tips about making the most of Ramadan, and avoiding some serious pitfalls. One such pitfall: intending to lose weight while fasting. Or more specifically, through fasting.

The problem, as the article rightly mentioned, is if a person starts Ramadan hoping that their fasting will help them to lose weight, then it's possible they're actually combining their intention. And our intentions to fast should be purely for the sake of Allah--and not for losing weight. The article suggested that some women especially might have this tendency to try to lose weight while they're fasting.

So I took serious note--am I jeopardizing the reward of my fasts? Am I fasting for other than Allah, because I want to lose weight, too? I don't think so, and I'll explain why: fasting in general doesn't necessarily help weight loss. In fact, it can actually make it harder. So for me, the fasting is for Allah, and the weight loss is something I'm just trying to work around it, something I'm trying to do in spite of the fasting.

The way I've lost the weight I've lost has been through plenty of exercise and a particular diet. Through eating, though--eating a lot of healthy foods throughout the day and as few as possible unhealthy foods. (Although I'm sure my coach would prefer I be a little more stringent on my classification of "healthy.") And even though the last few months have been successful in terms of weight loss, I never saw Ramadan as helpful to my weight loss goals. That's even as I lost about 10 pounds in both my first two Ramadans. Instead, Ramadan has seemed more of a hindrance, and I've been kind of worried about how I could deal with it. Of course I'd fast, and for the sake of Allah. Weight loss is part of my routine by now, something I'm trying for in spite of fasting.

Food is fuel. That's the mantra I've been trying to indoctrinate myself with. There are foods that make efficient fuels, and others that make not-so-efficient fuels. For example, a salad and grilled chicken breast is great fuel, while a can of soda is a very bad fuel. Every day would be filled with agonizing questions about the value and quality of my food choices--and I'm not just talking calories, but calorie density and nutrients. But if food is fuel--then going without food is going without fuel. If the food is fueling the weight loss then can you see how fasting could get in the way? (I'm trying to say that trying to utilize Ramadan fasting as a weight loss tool is a bad idea.)

But one great thing about Ramadan is that I don't have to think about food all day long--and this has always been the case. However, since I am trying to maintain a healthy diet still, I do pay a little more attention to what I eat at iftar and suhoor than I might have in previous years.

Even though fasting will create an almost automatic calorie deficit (necessary for weight loss), the hunger by iftar time has a tendency to make me just crazy and disregard all of my "guidelines." (Another reason not to use Ramadan fasting for weight loss.) Plus, the abundance and availability of a variety of rich, fried foods, sodas and sweets is an easy way to quickly ratchet up calorie counts. So in fact, even the non-fasting time requires restraint.

I can see how people gain weight in Ramadan--if you can imagine these kinds of foods as a regular diet for a month, added to a missing meal during the day which will slow metabolism (or so I've heard), a person will easily start ingesting more calories than their bodies need on a daily basis.

But that's really not healthy, and every year, everywhere (in casual conversation, blogs, emails, articles, twitter) we hear complaints about folks eating too much at iftars. Some times while fasting I used to get even more obsessed with food, somehow thinking that I wouldn't get enough. That's a mentality I think others might suffer from as well, but for health it should really disappear completely. There will be enough food. So for now I'm trying to eat a normal-sized portion of healthy (or as healthy as is available) foods at iftar time, plus healthy foods at suhoor time, just like I do outside of Ramadan.

But what might be more important is constantly renewing my intention, that my fasting is solely for the sake of Allah, and praying that He accepts it.

1 comment:

Hamayoun said...

Salam Amy

First, mashallah on being able lose 30 lbs, very happy to hear that.

I was diagnosed as diabetic about 12 years ago. Prior to this year, Ramadan was difficult for me, as it was too easy to get into 'bad' foods after fasting. I would say to myself that 'Hey it's Ramadan, fasting all day anyway, so just do it' when the 'bad' foods would appear at Iftar. But this year, I have drastically changed what I regard as 'bad' foods. I have changed my diet to eliminate white bread, rice, and potatoes, and am actually eating a little bit more of the sweet stuff I crave. And this has, Alhamdolillah, had a very good effect on my diabetes. So this Ramadan, I have been taking it easy with the new 'bad' foods in my diet. And so far, this seems to have a good effect, as I don't feel that I am overeating at Iftar. I actually break my fast most days with a microwaved chicken thigh and some fruit salad, which is as healthy as you can get!