Saturday, 14 August 2010

Ramadan Weight Loss tips

As Muslims start the month of Ramadan, maintaining a healthy weight and indeed loosing weight can be a challenge even for the most disciplined health freak (being called a health freak on this blog is a compliment!).  You fast from sun rise to sun down and the minute you break your fast your first instinct is to wolf down as much food as your stomach can accommodate. It's difficult to exercise when you are on a calorie restricted diet, yes, so all you health nuts out there are forced to scale down your exercise to checking your wrist watch for how many more hours you have to go before you can break your fast.

If you frequently find yourself in communal iftar gatherings it is even more of a challenge to eat healthy when most of what's spread out before you is either fried and dipped in sugar, coated in barter fried then rolled in sugar or just plain fried surgery barter. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the gist. Iftar platters are often filled with unhealthy foods, because we believe we should reward ourselves with treats after fasting the whole day. Doing this consistently for 30 days and it's no wonder people actually put on weight during ramadan instead of the other way around.

I've written up some helpful tips that hopefully will ensure that you don't gain weight over the next 27 days - in no particular order:

If you are IR and can't find fresh dates, don't break fast with dried dates. Dried dates have a high GI value and will send your blood sugar levels up the roof especially if taken on it's own after a whole day of not eating. If you are trying to control your blood sugar, I would recommend breaking fast with low GI fruits like cherrie, plum, grapefruit, peaches, apples, pears, dried apricots, grapes, coconut, coconut milk, kiwi fruit, oranges, strawberries and prunes. You can still have dried dates but after 'buffering' your stomach with the fibre from the above mentioned fruits. In the same vein, undiluted fruit juices or fruit juices from concentrates are a big no no as they too have high glycemic values and will send your blood sugar up the roof.

Stay away from or limit fried foods.The quickest way to pile on unwanted pounds is to indulge in fried foods. Oil/fat contains twice the calorie of carbohydrates. During ramadan you typically will not be as active as you are otherwise, so it is important to limit the amount of calories you consume, if you don't want to put on weight.

Reduce food quantity. When you fast your body conserves energy, your metabolism slows down, and if you pay careful attention you'll notice you feel a bit chilly towards the evening. Because your body lacks calories (food) it assumes you are starving and goes into conservation mode. Therefore anything you eat that isn't needed will be stored away as fat, and much of it isn't needed anyway. In other words, you don't need to eat as much as you normally would when you aren't fasting because you body doesn't need the excess calories. 

Don't have your entire iftar meal at a go. Again, it's so easy to get carried away when one sits down with the family to eat and eat till one is bursting at the seams. Eating small portions interspersed with fruit over several hours is much better than sitting down to one heavy meal at a go.

Drink plenty water. Hunger can easily be confused with thirst. Sometimes after breaking fast we start shoveling food into our mouth without realizing that we've gone a whole day without drinking water as well. Our body is made up of 70% water. Sometimes replenishing lost liquid is satiating enough to make one reduce the amount of food one eats.

Eat more fruits. It is common to feel bloated after Iftar, more so if you live in the northern hemisphere where the nights are shorter than the days. Because of the relatively short period of time between iftar and sahur heavy meals don't get to digest before one eats sahur. The trick here is to make sure at least half of one's plate always consists of some sort of fruit or vegetable and to be on the safe side, the amount of carbohydrates consumed can be limited to the size of one's fist. 

Take time to eat, chew slowly and savour every bite. The slower you eat the less you'll need before you start feeling full and vice versa. 

Load up on complex carbohydrates for sahur. A modest bowl of lentil soup will last longer than four slices of bread. How soon you start to feel hungry after your morning meal doesn't depend on the quantity of food you consume but the quality of the carbohydrates. If you eat fast releasing carbs like rice or bread, you'll start feeling hungry sooner than if you eat something that's high in fibre, like oats or protein based foods like beans. Foods that are loaded with sugar are also a big no no, and that includes some so called healthy cereals. These will cause a spike in blood sugar and before you know, you're feeling hungry three hours later. 

As a matter of fact start and end your day with low GI foods for an altogether feeling of satiation without the unwanted 'benefit' of weight gain. 

Tarawih prayers aside from the spiritual pay-off is an excellent way to burn calories and reduce post iftar bloatedness. 

Finally, it's important for us to purify our intentions. Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslims to empathize with the millions around the world who experience starvation on a daily basis while fulfilling an important religious obligation. It is an opportunity to get closer to our Lord and tame our desires, therefore moderation is in order, especially when it comes to food. I naturally find myself gravitating away from the things that I shamelessly indulge in, like spending endless hours in the internet 'researching' Pah!! Instead I spend more time reflecting and doing some soul searching. Our goals should be to end the month spiritually stronger and psychologically more disciplined. 

Ramadan Mubarak!

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