With fasting extending from sunrise to sunset in Ramadan, it is surprising that rather than losing weight many people end the month a little heavier than they started. A 2011 study published in the Nutrition Journal by Balkees Abed Bakhtomah shows that out of the 173 Saudi families interviewed, 59.5 percent reported weight gain after Ramadan.
Weight gains can have negative consequences on your health. According to Mayo Clinic researchers, gaining just a few kilos of belly fat could put individuals at a greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Why do people tend to gain weight in Ramadan?
During Ramadan, Muslims all around the world abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. It has been observed that Muslims tend to gain weight in this month despite fasting an average of 12 hours a day. The reason is a higher caloric intake than usual and less physical activity to burn it. For example, during the non-fasting time, Muslims consume large amounts of food at iftar and again at suhour. Additionally, fatty and sugary foods are consumed more frequently in Ramadan compared to other non-fasting months. The variety of food choices, their easy availability at supermarkets, and overeating during the non-fasting time of the day contribute significantly to weight gain.
Are there any other factors to consider?
Another important reason for weight gain is the disruptive sleep cycle, affecting the release of many hormones and chemicals that regulate carbohydrate metabolism and metabolic rate. Frequent invitations from friends and relatives during Ramadan for a big feast at iftar also result in overeating and weight gain.
How should people maintain or lose weight during Ramadan?
Fortunately, Ramadan is an excellent opportunity to adopt dietary modifications for many Muslims who want to lose weight and maintain it. The spiritual and physical practice of self-discipline can help many achieve the weight loss target, for which they have spent hours in the gym and on diet programs.
So how can we lose weight in Ramadan or at least maintain it? First, by realizing that Ramadan is not just about fasting and iftar, but understanding the spiritual essence of the month by controlling hunger and worldly desires.
Second, introducing healthy meal choices at the iftar table as well as at suhour. Replace refined carbohydrates with wholemeal products. Refined carbohydrates include white flour, rice, white bread, and sugar while wholemeal carbohydrates include brown flour, brown bread, brown pasta, and food that are high in fiber. Wholemeal carbohydrates have a low glycaemic index, which means they will be absorbed slowly into your body and maintain your blood sugar level while you are fasting.
What changes should people make in their eating habits in Ramadan?
Here are some basic and simple steps that you can follow throughout Ramadan to lose and maintain weight.
1. Avoid overeating at iftar and end your fast with fruit salad and non-sugary food items.
2. Eat slowly and chew every bite of food to the end, which will make you eat less during iftar.
3. Eat the main course of the meal an hour or two after iftar so your body can digest food without overloading your tummy.
How many hours should people exercise during Ramadan?
I have seen in my practice that people who were previously physically active tend to stop altogether in Ramadan. This results in abrupt weight gain in many due to lack of caloric burn and overeating at iftar and suhour. It is advisable to continue with the exercise but at less intensity and for less time minimizing the duration to an hour, particularly with sufficient water intake. If you exercise regularly, work out it after isha prayers as by then you would have sufficient calories from the meal to give you energy and strength. However, if you have not incorporated exercise in your daily routine, you can go for a light or brisk walk after iftar dinner for at least half an hour to maintain your weight.
What to eat at iftar and suhour
1. Replace fried, oily, and fatty food with baked items, fresh fruits, salad, dates, and a glass of skimmed milk.
2. Have your dinner at least an hour and a half after iftar with a fair portion of vegetables, carbohydrates, and proteins to meet your body’s nutrition requirements.
3. Replace red meat such as beef with white ones like skinless chicken and fish to include healthy proteins in your diet.
4. Eat more fruit and salad if you get hungry between iftar