Time to bring out the pakoras!
Sometimes, I think that should be the unofficial title for Ramazan in Pakistan. Pakoras, samosas, kebabs, chaat masala (on everything), jalebis, bottles of Rooh Afza – just like any other Pakistani, these foods evoke a wave of pleasant nostalgia at the very mention, and are deeply embedded in my memories of Ramazan, of eating till I’m stuffed at an elaborate iftaar meal, staying up late till sehri, napping until maghrib, and attending iftaar parties over the weekend.
However, in recent years, I’ve taken some time out to think why we take part in Ramazan in the first place. The words that come to mind are self-discipline, self-improvement, mental purity, and spiritual rejuvenation. When I was honest with myself, I knew that my typical eating and sleeping habits during Ramazan made me feel tired, sluggish, and sometimes, I felt like I was taking part in a big pre-Eid party rather than a month of self-improvement.
That said, as both a Muslim aiming for self-improvement and as an ever-evolving Holistic Nutritionist, I’d like to share some tips that have improved my experience of Ramazan. While I still indulge in the occasional treat at iftaar, I practice the habits listed below on a daily basis during Ramazan to make me feel less hungry, more energised, and more in control than I ever have in the past.
Have Iftaar and dinner as two separate meals:
The human brain takes about 20 minutes to register the feeling of fullness in the stomach. I typically break my fast with dates, water and a fruit salad, followed by prayer. It’s good practice to eat fruit salad first so that you’re filling up on fruit instead of fried food.
Take a look: The Iftar-cum-dinner season
Avoid drowning your meal in water:
Having large amounts of water with food dilutes stomach acid, making digestion more difficult. Aim to have lots of water upon breaking your fast, but then, only take small sips throughout alongside food during dinner.
Take a multivitamin:
Realistically, you won’t be getting all the nutrients you need for the day during Ramazan, so either take a good quality multivitamin, nutritional shake or nutrient-dense greens powder (e.g. wheatgrass) to supplement your food intake.
Have something green at each meal:
Seems simple, but between the parathas, omelettes, cholay, dahi baray and curries, are you really getting enough or any vegetables in?
Also read: Iftar of a different kind
Aim to have a salad, sautéed or steamed vegetables, or a green juice or smoothie at each meal to ensure an adequate intake of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) for the day ahead.
Minimise fried food and sugar:
Try not to have these present at the iftaar table, but if that seems too drastic for now, simply make less of these items so that you only eat a few bites. Keep in mind that if you’re only eating for a few hours in the day, you want to make sure you are eating the most nutrient-dense foods possible.
Fried foods are damaging to overall health, and sweet treats will send your blood sugar skyrocketing, leading to a sugar crash later on and fueling unnecessary cravings.
Make a smoothie:
Wanting to eat something in the morning can be difficult, so I often make a smoothie as a way to get in fresh fruits and vegetables. Adding in some creamy avocado, coconut milk, oats or a scoop of protein powder also helps to make it more filling.
Eat real food:
By real food, I mean anything that doesn’t come in a packaged box e.g. crackers, cookies, chips, frozen food, fruit yogurt etc. This will ensure that you’re avoiding preservatives, artificial colours and fillers, and instead opt for whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, lentils, beans, whole grains, eggs, fish, chicken and lean meat.
Participate in light activity:
If you regularly work out and then sit around for a month during Ramazan, your body will start feeling new aches and pains. While I still struggle with doing a workout while fasting, I make sure to stay active with long walks, stretching or yoga at home to stay limber.
Sleep on time:
You get the most regenerative sleep between the hours of 10pm and 2am. If you consistently skip over these hours of sleep, you will feel more fatigued the following day.
Secondly, staying up late interferes with the natural cycle of repair and restoration, which creates a more disease-prone environment inside the body.
Did you know that the more you eat, the hungrier you’ll get? If you overload your gut with food, it will learn to expect that more food is coming. Try eating a lighter meal at sehri and iftar, and you’ll notice that you feel less hungry throughout the day.