MAYWOOD, Ill. – Ramadan is a time for people of the Muslim faith to reflect, refocus and retrain themselves in an effort to draw nearer to God. It is a month of self-training, self-discipline and self-control. It’s a time to develop personal character by making a conscious effort to control emotions. From dawn ‘til dusk Muslims are to abstain from sexual intercourse, eating and drinking, which includes taking anything orally including water and medications. To ensure one is able to fully engage in these religious activities it is important to prepare and consider your health so you can optimize the benefits of the month.
“Fasting is a form of worship required to be performed by all healthy Muslims beyond the age of puberty,” said Ramzan Shahid, MD, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “It is meant to purify the body and the soul.”
According to Shahid fasting during Ramadan can be done safely and can even benefit one’s health, but it begins with preparation. With Ramadan taking place in mid-August it is imperative to prepare for the month. Here are a few tips to help prepare for Ramadan and ensure fasting is done in a medically safe and healthy way.
1. Meet with your doctors to make sure it is medically safe for you to fast. If you are taking medications in any form (oral, injection, eye drop, etc) see if it is possible to take it during non-fasting hours. For example, if you take a medication three times a day is it possible to take it only in the morning and at night?
2. A few weeks before Ramadan begins make sure you are eating a healthy and well-balanced diet so you have a good reserve during the month of fasting.
3. You can gain stamina and help condition your body for the extra nightly prayers and other activities by increasing your activity level a few weeks before Ramadan.
4. Start eating smaller portions and don’t overeat in anticipation for the upcoming fast.
5. Do not fast the two weeks before Ramadan as you will need to conserve energy and nutrients.
6. Wean yourself off caffeine, tobacco and other stimulants that may lead to symptoms of withdrawal if not consumed on a regular basis.
7. Time management is key. If possible, adjust your work or school schedule to allow fasting between sunrise and sunset and nightly prayers. Getting enough sleep and time management will help you stay healthy while fasting.
“It’s important to understand that fasting in Ramadan is different from total fasting or starvation diets, which can be unhealthy and lead to electrolyte imbalances,” said Shahid. “Only with a prolonged fast does the body turn to protein for energy by breaking down muscle. This does not happen during Ramadan since people still eat two meals a day. A Ramadan fast can be beneficial to the body allowing a person to lose weight, lower blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol all while maintaining muscle mass.”
To gain these benefits it is essential to eat a well-balanced diet during Ramadan and to get plenty of rest.
“The deciding factor on whether a person stays healthy during Ramadan is not the fast itself, but what he or she eats during the non-fasting hours,” said Shahid.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind while fasting.
1. Follow the medical advice of your doctor regarding the safety of fasting if you are on medication.
2. Do not overeat during non-fasting hours. The sudden rise and drop in blood sugar following a large meal can make you fatigued and unable to perform nightly prayers.
3. No matter how tired you are do not skip Sahoor, the morning meal. This meal is vital. It will help you get through the day including preventing hunger-related symptoms such as headache, fatigue and restlessness.
4. In the morning eat filling foods that you digest slowly. These include foods that have complex carbohydrates and are rich in fiber such as grains, lentils, potatoes with the skin, green beans and fruits.
5. When breaking a fast, eat fast-digesting foods that will rapidly restore glucose levels. Dates and bananas are excellent choices for Iftar, the evening meal.
6. Throughout Ramadan avoid foods that are heavily processed, fried, spicy or fatty.
7. Drink lots of water and fruit juices after Iftar to avoid dehydration, especially since Ramadan is during the summer.
8. Minimize your caffeine consumption. Caffeine can act as a diuretic and cause an increased chance of dehydration.
9. Balance your daily schedule to allow time for an early Sahoor, late Iftar, nightly prayers and adequate sleep.
“Ramadan is about learning self-discipline, willpower and patience. If people do not take care of themselves and adequately prepare for Ramadan they may feel fatigued, hungry and irritable. This is a difficult combination when in training to control your emotions and body. If a people don’t keep their health in mind they won’t be able to get the full benefits of the month,” said Shahid.
Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 28 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 561-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.