Ramadan is fast approaching, evoking excitement and much anticipation about this holy month. The very thought of Ramadan conjures up images of a splendid month of fasting and guarding the soul, highlighted by extra visits to the mosque for Salat-ut-Taraweeh and a general spirit of well-wishing and generosity. And no mention of Ramadan would be complete without referring to the special foods and drinks that are prepared in this month, that have come to strengthen our cherished bond with this time of the year. Samosas, special sweets and drinks all lighten up the dinner table at Iftaar.
With the joys and wonders of Ramadan, sometimes, we also face newer issues such as excessive sleeping and eating, obesity, heartburn, constipation, lethargy, disturbed routines. These are problems that have mushroomed up in recent years due to our own mishandling of this auspicious month and they greatly reduce what we can gain from Ramadan. To help ensure our Ramadan this year is fruitful and fulfilling in all ways, spiritual, physical and even social, here are some general tips and advice.
As Ramadan approaches, prepare yourself both mentally and physically. Make an effort to unburden yourself at work in Ramadan by getting more work done in the preceding month. If that is not possible, then try to reorganize your routine ahead of Ramadan, to ease the transition and to shift the workload appropriately.
Examine your individual routine, or collectively as a family, to plan for Ramadan. In Ramadan, sleeping at night tends to become limited, to make more time for prayer and awaken earlier for Suhoor, so prepare your mind and body by trying to sleep earlier and waking up earlier as well. “Early to bed, early to rise” may be cliché but for Ramadan, it is especially important. This way you’ll save yourself from lethargy and ‘dark circles’ when Ramadan actually arrives. Tick off items on the “pending chores” list. Try to get the kitchen cabinets cleaned out in advance and fix that leaky tap before end of Shaban!
For housewives and working ladies, there’s extra work in Ramadan, related to food preparation and shopping for Eid clothes and gifts. This extra load can be lessened by preparing storable food items in advance and completing much of the Eid shopping (if not all) before Ramadan. This relieves physical as well as mental pressures and burdens on ladies in Ramadan, making more time for worship and prayer.
As Ramadan draws nearer, make a sincere effort to switch to healthier eating habits because indeed, binging on food cannot be made the focus of this month. This does not mean that one gives up good food but rather that the food is taken in the right quantity and manner. Some general meal-time advice for Ramadan:
In the time leading up to Ramadan, adopt simple Sunnah that encourage healthier food habits, like eating only when hungry and refraining from eating your fill (rather, leaving a portion of the stomach empty). This will make your body more active, light and full of energy by stimulating the utilization of internal energy stores. Your body will also store energy in the right way which will be helpful in Ramadan.
Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet that contains food from all the major food groups – cereals, poultry, meat, fruits and vegetables.
Organize your meals, especially at Iftaar. Experts say that binge eating at Iftaar – or Suhoor for that matter – has no positive effect on energy levels and an average meal of healthy foods is best. If you’re having Iftaar and also plan to have dinner later, lighten either meal and try to bring in a gap of at least three hours between the two. Also, for a more fulfilling sleep, avoid eating within two hours before your bedtime. The best recommendation would be to take an Iftaar of fruits, juices and other light snacks, including Samosas if you wish and then, if the need is felt, to take a light dinner later on (perhaps after Taraweeh).
For Suhoor, include slow-digesting foods such as foods that contain grain and seeds like barley, wheat, millets, oat, semolina, lentils, beans, wholemeal flour and unpolished rice. These last longer – up to 8 hours and provide good energy, compared to fast-digesting foods such as those containing refined carbohydrates (white flour) and excess of refined sugar. Fast-digesting foods only last about 3-4 hours, resulting in lower energy levels throughout the day and thus, should be consumed preferably at Iftaar (light sandwiches, for example).
Avoid excess of spicy and fried items as they cause heartburn, obesity, acidity and also increase thirst. So Samosas and Kebabs are fine, as long as one doesn’t binge on them! Here also, encourage high-fiber foods because they help to counter acidity, heartburn as well as constipation.
Juices and fresh fruits are a must for Iftaar as they restore essential minerals and water levels, thereby preventing dehydration, constipation, cramps, formation of kidney stones and lethargy. Dehydration and loss of calcium, magnesium and potassium will make you dizzy and fatigue easily in Taraweeh so this is something that cannot be taken lightly. Dates are a rich source of fiber, carbohydrates as well as the essential minerals just mentioned so a couple of dates at Iftaar is a truly refreshing Sunnah.
Try to cut down on caffeinated drinks and beverages in Ramadan because these drinks actually increase urine output, robbing the body of essential minerals and salts, thus actually aggravating dehydration and muscle-cramping.
Try a hand at these simple and easy tips and you’ll notice the difference. I speak from experience when I say that you’ll actually enjoy yourself more this way and even lose a few pounds by the end of Ramadan. That’s spiritual as well as physical gain that cannot be found, no matter how hard you try, in stuffing in all kinds of food at every meal in Ramadan. Here’s the key to unlocking the true joys and rewards of Ramadan, with a little extra effort. Wishing you all the best and a great Ramadan!