All over the world, Muslims are currently fasting during this holy month of Ramadan. They have the difficult task of abstaining from the consumption of food and drink for up to 18-19 hours a day – which is unquestionably a tremendous feat of willpower. Amaan Akhtar offers key advice for making this a healthy time spiritually, mentally and physically.
Whilst, this religious practise may seem extreme and unhealthy to do, intermittent fasting has been shown to have numerous health benefits when done correctly. In fact, it has become a popular trend recently for many people to use similar fasting methods as an efficient eating principle to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Yet, regardless of the reasons for it, anyone can be susceptible to developing bad eating habits with intermittent fasting because they may give in to their hunger pangs very easily. As soon as their fasting window ends for the day, the vast majority of individuals ravage the cupboards to fill up on junk food during the eating period.
This, unfortunately, wastes the opportunity to develop good eating habits that can maintain a consistent healthy lifestyle all year-round. So, to address this issue I have thought of some ways - which in my opinion - will help anyone feel better and healthier as they fast during this holy month or for their own personal goals.
1. Hydration is Key
Water is crucial when you start fasting – a minimum of 2 litres should be drunk daily, to ensure adequate hydration at all times. I think the best way to do this is to get an empty 2 litre bottle and fill it up the night before.
For Muslims: The following day after the fasting window has ended, drink half of that bottle before you eat your first meal. This will prevent you from binge-eating, and help you consume fewer calories overall during your eating window. Then, after a couple of hours, finish off the remainder of the water and repeat the next day!
For everyone else: Drink from this bottle throughout the day, as it will keep you sated as you continue your fast for as long as you need to.
2. Portion Control
The stomach tends to shrink during a fasting period, which means that although hunger pangs make you think that you can eat an extremely large meal – your stomach won’t be able to handle the portion size well. It is therefore ideal to break the fast by eating a small meal first. Since this will slowly introduce the stomach back into the digestion process and won’t make you feel lethargic afterwards.
Try picking a smaller plate than usual to put your food on – the psychological effect will make your brain think that you are consuming a lot of food, because the plate appears “full”. When in reality, you will be consuming fewer calories than with your normal portion sizes. And you’ll no doubt feel that the smaller meal is more than enough to break your fast with.
3. Stick Mainly to Proteins and Fats
This is my own personal preference: I have found personally that I always feel sated and energetic, when I have had a healthy balance of protein and fat in my meals. While carbohydrates are great and shouldn’t be shunned away in anyone’s diet – I minimise my intake of them, because they usually lead me to have energy crashes and hunger pangs a lot more often, than the other two macronutrients.
Whether you eat meat or have a vegan-based diet, I found the best way to incorporate a good dose of fats is by either cooking any protein source I have in a type of oil or drizzling the oil on top of my meal. Otherwise, incorporating healthy fats such as avocados or nuts into your meal will give you the good balance of proteins and fats that you’re looking for.
4. Include Fruit and Veg with Every Meal and Snack
This is by far the simplest tip: whenever you have a meal or snack, make sure there is either a piece of fruit or a vegetable involved. Most fruit and vegetables don’t require any preparation, and most often can be eaten raw!
It doesn’t matter how you have it, but including a different fruit/vegetable in everything you eat can help you develop a taste for these nutritious foods – and will most likely lead to them being a staple food group in your lifestyle.
5. Meal Prep Will Save a Lot of Time
There will be many occasions when you don’t want to make any nutritious meals or snacks – since it usually involves a lot of preparation beforehand. And that can be extremely off-putting for anyone, especially after a long fasting period. To avoid the temptation of junk food consider preparing parts of the meal/s either the night before, or even several hours before your fasting window ends.
For example, by chopping all of the ingredients before the cooking stage and storing them in a Tupperware before use – you can easily save up to 15 minutes to half an hour of work. And when it is finally time to eat, the cooking process will be much more efficient, quicker and less stressful in the end.
Whether you’re fasting for religious reasons or for your own personal goals - by sticking to these tips above, it will be a lot simpler and effortless to maintain a healthy lifestyle whilst doing intermittent fasting.