The Islamic calendar is a lunar-based calendar. In the ninth month of the lunar calendar, all Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk for a period of 30 days. The period of the fast is called Ramadan and this year it began on Thursday, July 19, and it just ended on Saturday, August 18, 2012.. If there is a reason to delay the fast, as in the case of an Olympic competition, you can begin counting Ramadan after the event. Children, the elderly and infirmed, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and even certain travelers are exempt from the fast. Each day during the fast, no water, gum, food or beverages are allowed. You can eat food before sunrise and after sunset. The daily pre-fast meal is called the suhur and typically includes breakfast foods (though it can include a wider variety of choices) and the post-sunset dinner or iftar starts with dates or a beverage (milk, water) and then includes typical dinner foods. You can also snack after dinner to help you replace the calories you did not consume during the day. Obviously, choosing less processed nutrient dense whole foods for the suhur and iftar can help sustain you more comfortably during the daily fast period. Once the 30 day period of Ramadan is over, you can resume regular eating habits resume.
So how can one possibly gain weight during a 30 day fast? Packing on pounds during a prolonged fast is no surprise to this nutritionist, because I often encounter "dieters" who go all day without eating and then have a four hour food fest once home, turning dinner into the never-ending evening meal!! Muslims who gain weight during the Ramadan often overeat during the predawn meal, and also consume too many calories at night. Food choices often include heavy, creamy foods. Not surprisingly, physical activity is limited during the fast, and the addition of an afternoon nap can set the stage for a very sedentary 30 day period. Take the limited exercise plus a reduced metabolic rate because of the fast itself, add in gargantuan-sized meals consumed early in the morning and late at night, and you’ve got the perfect formula for a ten pound or more weight gain. Not surprisingly, many Egyptian women who are already overweight gain extra weight during the month of Ramadan.
Some nutrition experts have now credited the Ramadan, with its high consumption of fatty and sweet foods and lack of exercise as the basis for sudden and swift weight gain for many Muslims. A person who observes the Ramadan should try to eat simple foods like fruits and vegetables, portion-controlled whole grains, yogurts, eggs, lentils and other non-meat based dishes as the primary base of the suhur and iftar meals. Water and unsweetened teas should be the primary beverages. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep and walking after each large meal would also help to curb possible weight gain. You now have a whole year to contemplate a healthier, more calorie-conscious approach to Ramadan.