Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, began at sunset last Sunday and ends on the evening of July 5. In the meantime, many of the world's 1.6 billion followers of Islam, including some of the 3.3 million Muslims living in the U.S., are fasting during the daylight hours in observance of the holiday—avoiding food, water, and even cigarettes and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset.
Fasting is one of Islam's Five Pillars. All Muslims who are healthy enough are supposed to fast, though there are exceptions that are made for women who are pregnant or menstruating, people who are sick or traveling, the elderly, and young children. The purpose of fasting, according to clerical teaching, is to purify oneself physically and spiritually, and help people more clearly identify with the needy.
But it's not easy to abstain from food—especially for Muslims who make a living eating and writing about it. We reached out to a number of Muslim food bloggers to learn their tips and tricks for enduring a month of fasting.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
"The key is drinking a lot of water and eating dates and fruits [before sunrise] that can keep you hydrated," Sameer Sarmast, owner and host of Sameer's Eats, a YouTube channel dedicated to halal food and halal restaurants, told me over the phone.
Sarmast tells me that he sets two alarms during the night to drink water or coconut water before waking up for a pre-sunrise meal. He tells me that even if he skips his morning meal, he never skips a chance to hydrate.
Ayesha Razak from My Big Fat Halal Blog, a popular UK review site, echoed this advice in an email, saying that "dehydration is the biggest challenge in the long fasts," especially when Ramadan falls in the summer and the days are longer. Fruits like watermelon, oranges, and other foods that help you stay hydrated are Ramadan staples, too.
Nap, nap, nap
Amina Shah, editor of Zahiba Bites, told me that napping is a big part of making it through Ramadan. "I would advise everyone who is fasting to take one nap during the day," she said. "We also go to special extended prayers at night at the mosque [tarawih]. That takes more hours of sleep away, so a nap is quite necessary otherwise we wouldn't get more than 4 hours of sleep in 24 hours."
Sarmast of "Sameer's Eats" is also an ardent napper.
"When I get home from work, I just go to sleep," he says. "I get home from work at 5 or 5:30, take care of my prayer, and then take a nap. Then, when you wake up, it’s cooled down a bit and you can start preparing what you’re going to eat when you break your fast or making plans for how you’ll break your fast."
Stay away from coffee
Despite some evidence that caffeine can act as a short-term appetite suppressant, Muslim food bloggers say that too much coffee can hurt during a long fast. You need to be able to fall asleep both for naps and staying on schedule with pre-sunrise meals, Ayesha Razak, told me. "Coffee is a diuretic meaning it causes your body to release water, which is bad!"
Keeping your body temperature down is doubly helpful during summer months, but will prevent you from feeling too thirsty. Sarmast says he uses a floor fan, in addition to air conditioning, to keep cool during the workday.
Distract yourself with activities
Fasting isn't all physical. There's a strong mental component to it, too.
"I try not being around people who are eating," Sarmast told me. "If I have a lunch break, I’ll read a book instead of a menu. I occupy my time," Sarmast said. He also refrains from posting food photos on social media, where his Muslim followers might see them and be tempted.
Shah tells me that as a mother of two young kids, she doesn't really have the option of taking naps during the day, especially during the summer when school's out.
"My number one rule is to 'keep busy and distract yourself,'" she said. She tries to do one major activity a day in order to not feel drained. The summer hours are long, "a lot of hours in the day to fill," but they seem to fly by because she's taking her kids to playdates, pool parties, or the library. There's a lot to do during the day, so by the time she and the children return home, "along with household chores and cooking and preparing for the evening iftar [fast-ending] meal, the day goes by pretty quickly."
Shah tells me that she participates in Qu'ran study, volunteers once a week at her mosque, prepares to attend or host iftar parties for other Muslims. Distractions like these can help the brain forget that it's not eating, and avoid boredom, one of the leading causes of overeating.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals during the non-fasting hours
Shah told me that this is a popular option among some Muslims who fast for Ramadan, and the science behind it is solid. A 2014 study by Duke University found that that eating less food, but more often helped keep metabolism efficient.
Eating small meals also helps your body use the energy the food provides at the right time—making it easier to get through the hours when you're not eating.
High fiber, slow-digesting foods are best
Dates are traditionally eaten to break the Ramadan fast. Their high potassium and fiber levels "help you feel full," Sameer tells me. But any high-fiber foods—like oats, brown rice, or lentils—can achieve the same effect.
Don't expect to lose any weight
Shah tells me that there are people who try to lose weight during Ramadan, but they're few and far between.
"My goal is to make it on the other side in one piece—and I need all the help from parathas ("pan fried flat bread, tea, eggs, lassi, a gravy like chicken or mince meat;" perfect for filling up in the morning) that I can get."
Sarmast explains how losing weight during Ramadan isn't a foregone conclusion.
"People have this misconception sometimes that you may lose weight because you’re fasting, but it’s not true—you may maintain your weight or gain weight."
Why? Because, according to Sarmast, you may not end up actually eating less. "You’re trying to stuff the two meals you didn’t have into one meal. You’re like 'I can eat now' so you’re going at it with the appetizers and the meal and the dessert and before you know it you’re stuffed and you gotta get up in a few hours to eat again."
This goes even further when you share meals with a group, he tells me.
"On the weekends, usually, me and a couple of my friends will meet up at a restaurant and we’ll break our fast together, and obviously, we’ll overindulge."
Ayesha says doing some exercise, usually just before breaking her fast, is part of her routine—and gets you even more ready to hydrate.
Enjoy the month, even though it might be tough
Amina Shah says that the fasting is all worth it.
"It's quite hectic but when I see the children enjoying their activities and the nighttime prayers at the mosque when they're hanging out and playing with friends, quite amazed that they get to do this so late, then I really, really enjoy it too."
"I love doing all this it motivates me to be on my feet and keep moving and not think about the hunger pangs, thirst, and dizziness that one experiences at times during the fast. I don't deny that I look very haggard during Ramadan, but I'm enjoying it a lot."
Read more about and from Amina Shah at ZabihaBites.com
Read more from Ayesha Razak at My Big Fat Halal Blog.
You can catch Sameer Samast this Sunday when he hosts a nutrition and fitness webinar with Hollywood personal trainer Rehan Jalali and investor Com Mirza. More Information can be found on the Sameer’s Eats Facebook page.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org