Lessons from observing Ramadan…
Lessons from observing Ramadan…
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. A calendar based on lunar cycles so the exact dates change each year.
This year it was observed from Thursday 23rd April to Saturday 23rd May.
Muslims fast from all food and drinks for 30 days between sunrise and sunset.
Normally having one meal prior to sunrise called the Suhoor – to set you up to fast during daylight hours.
And another one just after sunset called Iftar.
For Muslims, my understanding is that this is a time of heightened devotion to their faith -through prayer, self-reflection and empathy for those less fortunate.
Leading to increased self-awareness, generosity and acts of charity.
Though I am not Muslim or religious, I had a number of reasons for deciding to observe Ramadan this year.
1 – I wanted to support 2 of my Academy members who are Muslim and observe and practise this ritual annually.
2 – I like to experiment and try most things once. In particular when it comes to physical and psychological challenges.
This helps me empathise better and I can say ” I know roughly how you feel” if I have put myself through what others have experienced.
3 – I believe in the great importance of practising poverty.
Doing “without” for an extended period of time can provide great insight.
And makes you way more grateful and appreciative of what you have when you have the luxury to choose to come out of poverty again.
The best way I can describe it is it’s like a nutritional marathon.
It is a test of endurance.
I found the first 40-50% of the month an incredibly enriching and powerful exercise.
Like the 24 hour fasts, I do from time to time (normally after an indulgent Christmas!), I enjoy detaching from my need for food and not having to think about eating until the evening.
This felt extremely liberating, to begin with.
Fasting empties my head.
Gives me space to think clearly and I somehow feel lighter and unencumbered.
I learned a lot during this time, had some great conversations and generally felt it was an enlightening experience.
So far, so good!
However, after about 17 days, the last couple of weeks were much more about hanging on!
And I would say the focus became more about getting through the day.
Counting down the hours, minutes and eventually seconds until the heavenly point where I could break my fast.
So unlike earlier in the month, I didn’t feel much, if any, in the way of psychological or spiritual benefits.
In fact, I would say it became fairly attritional and unhealthy as I deprived my body and mind of the nourishment they needed.
That was until the final weekend where we celebrated Eid – traditionally where family and friends get together to feast and celebrate the end of Ramadan.
I have to say the overriding emotion at that point was relief.
Mixed with satisfaction and pride for making it through.
At first, training was possible and felt absolutely fantastic – really envigorating – especially in the hour or so before Iftar.
It actually settled my appetite and took my mind off of the fast too, albeit temporarily.
For me, training became more and more difficult as the 30 days went on – both my energy levels and motivation levels – were just so low.
Outside of taking my members through a couple of online workouts each week, I only went for longer, slow walks.
One of the biggest physical changes was to my digestion.
Eating so late at night meant going to bed very full as you feel you have to try to maximise the feeding window.
I actually slept ok.
But certainly didn’t feel as rested in the mornings and did experience periods of pretty bad heartburn and indigestion upon waking.
This was certainly not helped with me being fairly liberal with my food choices at night – choosing man-made, energy-rich foods as well as nutrient-rich ones.
I think a better approach would actually have been to go ketogenic (higher fat, low to no energy-rich carbs and some protein) to try and keep my blood sugar levels more stable, whilst still providing an adequate energy supply.
That would also make sure and avoid most digestive irritations too.
Things like gluten, wheat and limiting caffeine (interestingly, having my coffee at night didn’t interrupt my sleep patterns).
I experienced a series of major energy crashes mostly in the mid-afternoon where it was very hard to stay awake.
I often found myself going to sleep for 1-2 hours before coming round.
I did find that social interaction would stimulate me and take my mind off of hunger and pass the time much more easily.
I wasn’t working during this period due to lockdown, so it would be interesting to see if it would have been easier or harder given the distraction of work.
My cognitive ability was non-existent as the month went on. Even trying to string a sentence together became very challenging and my creativity dried up.
Whilst I didn’t measure my body composition before or after the month, I noticeably lost lean mass and probably retained the body fat I had stored.
So I definitely wouldn’t recommend it if you think fasting like this would be a good way to lose body fat – nothing could be further from the truth.
Added to that, it definitely messed around with my appetite control and has taken a few weeks to get back to some sort of normality.
1 – Keep living life as normally as possible – exercise when you can, meditate, work and spend time with family and friends to maintain your daily routine.
2 – Keep your “why” for observing Ramadan at the front of your mind. Remembering and reinforcing this regularly this will really help you throughout the month.
3 – Re-hydrate adequately at night.
1 – Over consume man-made foods and drinks that give you indigestion
2 – Be too hard on yourself.
If you’re struggling, listen to your body and rest when you need to. And talk to someone who gets how you’re feeling.
3 – Go it alone.
I couldn’t have done this without the support of my 2 Academy members, we went through the highs and the lows together, kept each other accountable, met for Zoom coffees and had a laugh when things got tough.
I found Ramadan a very satisfying experience that I learned a lot from.
It is as a true test of resilience, resulting in a greater appreciation for what you have and would recommend observing it at least once in your life.
A very special thank you to Salma and Imran.