Aug 29, 2011

Fasting and Working Out Are More Alike Than You Think: The Unforeseen Parallels Between Staying Fit Year Round and Staying Devoted During Ramadan

by Sarah Hassaine, NASM Certified Trainer, Nadoona Exercise Consultant

I think we all experience that moment of hesitation the day after Eid. Your eyes are still shut as you stir in bed and suddenly you remember that Ramadan is indeed over.

“I am not fasting today!” Your mind excitedly communicates.

“Wait really? Am I really not fasting?” You question.

“Yes I am not fasting!” Your eyes fly open and your mouth forms an excited smile. “Back to normal,” you think, breakfast time!

This fuels you to kick off the covers and run to the bathroom and freshen up before you decide what to eat for breakfast. You may not even be hungry, and you may not even have a craving, but hey, you have been fasting for a month – you deserve it, right? Just like you deserved all that honey baklava last night at the festive Eid party you went to.

But do you?

There is a discipline that we embody when fasting, we prove to ourselves every year that we are strong and can overcome our desires and be patient and appreciative of all that we have. I want to show you that this same mantra is applicable to a healthy lifestyle YEAR ROUND.

The truth of the matter is that we make excuses, and working out and eating right seem to fall off the radar, most likely because it takes diligence, time and commitment to see results. We live in a society where we undoubtedly like immediate reactions; making a gradual transition to a healthy you, will take a while, thus we all tend to swerve, fall off the wagon, or just never get on.

Fasting, is of course, a spiritual experience. While your body does use the “quiet time” of not processing food to repair your cells and detox your organs, the reality is that spirituality can be used in other aspects of your life, like taking care of your body. You have just gone through 30 days of an amazing journey, but now that life is “back to normal” – the idea is to translate some of that same willpower and spirituality you exhibited this past month. Focus on the physical changes you want to make in your life to accompany the spiritual ones that carry on post Ramadan, such as prayer.

So as you descend the steps for breakfast the day after Eid, take some deep breaths to think about how you will get your body on the “right” physical path of exercise and on a healthy regime starting today. For starters, our body should eat 4-5 times a day so that we keep our metabolism working. Ironically, this is similar to how many times we should engage in prayer. Just as it is prescribed in the dogma to space out your prayers throughout the day, think about how you can space out your meals more frequently. This keeps your body in a constant state of burning calories. Unlike during Ramadan, where you would eat two meals a day (you all woke up for suhoor right? ;)) – this is unhealthy because whatever we do eat at iftar or suhoor is stored away given the day-long starvation mode.

In light of the fact that Ramadan marks the beginning of a New Year and your success in fasting, I want to share tips on how to turn the page and focus on a new rejuvenated you.

For starters: What is your goal? For a lot of women, it is just weight loss, and that is okay if you understand that is a very broad wish. Weight loss is like falling in love and being in a relationship: it requires responsibility, ownership, compromise and commitment. For this New Year, your first goal should be to believe in yourself enough to want to lose weight and engage in all aspects of weight loss, albeit eating healthy, exercising, reducing intake of sugars/starch, etc.

First step: Find and organize your motivation! Share your goal with friends, family, or look for support from groups like who challenge Muslim women to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle. Decide if you need a food journal or a workout journal and set it up conveniently for your access (Phone App/Google Doc/Written journal). Food for thought: over 50% of women who had a journal saw results sooner than those who did not.

Second step: Write out a grocery list with healthy food options and stick to it. Set the incentive to try to cook more and have healthy snacks at home (no more Starbucks cookies mid-day!). Invite friends over instead of going out. Treat yourself to healthy cook books (Do I hear Eid gift to yourself?).

Third step: Plan out all 4-5 meals every morning or the night before. For example, I pack my lunch and all snacks the night before. Occasionally I even prepare my breakfast. You will feel so in charge of your body and empowered by your control. In Ramadan, you most likely planned all your meals and you made it a point to be on time every day for dinner. Be good to your body like this year round and eat frequently and not too late– skipping meals just results in weight gain.

Fourth step: Most importantly - Exercise! It is true ladies, if you don’t burn it, you sit on it. Start with three days a week of cardio for at least 30-45 minutes and then move up to four days within a few weeks and start interval training. Once you start working out, your energy will increase and you will slowly feel more addicted to the process. It’s like fasting, once you started, it got easier. Diversify your workouts so that muscles are always challenged and stimulated. Remember to integrate core balance training and weights two to three times a week as well. Make sure it’s fun! The idea is to get your heart rate up and sweat so that you are burning calories, so if you prefer to take dance classes, kick boxing, or anything of the sort, sign up!

Post Ramadan, we are all kind of weak and tired from a month of late nights, heavy meals and socializing. After you read this article, do me a favor and go to the mirror and look at yourself in the eyes and think about these four steps. Set the intention to start afresh. Reflect upon your routine and see where you can make changes. You just made changes for 30 days, now the idea is to make small changes in your daily life that will result in a healthier, lighter and happier you. Ask yourself “When is the best time to work out? In the morning or evening?” Answer your question and find a schedule that works, do not shrug it off and say neither! Ask yourself, “What shall I pack for lunch in the morning?” Answer your question with viable options, not, “I don’t have time I will just go to the deli.” You need to exercise control and demand the change from yourself.

I encourage you to check out Nadoona is a movement for Muslim women to become aware of their bodies - essentially how they treat it and what they put into it. On the site, you can sign up to take part in their weight loss challenge program, get fitness tips, partake in a health forum and get inspired by many success stories told personally by other muslimahs nationwide. Nadoona will work with women to make sure that their workout program and nutrition matches their lifestyle and culture.

Ladies – there are so many resources and opportunities out there, so seize this New Year and unearth your motivation to take care of you. You have just proven to yourself throughout Ramadan how much discipline and self-control you do indeed have. Now, this needs to be translated and extended to healthy living year round. After all, if you don’t take care of your body – who will? So now that you are in the kitchen and its breakfast time, what will you have?

I'd love to hear your views on this article. Please tell me in the comments section below :)


Love this article! Thanks for the motivation and tips. I pray that Allah blesses the Nadoona organization because this is something that Muslim women need awareness of. There is a big obesity problem among Muslim women and this is not a spiritual trait......

So true sister Karen! JazakAllah for you kind and wonderful duaa! InshAllah we can all work together to continue to change the world, one calorie at a time! :)

Executive Director

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