With this year's Ramadan well underway, many observers of the Islamic month of fasting have the same question on their lips: If I'm eating but one meal a day, why the sudden weight gain during this annual holiday?
Indeed, though Ramadan observers traditionally refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, statistics show that more often than not, participants pack in a whopping 10 to 20 lbs during this 30-day period!
So from where do those excess pounds sneak up on us?
Here's how it works: not eating or drinking all day naturally weakens our system, which means we don't exercise -- a state of being which is not problematic, as an equilibrium is still maintained. However, at the end of the day, of course, we catch up on our lack of food, and often more than make up for it by eating extra, hence, the extra weight. It's a simple equation: weight gain is dependent on how many calories you eat per day vs. how many calories you expend!
Have no fear, the solution is not to run a marathon every day of Ramadan! In fact, I urge fasters not to exercise heavily at all. A slow-paced walk is okay, but nothing more intense. The key to avoiding weight gain during Ramadan lies in how you eat when the sun goes down. So follow my tried-and-tested tips for a truly successful holiday:
1. Break your fast with freshly squeezed lemon juice in room temperature water. This will aid your immune system and help eliminate toxin build-up that naturally occurs when you are more sedentary. Don't eat just yet -- go for a cup of green tea next -- without sugar, of course. If you need a bit of sweetener, add Stevia!
2. Start your meal with pure protein, such as fish or chicken; if you are vegan, opt for tofu, lentils or hummus (chickpeas). Why? Physiologically, your body is constantly protecting your two major organs: your brain and your heart. In order to function properly, your brain needs healthy fat, and your heart needs protein. If your body receives carbohydrates first, a "message" about a potential lack of fat and protein is sent to your digestive system, and you will store more "fat" for use later. Hence, the easiest way to prevent weight gain and to promote weight loss is to start your meal with pure protein, or foods which have a low impact on your blood sugar levels.
3. After your protein starter, enjoy the rest of your nutritionally-balanced meal, mindfully. Take it SLOW, and remember portion control. Socialize in between bites in order to give your brain the time it needs to gauge your true hunger; if you listen to your body, you'll be surprised to discover that you are satisfied long before you thought you'd be. Don't gorge yourself until midnight!
4. A sweet treat for dessert is okay, but don't go overboard; choose one, and savor each bite.
5. Drink more than usual before going to bed, and if you are up before sunrise, hydrate again. This helps eliminate toxins from your body and will facilitate your fast during the day!
Make this Ramadan a true success for both your soul and body!
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