Most people would think that when you’re fasting (especially 10-12 hrs a day) that weight loss should come easy. Yet so many times we realize somewhere in the middle or end of Ramadan that we’ve actually gained a few extra pounds and the guilty bewilderment begins. And it’s because many of us don’t know why this happens, it becomes a yearly ritual of starvation and weight gain. From first hand experience I know that almost everyone in the South Asian community suffers from this strange phenomenon and this article will explain not only why this happens, but how we can prevent it.
The human body is a very intelligent and adaptive machine. It figures out daily lifestyle patterns, as well as patterns of food consumption and energy expenditure. Then based on these calculations it tries to stabilize itself so that there is minimal to no change in the body’s weight and composition. Therefore when we fast the first week is usually the toughest because the body is trying to figure out why it’s being starved and why it’s being fed at odd times of the day. Things like fatigue, caffeine withdrawl (especially from Tim Hortons), headaches, and constipation are all normal responses to this change. However, usually by the end of the first week the body has figured out the pattern and then says “Well now I know how much food I’m getting, what types of food I’m getting (carbs, protein, and fat), and when I’m getting it. Using this eating pattern, I’m going to do everything I can to prevent any kind of physical and metabolic change”. This of course is a natural and normal survival response that is biologically programmed in us. But then you start gaining weight – and here’s why:
Everything we eat is usually composed of either carbs, fats, and protein (or a combination). Of the three, fats and carbs are the easiest forms of energy for the body to store and convert into energy. And that’s also why they taste so good. So think about what you usually eat when you open your fast – Is it fried? Is it fatty? Is it a carbohydrate? Is it a fried fatty carbohydrate? If you’re not sure, samosas, pakoras, spring rolls, fried noodles, jalebies, gulab jamuns, Tim Horton donuts, palau, meetay chawal (sweet rice), mithai (indian sweets) and pretty much every other south asian appetizer, entree, and dessert fall into this category. This of course becomes the happiest moment of the day for your body which begins its natural survival response and starts to store all of this energy as FAT.
Usually protein (the most important energy source) is neglected or gets a back seat. By not eating enough protein we starve our muscles and begin to lose muscle tissue. Muscle is the stuff that burns calories. So if you lose muscle tissue, you lose the ability to burn calories and you make your body weaker. When your body gets weaker it sees this as a need to store energy, and guess what it stores it as – yup, FAT. And for many people this becomes a rather self destructive cycle that leads to lowered metabolism and an unhealthy body rather than the proper cleansing that fasting is suppose to do.
So here’s the solution. The first thing to do when you open your fast is to DRINK WATER (at least 2-3 glasses). Rehydrating yourself (especially in the summer months) is vital for the functioning of your body and especially your kidneys. Next, go for the SALAD. Yes, yes, I know your aunties want to shove fried crap down your throat, but if you value your physique, even a small helping of salad (with low fat dressing) will keep the essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins in your system. It also prevents you from gorging on the main dish. When the main entree of butter chicken, palak paneer, chicken tikka, or any other butter and oil drenched dish arrives EAT THE PROTEIN FIRST. Yes, the biryanni looks and smells great, and the chinese noodles look very exotic, but carbs should be the last thing you eat. Finally, dessert is actually a good thing to have (as long as you’re not diabetic or have any other serious medical condition), but if you want dessert, eat the FRUIT (first). Fruit contains important antioxidants and vitamins that you didn’t get during the day and is important for your immune system.
By following these simple eating rules, you’ll not only feel a lot stronger and healthier during Ramadan, but your Eid clothes will look much better on your slim and trim body.