Driven to shed a few kilos, many have hopped on the intermittent fasting bandwagon that is known to be a popular diet regime. This consists of an eating pattern that commonly involves 16-hour fasts and an 8 hours open window to consume food per day.
Since 1400 years ago, Muslims worldwide have been practicing eating patterns similar to intermittent fasting. From 2nd April to sundown on 2nd May 2022, healthy and able-bodied Muslims observe the month of Ramadan in the Islamic Calendar and we fast as an act of religious dedication. Besides abstaining from food and drinks from dawn till dusk, fasting teaches us to self-reflect, appreciate what we have and practice self-restraint from desires of the flesh and negative habits.
“Both methods have reportedly shown positive effects on the body and brain as they encourage the reduction of excess body weight and risk of chronic disease, improvement of glucose control as well as enhancement of insulin sensitivity.”
Health Benefits of Fasting
You may be surprised that voluntary fasting and Ramadan fasting draw plenty of similarities and benefits! Both methods have reportedly shown positive effects on the body and brain as they encourage the reduction of excess body weight and risk of chronic disease, improvement of glucose control as well as enhancement of insulin sensitivity. Personally experiencing weight-loss during the yearly fasting routines, I have definitely observed that calorie reduction works even more effectively when combined with exercise and nutritious foods during non-fasting hours!
Needless to say, what works for one may not work for another. Fasting may not be recommended for certain individuals such as those who are facing menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, eating disorders and health conditions. It is crucial to note that these are all valid exemptions from health and religious standpoints. Given that they could be unrecognisable with the naked eye, it is a good reminder for all to not pass judgement towards any non-fasting Muslims whom we observe during Ramadan!
Our breakfast at 4am!
To kickstart our month-long fasting routine, pre-dawn meals (Sahur) are consumed before sunrise in Ramadan. What we eat for Sahur sets the stage for how we conquer the rest of the day! Keeping our food choices light and grease-free is key to digesting comfortably from an early meal. Similar to how you would approach breakfast, many of us tend to favour fibre-rich meals like oatmeals, cereals and wholemeal bread. Not only does it help to keep us full and sustain our energy level but their quick preparation sure does come in handy at 4am in the morning when I find my eating with barely an eye open. During Sahur,we make sure to drink lots of water at Sahur to stay hydrated throughout the day too.
During the day, life goes on as usual whether it is work or school while we battle against the spell of lethargy. Trust me, going about under the sweltering hot sun and humid weather could be your biggest enemy when you have to push through the dehydration. As fasting can affect our salivary biochemicals, the habit of swallowing my saliva every few hours becomes evident. Its distinguishable sound in a rather quiet setting amuses those around me, and myself included! When my stomach decides to growl, assuring myself of my pure intentions in fasting and keeping myself busy do help! Over time, this turns into a habit that my mind and body eventually gets accustomed to with ease.
Beyond fasting, Ramadan encourages charitable acts to help the less fortunate
Oftentimes, facing hunger and thirst allows us to view Ramadan as a reminder of the privileges we regularly have but take for granted, like wealth and health. While we spiritually convey gratefulness for the blessings bestowed upon us, going through this experience collectively as a community encourages us to show compassion towards the struggles of the less fortunate. We are encouraged to be generous and increase our charitable activities including Zakaat, a form of almsgiving that is a religious duty for all Muslims who qualify the necessary criteria of wealth to help the needy.
Beyond monetary form, the distribution of Bubur Masjid in Singapore at local mosques is also a Ramadan tradition that shares and cares for the community through free food! This enormous pot of piping hot, savoury porridge cooked with an array of spices, herbs and beef chunks resembles a communal comfort food for all! Every day during Ramadan, hearty tubs of Bubur Masjid are given to anyone who wants them, whatever your circumstances. Since young, I would always have fond memories of anticipating my family members coming back with a tub, no matter how much food we prepared for our evening meal (Iftar). It was just something that was done, a heart and belly warming tradition that we enjoyed being part of!
Hurray! It’s time to Buka Puasa!
Iftar signals the end of the day’s fast at sunset, and is the moment most Muslims look forward to break their fast! As food is cultural, what people eat for Iftar varies but we usually begin by eating dates as religious tradition. Dates are an excellent source of fibre and carbohydrates, not to mention - very delicious! Iftar can be as simple as a bowl of noodles at home to a buffet spread with all varieties of dishes imaginable.
Traditional Malay cuisines like Nasi Padang are a popular Iftar pick for Malay families like mine as there is always something for everyone! Steamed rice with a robust selection of dishes like Ayam Merah, Rendang, Lemak Chilli Padi, Sotong Hitam and Sambal Goreng are power packed with flavours to finally satisfy our taste buds!
While it could be tempting to give in to every food craving after a long day fasting, we are often reminded of the importance of moderation as excess and waste could go against the essence of Ramadan. Sometimes, we even surprise ourselves with how quickly we feel full just a few minutes into Iftar! Furthermore, stuffing ourselves with food could also prevent us from being in the best shape for nightly congregational prayers (Terawih) that are held subsequently after Iftar.
Must-have snacks to try at Geylang Serai
Spurring on the mood for Ramadan, the annual Ramadan bazaar at Geylang Serai is also something most people keenly anticipate as it is the biggest Ramadan festive market boasting numerous stalls that sell food, clothes, and decorations in preparation for Hari Raya Aidilfitri. The physical absence of the bazaar for the last two years had notably dimmed down the excitement for most of us, like a missing piece in tradition. Although it has been relatively sized down this year, the Muslim community in Singapore has been so psyched for its comeback!
In the midst of catching the iconic light installations, I made it a point to pick up the must-have favourite snacks such as Vadai, Keropok Lekor and Dendeng that were long missed. Through the wafting smells of tasty treats, never-ending crowds and festive songs blaring on the speakers, the bazaar always feels like home. Along with all the other social traditions we are finally able to reconnect with, there was comfort in knowing that we could finally depend on them again to heighten the experience of Ramadan and uplift our moods to usher in Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year!
One of the major things we love about living in Singapore is its multicultural environment which encourages us to learn and experience different cultures! Having touched on the health benefits and meaningful significances that come along with fasting, are you up to join your Muslim friends in the remaining of this Ramadan?