FAT, FITNESS AND FASTING: THE FACTS
Some of us gain weight, despite eating less, while others struggle with digestive issues. Rashi Chowdhary, Friday’s nutrition and weight-loss expert, reveals the common questions she comes across at her clinical practice each Ramadan, and provides some ea
1Why do I gain weight during Ramadan?
Weight gain during Ramadan can happen only if you eat the wrong kinds of foods at the wrong time, don’t drink enough water or eat too little. If you are able to eat four meals during your waking hours, which are well balanced with all your macros, you will not gain weight. Aim for slow carbs from vegetables, wholewheat (if it suits your gut), sweet potato and fibrous fruits; efficient protein from eggs, chicken, meat; and good fats from avocado, coconut chunks and nuts. You will have stable sugar and insulin levels, which can help with burning fat instead of gaining it.
2I accumulate fat around my belly every Ramadan although I eat very consciously during this month. Sometimes I even skip my suhour. Where could I be going wrong?
Many people falsely believe that weight loss is all about consuming fewer calories than they normally would. Those who are watching their weight tend to eat less after fasting in the hope of losing some pounds quickly. But fat loss can be tricky and quite the opposite. When your body is starved of nutrients, it resists weight loss. It goes into starvation mode and instead accumulates fat, because fat is a reliable, long-term source of energy for our body. It shifts the fat stores to your belly, leading to inflammation and insulin resistance. Gradually your hormones signal to shift healthy visceral fat to unhealthy abdominal fat, which is exactly what’s happening to you.
Eat wisely, and never skip suhour – it needs to be balanced, with hydrating fluids. This meal will fuel your body all day, will keep energy levels maintained and ensure that your body does not enter starvation mode.
3I can’t eat much during suhour because I have a poor appetite. What are some lighter bites?
If you have a small appetite at suhour, load up with high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods so you can get some nutrients first thing in the morning and your energy levels do not crash later in the day. Protein shakes with nuts; avocado with eggs; muesli crushed with dates, seeds and butter and rolled into balls: All of these are easy to eat and give you just enough nutrition to last a couple of hours.
4Can I work out during Ramadan?
Yes. But if your aim is fat loss, then work out just before iftar, so you can end your fast with a protein-rich meal. But if your plan is to maintain muscle mass, you should work out after a light iftar and have a protein shake or two whole eggs just before bed to improve muscle recovery.
5What are the best foods to eat during suhour?
I would suggest three options:
Eggs with mashed potatoes ■ and nuts
Chicken with rice and ■ vegetables
Quinoa paratha cooked in ■ ghee with home-cooked vegetables. These are loaded with good carbs and fibre, and have sufficient protein and good fats to last you through the first half of the day. The slow-releasing energy from nuts, eggs, meat and vegetables will help you feeling energetic without crashing your levels by noon.
6Does fasting have a positive effect on the body?
There is much research that shows how fasting can help your metabolism and your organs to function more efficiently. Here are some facts about plain intermittent fasting, in which you eat for 8-10 hours in the day and switch off eating any calories for 14-16 hours. (In this type of fasting, you can consume water, green tea, black tea and black coffee without sugar.)
Fasting shows tremendous promise ■ for fat loss, preventing certain diseases such as cancer and increasing resilience to ailments.
It has shown massive improvements ■ in insulin resistance and reversing type 2 diabetes (when done correctly and under medical supervision).
Our body kick-starts some ■ important cellular repair processes and changes hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible.
Growth hormone levels shoot up ■ almost five-fold, which makes it easier for your body to accelerate the fat-burning process.
7Is it a good time to lose weight?
The spiritual purpose of Ramadan does so much for body and mind. It’s a great time to start good habits, and for those who are doing everything right, but do not see changes. Since Ramadan puts you in an intermittent fasted state, it works as a new stimulus for your body and can give you results – if you eat the right macronutrients when your body needs them the most.
8What is the best way to end the day’s fast?
Do not skimp on your calories and make sure you eat clean, keep sugar minimal and consume quality protein from grilled meats, fish, chicken and eggs. These options hydrate you and provide essential micronutrients like magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin E that have been depleted throughout the day.
Dates with a handful of nuts and a glass or two of ■ coconut water. A bowl of fruit with coconut chunks in it. ■ Banana and almond milk or an almond butter ■ smoothie.
Dates with lentil soup. ■
9My family wants fried food during iftar at home. How can I give them that, but do damage control?
One relatively healthy option: You can start by frying your food only in coconut oil, ghee or butter. Refined vegetable cooking oils have a low smoking point, so when you use them for frying, the fat content changes to the bad kind of fat that is not good for your heart.
Oils that have a high smoking point are relatively better. When preparing fritters with onions, cauliflower or potato, for instance, use chickpea flour instead of breadcrumbs to make the entire dish healthy. You can also substitute potato with sweet potato or make a mash of veggies with a little potato, coat it in egg white and then fry. You can also use minced meat with lentils to make a patty and pan-fry in ghee. These are far healthier options than deep-fried samosas and kibbeh.
10What can I do to avoid bloating and constipation while fasting?
One of the first things you should do is avoid eating too many dairy products. It does not agree with everyone’s gut. Also, avoid having too many fruit juices; the sugar in these robs your body of B vitamins and can dehydrate you. Cut down your intake of tea and coffee, which cause dehydration. There’s nothing like pure water. Have fibre-rich foods, like oats with nuts and almond milk. Also include 8-10 prunes into your diet for a cleaner gut and better bowel movement.