That’s it! Ramadan 2017 is officially over, as is EID and after twenty-nine days of fasting I jumped on the scales to see whether fasting had been good or bad to my body. The good news is that I lost weight! I’m down a fantastic 3.2kgs (7 lbs) which is great news. Since I started Switch 360 program I’m now officially down 13.7kgs (30 lbs). Just as important is that my body composition is dramatically changing and I’m certain more leaner, have gained some muscle mass and am getting fitter by the day. I didn’t measure my body composition at the beginning of Ramadan, but wish I had as I’m sure this would have been a good indicator to see what had happened too.
Each year, I write a post looking back on Ramadan and how it went and this year I’m writing it in the form of answering some of the many questions which have been asked of me by family, friends and readers across my social media platforms. This isn’t meant to be a guide for you to follow since I’m not a professional in the area and even if I was I strongly believe that as we are all different we all have different needs and requirements. Below I’m sharing my experiences based on what has worked for me.
Did you start fasting over Ramadan to lose weight? Absolutely not, in fact when I started researching this I was worried that I would gain weight since this is what a lot of people report. I wanted fast to feel and experience a richer Ramadan. Since coming to Dubai eight years ago, I have always fasted in some shape or form. Sometimes it would be an odd day of full fasting, other times it would be fasting on food but not on water. Three years ago I committed to fast properly and to follow the full principles of fasting for Ramadan.
Is it possible to lose weight over Ramadan? Absolutely! I’m living proof, and no I didn’t starve myself to do it, but of course I did follow the rules of fasting, so was fasting for about fifteen hours per day. This is the third year that I’ve fasted and each year I’ve lost weight. In fact last year and the year before I lost 4.5kgs (10 lbs) over the same period.
What’s my secret? There is no magic secret as such, but this is what I did and what seems to work for me. The majority of meals were eaten at home and cooked from scratch by me. Each day I focussed on eating food that would fuel my body, be healthy and sustain me until the next meal. In practice this meant that I broke my fast with dates, water, laban, homemade soup and homemade flatbread and the occasional samosa. Later in the evening I had a late meal for dinner usually consisting of a source of protein, veggies and some carbs. If I was peckish between meals then I would eat a piece of fruit or a South African rusk which was quite low in sugar. The most important part of all was to keep hydrated so I drank a lot of water, and of course a few cups of good Specialty Coffee.
Eating Out Lavish Iftars and late Suhoor meals are not really something that I support and/or an eat during Ramadan so I kept it very simple and actually only ate out just five times. I went to two buffet Iftars. The first one was very low-key and lovely, the second a larger event with average food. I did not eat to excess at either, partly because I just don’t have space to do so, and partly because I just really didn’t want to. Ramadan is not supposed to be about eating to excess and feeling uncomfortable although lots of people do this. I went to one Ramadan pop up with a Set Menu which was really good and I really enjoyed. I also made one trip to my local falafel shop to satisfy a falafel craving (sadly they didn’t have falafels on the day, so I ended up with a chicken shawarma plate and humous instead). Finally I had a late night craving for Mille Feuille and Coffee so ended up in a bakery eating Caramel Cheese cake since they had run out of Mille Feuille!
Exercise I exercised about four times per week. Typically this would be two or three boot camps just after Iftar and then one or two late night HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts in my building gym. I must admit that I didn’t quite manage to train at the same level of intensity that I usually do particularly as some of the boot camp classes as I struggled to get hydrated – this was more clear at the end of Ramadan when boot camp started literally two minutes after Iftar so I had only managed to gulp down a few mouthfuls of water before boot camp started.
How did you fuel up for exercise? This was the most tricky for me particularly with boot camp which was just after Iftar. At the start I experimented with eating a few dates or half a banana just before training, but found both too heavy so instead I either had a few slices of watermelon if time permitted or just fueled with water and then had a protein shake after training. Training later in the evening was no problem as I was able to eat an Iftar meal before training.
Were you constantly thinking about Food? Yes and No. Yes in the sense that each morning I would start planning what I was going to cook later, what soup would I make, what supplies did I need to buy and what I was going to bake and/or make. I typically find that I shop daily during Ramadan and not doing a big weekly shop and planning ahead. Was I thinking about food in the sense of “I’m hungry”, absolutely not. To be honest the only thing I was more aware of missing was water, since the heat and humidity means that you feel dehydrated quite early in the day. This was compounded as I also spent at least an hour a day outside on a building site helping with FillingTheBlues.
What did you Cook? Before Ramadan I flicked through a copy of Magic Soup, and made a list of simple soups to make. The criteria I used was that they were simple in terms of the amount of ingredients required, that I had the majority of ingredients in my store cupboard and that they would be simple and easy to make and tasty. Favorites included minted pea soup, roast tomato soup, leek & potato soup and broccoli soup. You can read the recipe for Roasted Tomato soup and flat breads in my post here. I also baked banana cake (minus the sugar and topping) from a recipe from FoodeMag dxb.
Any cravings? Aside from a constant craving for chilled water due to dehydration, I craved Mille Feuille, Falafel and crispy/crunchy food as well as caffeine!
How was cooking whilst you were fasting? Cooking itself was fine, but the challenge was to cook and not be able to taste to season etc for Iftar food in particular the soup. It was a bit of an unknown quantity about whether it would be seasoned enough or not. Also have you ever tried baking without sneaking the spoon with some cake batter in your mouth at the end (sorry old habits are hard to change).
How do you feel when you fast? The first few days are tough. I usually get bad headaches which are probably as much to do about caffeine withdrawal as they are with anything else. It usually takes my body a few days to adjust without water and food, but I don’t really feel hungry until just before Iftar time. Mental clarity is tough for a few days but after this I find that it generally improves. Each year I do notice that my eye sight becomes a bit more blurry than usual. This year I suffered really bad cramps in my calf on one day, but I’m putting this down to really bad dehydration as on that day we were outside in the heat for three hours. Energy wise this fluctuates a little – mostly I had plenty of exercise to train after fasting, with the exception of the last day when I was literally running on empty at the start of the session. During Ramadan my day tends to start later as I tend to sleep later, so I suspect some of this is due to changed sleeping patterns etc.
Would you recommend fasting during Ramadan? Yes, even if it’s only for one day to experience what your Muslim friends/colleagues are experiencing.
What are your plans after Ramadan?
What happens next? Before Ramadan I had tried Intermittent Fasting on some days and I will continue to do this going forward since it suits me well and is helping with changes to my body composition etc. There are a lot of health benefits for Intermittent Fasting and I will cover this in another post.
During Ramadan you are not allowed to eat or drink between the first prayer of the day (Fajr) and the next to the last prayers of the day (Maghrib). This is often described as being between sunrise and sunset. This year in Dubai this meant that people were fasting between the hours of 4.00 am and 7.15pm, just over fifteen hours. Typically during Ramadan those who are fasting eat their first meal of the day at Iftar which is just after the Magrib prayers. This is then followed later with Suhoor which typically refers to a meal consumed early in the morning before Fajr prayer. Some people eat Suhoor just before Fajr prayers and others tend to just eat later in the evening perhaps before going to bed.