The perfect LFMF Ramadan List: Learn From My Fail

I’ve been fasting for a long time. Long enough to be on my second mid-June Ramadan, if you must know. And in these many years I’ve picked up a wee bit of wisdom on how to thrive during the Holy Month, mostly from trial and error. Below is my Learn From My Fail Ramadan List.

1. Have a breakfast of champions!

Wheaties are good, but generally speaking, your sahoor should include high-fiber carbs, good fats, and a LOTS of water. The fiber in the carbs will slow the digestion of the food down, so it stays with you longer and by pairing it with some good fats, you’ll be mixing in some high-power fuel in those slow-burning carbs, which will give you access to satisfying energy and fullness longer. The lots of water should be self-explanatory, but some people don’t get it. The average person needs approximately 8 glasses, or two liters of water a day. If you’re only having two or three meals in the evening throughout Ramadan, that means you need to have at 2.3 to four glasses of water with each meal. And let’s be honest, the time you MOST need that water is in the day, not at night, when you’re asleep. So sahoor is when you need to fill ‘er up. Channel your inner camel and chug as much as you can. You’ll only feel like a drum of water for about an hour, so don’t worry about it.

2. Captain Crunch is Not Your Friend

He may understand you like no one else, but The Cap’n’s heavenly pellets of joy are not good sahoor food. Foods that are high in sugar and refined carbs may taste great, but they’ll leave you high and dry. Because they’re ‘simple sugars’ – your body will burn through them very quickly, giving you an insulin spike – what we call a ‘sugar high – and then drop you, leaving you feeling extra tired. Some can manage greasy and spicy foods for sahoor, but for many, they end up causing many hours of morning indigestion, as the foods go into an empty stomach with a full load of digestive acid, and have nothing else to neutralize the resulting volcanic reaction till iftar time. To avoid the potential misery of heartburn, stomach ache and the very scientific ‘urpy burps’, we recommend skipping the keema paratha and hotlinks with fried eggs at sahoor.

3. Don’t Die

I know right? I get paid the non-bucks for these gems! But seriously, this year, Ramadan falls right smack in the middle of summer, resulting in some of the longest and hardest fasts ever. For those of us who live in hotter climates, that presents a serious challenge, with dehydration and severe exhaustion realistic possibilities for those who are not careful. And I’m not talking about the ‘boohoo, my lips are cracked’ type of dehydration. I’m talking about the ‘call an ambulance, this person can’t move’ kind of dehydration’. I’ve experienced it, and it’s not fun, so Learn From My Fail. THE obvious strategy is to avoid anything that dries and tires you out if you can – meaning being in the heat, in the sun, and doing excessive physical activity. If you have to be outdoors, then make sure in the evening that you drink even MORE than the recommended 2 liters of water, to make up what you lost, plus a bit of salt to replace your electrolytes.

4. Kick The Habit

Ramadan headaches are a real buzzkill. For many of us, they’re a near-daily event, making daytime painfully unending and it hard to avoid profanity and impatience. There are a couple things you can do, however, to reduce your Ramadan Brain Pains. The most important thing is to ensure you don’t get dehydrated by drinking as much as you can in the night hours. But beyond that, the best Pro Tip is, a week before Ramadan, begin slowly coming off of caffeine and nicotine (if you’re naughty enough to smoke to begin with. Tsk.). That will give your body time to gradually withdraw from these two potent and popular stimulants so you can avoid them for the entire month. If you didn’t manage to do that ahead of time, it’s not too late. Every day, have less, until you are able to go without. Then, in the daylight hours, when you’re fasting and can’t have your fix, you won’t get the daily withdrawal headaches that can make fasting a drag.

5. Don’t Go Whole Hog

It’s a strange irony that in a month of fasting, many of us end up putting on weight. The reason is that we tend to make up for lost eating time when the sun goes down by gorging on traditional iftar foods that are fattening and sugary. When the adhan calls, and there is a plate of crisp pakoras or a tall pitcher of sweet Vimto looking at you, it’s hard not to fall on them face first. The trick is to try not to have them on the table at all. If you’re in charge of the iftar menu, take out the worst offenders – anything deep fried. Replace it with soup or salads. Essentially, all you really need is food and water. You may THINK you want mozzarella sticks and cupcakes, but your body will be just as happy if you fill it full of fruit salad and hummus. You can fill up on the healthy stuff, pray maghrib, relax with the family, watch some TV, and then have a normal dinner, without significantly adding to your daily caloric intake. The Prophet, (peace be upon him), actually gave us the best example of a restrained iftar. He would break his fast on just a handful of dates.

6. Make Every Moment Count

One of the hard parts about Ramadan is balancing the desire to make the daytime go as quickly as possible, and the need to make the most of the Holy Month with prayer, dhikr, charity and other good works. It is super tempting to sleep away the daylight hours, especially if your school or work schedules allow. But then, what’s the point of fasting when you’re sleeping through most of it? And then there are our usual diversions – TV, movies, video games and mindless web surfing. These activities may not be all that bad, but they’re definitely not the best use of your Ramadan time. In order to make sure your Ramadan doesn’t pass you by with little more achieved than a rumbling stomach and marathon sessions of the Walking Dead, it helps to set some goals. Decide what it is you WANT to do. Finish the entire Quran? Pray all your tarawihs? Complete a lecture series? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Stop listening to music? Whatever it is, action starts with a decision, so set your goals. Then, make a plan to achieve them. Keep a record to motivate yourself – using good old fashioned pen and paper, or with snazzy sites like RememberTheMilk. Get a friend in on the plan, to keep you honest. Use a time management tools like StayFocused for Chrome or FocalFilter for Windows to keep yourself from straying to Facebook or wherever it is you do your most useless time wastage. Inshallah, with the right intentions, and some intelligent planning, you’ll be able to make the most of this Ramadan.

Happy Fasting!

Written by Zarina Khan

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Zarina Khan is an MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellow acting as the head of editorial at a research institute in the UAE. She has a background in print journalism, and has worked as a reporter, editor, stringer and columnist in South Asia and the Middle East.