Bahrain-based health coach on the health benefits of fasting
Time Out Bahrain staff
In the heat of the summer it’s important to be aware of your body’s needs during your daily fast. We get some advice from local health coach Muneera Obaidli.
The act of fasting and ignoring the temptation of food or drink throughout the day is hard enough as it is, but throw the searing Bahraini heat into the mix and things become a lot tougher. Muneera Obaidli, a locally based health coach, has successfully run a few healthy fasting workshops in the past and so we got in touch to find out what we should know.
What are the most important health benefits of fasting? One of the most important benefits of fasting is that you give your digestive system a break. This frees up energy that the rest of your body can use to heal, repair and regenerate. When we eat, roughly 80 percent of our energy goes toward digestion.
From more of a mental and emotional standpoint, you can experience greater mental clarity, a sharper mind, and even increased energy levels. Many people may be surprised to hear this as people often complain that they feel lethargic while fasting. This is true to a certain extent if your body is very toxic (as a result of addictions) and if you generally eat a toxic diet. You will feel quite tired and heavy in the first few days as your body tries to detoxify and cleanse. After this period one should be able to experience more mental clarity and increased energy levels.
What effects should people be aware of when going into this? You will experience detox symptoms while fasting if you have a build-up of toxins in your system. Addictions such as caffeine, smoking and sugar – or any kind of food addiction – can have this effect. It’s a good idea to start cutting those down, or out, a few weeks before Ramadan. This will make the experience less traumatic on your system.
Another thing to note is that when you’re not drinking water, toxins keep circulating and can’t be flushed out as easily. Making sure to drink enough water during non-fasting hours can help combat this. Other detoxifying methods such as dry body brushing, a steam bath or even Moroccan baths can help to eliminate toxins. Just be sure to hydrate and drink a lot of water, as you are prone to sweat when in a steamy environment.
Another bad habit is that people stay up all night eating foods they would normally not touch and then sleep all day, which is not a healthy pattern at all. Our body’s organs function on different timings. For example the liver functions at night between 1am to 3am, so if you’re awake it can’t do its job properly, and when you’re detoxing and not drinking enough water you can cause serious harm to your body.
How do you advise people to stay safely hydrated for the day? The benefit is that in the winter we actually get hungrier so in that sense it’s easier to fast during the summer since we don’t feel like eating during the extreme heat. The danger falls when it comes to dehydration, which can be very easy to experience. One of my failsafe tips is to add a pinch of sea salt to your drinking water (not iodised table salt) – the minerals in sea salt actually help your body retain moisture.
I would also say try to rest and not do too many daytime activities. Avoiding the direct sunlight is crucial. Drinking enough water at night is a no brainer, but also ensure you include raw fruit and vegetables in your diet –these are more absorbable than water as they’re balanced with fibre. You may also consider having coconut water regularly... [it] is actually ten times more hydrating than water!
What are the best foods to eat when you break your fast? Traditionally, in our culture, people break their fast with dates and water because it quickly re-mineralises you and brings your blood sugar back to normal. This is fine (so long as you do not have diabetes) but I would personally recommend green juice or coconut water as well.
Generally, when breaking your fast you should avoid difficult-to-digest and fried foods. Your stomach has been inactive all day and bombarding it with these kinds of foods can adversely affect your health. Stick to high moisture foods such as fruits and veg, or simple foods like soup for example.
In many cultures across the Middle East such as in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, people often break their fast on something very light and then have a more substantial meal at dinner two hours later. I highly recommend this. If you can’t wait, try to break your fast on some fruit, a green juice or smoothie or coconut water then wait 20 to 30 minutes to have your meal.
I would also recommend adding in more fermented foods such as probiotic coconut kefir or kimchi and sauerkraut [available on Muneera’s website]. These contain essential beneficial bacteria which help to break down foods further and assist with digestion.
What should people eat for the rest of the evening? How much varies from person to person. I prefer to place emphasis on quality not quantity. To get the optimum benefit of fasting you want to have at least 16 hours of rest from food so ideally you don’t want to be eating late into the night either. For recommended foods, go for slow releasing grains that will keep you sustained for longer like oatmeal, quinoa or buckwheat and add in more greens. Avoid processed food and fizzy drinks, as well as foods high in salt. It will not only affect the benefits you reap from fasting but will also make you thirstier the next day. It’s good to be aware of what you eat and how you feel the next day. Try tracking your food using a food diary and noting how certain foods make you feel.
If you start to feel unwell during the day, what should you do? There are of course different levels of feeling unwell. If you have low blood pressure and you may faint while fasting, for example, then you should contact your doctor. If you’re just feeling tired and lethargic and have a regular fasting headache, try smelling peppermint oil which is marvellous at relieving fasting headaches, or try taking a small break and putting your feet up for a few minutes.
People who don’t exercise in Ramadan find it much more difficult to fast because exercise moves your lymphatic system which helps toxins move out of the body. Also be sure to get enough sleep at night. Visit www.muneera.com
Muneera says, why not give intermittent fasting a go? ‘A lot of people in the health and wellness world are advocating long-term intermittent fasting because they’ve realised it’s not how much you eat or what you eat but simply that the body needs a gap of rest from digestive function to be able to regenerate and heal.
‘Since you’re already accustomed to fasting after Ramadan, it might be a fun idea to try intermittent fasting for at least 13 hours (although the recommended is 16 hours). So if you were to eat your last meal at 7pm you can have your next meal by 8am the next morning. Plus, during the non-Ramadan fasting period you may have unlimited water, lemon water and herbal tea. Why not give it a try and reap the benefits of fasting throughout the year?’