Every year Muslims across the world fast for approximately one month during the holy month of Ramadan. This annual fast is observed as one of the five pillars of Islam, based on a lunar calendar. And although there are other religious obligations that go into Ramadan, the fasting component is a large part.
I have always been interested in religions, cultures, and customs; my curiosity has heightened over the years. I, myself, am a practicing Hindu, but I have many Muslim friends, and I knew that I always wanted to try fasting. I just never had any personal guidance and I didn't want to rely on what I read online.
So this year, a week after Ramadan started, I decided I was going to fast for an entire seven days — from Monday to the following Sunday (July 7 to July 13). At first, I didn’t think too much about it, but as the date approached for my fast to begin, I became nervous.
I actually thought I was going to pass out or that I would become really ill. Then I thought: If millions of women and men all over the world can do this, so can I. I also knew that fasting in certain capacities is healthy, and religions and cultures all over the world have been doing this for centuries to promote good health.
According to certain studies, intermittent fasting can help increase your life span. This type of fasting can range from multiday fasts to skipping certain meals a few times a week. This may also provide the same health benefits that “uninterrupted calorie restriction promises,” according to research from Scientific American. Intermittent fasting also positively affects your body because you’re limiting your calorie intake and by doing this, you’re reducing the risk of certain diseases that are associated with overeating.
Findings from the Institute of Health Ageing at University College London also suggest that reducing food intake could improve long-term health and increase your life span by 15 to 30 percent, the Mirror reported. Experts say this works because your body switches from growth mode to repair mode, meaning that your body is able to break down damaged cells and metabolize them.
Our ancestors did this, not purposely I might add, but they were able to survive on less food. Now our society is all about abundance and surplus. Most of the time we overeat and overconsume things high in sugar in fat, which can lead to a number of preventable sicknesses.
The one thing I was extremely worried about was not consuming water. When speaking with one of my Muslim friends, Waleed Mahmood, he told me that not being able to drink water was one of the hardest parts, but “you feel blessed to have access to clean water all the time once Ramadan is over,” he said.
Other friends encouraged me to do as much as I could. They told me that pregnant women, women menstruating, sick people, children, babies, and the elderly are all exempt from fasting. “It’s all about reasonableness. It's only for the fit and able,” Sayeda Abbas said.
Planning For My Fast
The day before my fast, which was a Saturday, I went grocery shopping. I had consulted with a few of my friends, and I think I psyched myself out. I bought so many things and during the course of the next week, I actually didn’t eat half of the things I bought. I purchased a lot of fruits, eggs, bread, wraps, and pasta. What I should have done was focus on more dinner items. I think I worried about being hungry throughout the day that I stocked up on too many breakfast items. By the time it was time to break my fast in the evening I didn’t have the energy to cook anything. One night I ate leftover past from the night before, and on another night I ordered food in. Also, I should’ve infused my water with fruits. This way I could’ve killed two birds with one stone — hydrated as well as nourished.
I had also requested to work earlier than usual this week so that I was able to go home and take a nap. This almost never happened, mainly because I had errands to run after work. Also, the first day that I did end up napping, it backfired. I couldn’t sleep until midnight, and I had to get up at 4:30 the next morning — big mistake.
However, it was good that I was only going to work until 3 p.m. because during my fast my energy and focus started to drop.
Like I said before, I started my fast on Monday, July 7. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and made four scrambled eggs and put them in two jalapeño wraps with Swiss cheese and a piece of turkey. I stuffed myself so much that when I tried to go back to sleep for an hour, my stomach started to hurt so much.
At work, I felt my first stomach grumble around 12:30 p.m., but it wasn’t debilitating and I was fine getting things done. Around 3 p.m., I felt OK, but I was incredibly thirsty and had dry mouth. Unfortunately, dry mouth equals bad breath and I was not allowed to drink any water or chew any gum. Luckily, I brought my toothbrush and toothpaste with me, which helped to get rid of my cottonmouth. I ended up brushing my teeth at least twice when I was at work.
When I got home, I took a nap from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., so I actually missed the time to break my fast, which was 8:30 p.m. on the first day. I quickly got up and ran to the kitchen and started making dinner. But before I ate a big meal, I drank about 16 ounces of water, ate a few cherries, and a peach. I learned my lesson from breakfast because I felt thirsty throughout the day. I decided that the main thing I should focus on was drinking more water.
The next day, I woke up at the same time, but this time, I ate two pieces of toast and three hard boiled eggs. This was hard for me to eat. I felt like every morning I was stuffing myself because I was never really hungry this early in the morning. I did drink a lot of water, though, and throughout the night, too. I had to get up a few times from my sleep to go to the bathroom, but it was worth it.
I repeated this for the next four days, and every day that I fasted got easier. Not eating for 16 hours per day seemed like the most insane thing to me, but by day three, I didn’t feel as bad. It also helped that my coworkers were very supportive, and there weren’t any temptations in the office.
I was supposed to end my fast on Sunday, July 13, but I started menstruating on Saturday the 12, so I stopped that day. In total, my fast lasted from Monday through Friday, for a total of five days. I would’ve definitely been able to go the full seven days.
One thing that many people asked me during and even after was if I lost weight. Not really, since I felt like I wasn't that careful with my diet during the morning and evenings. I did, however, feel a little less bloated and had a smaller appetite, but on the scale, it was only a 2-pound difference. I also was unable to exercise because I felt too weak.
What I Learned
Overall, fasting was a great experience. It pushed me physically and mentally, and it’s something that I would definitely do again. I’m even thinking of incorporating a fast at least once a week into my lifestyle because of the health benefits. I will acknowledge it was a very challenging experience, however. At one point, I walked into a store and grabbed a huge jug of water, walked up to the cashier to pay, but I put it back and ended up just going home and napping.
“It’s self-control on many levels and it's a mind, body, soul cleanse,” Abbas said, and I couldn’t agree more. Food is something that many of us, especially here in America take for granted. Not only did this help me with my own personal physical connection, but it put into perspective how many people in this country and world are suffering. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 870 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment. How’s that for food for thought?