Ramadan is the time for introspection, sharing and giving. It’s also a great time to slow down and think about our health. If it is weight loss that needs to be addressed, Ramadan is a perfect time to focus on that too.
Of late, fasting for weight loss has been gaining much attention, especially intermittent fasting. “Though there is mounting evidence to suggest eating three or five small meals a day may not be important for weight loss and performance, what we do know is that we really are best on at least one meal and a number of hours to process it and utilise the energy,” explains Stephanie Karl, Clinical Nutritionist, Emirates Integra.
“Two meals is perfect and three may just be a little more comfortable but unnecessary,” she adds.
However, researchers haven’t reached a consensus on how many meals are best and whether one should fast for periods of the day. Many cultures have established patterns of fasting and may have adapted to make this practice work as part of a healthy diet to manage weight and cleanse the body.
During Ramadan fasting Muslims eat two main meals: one at the end of the day, iftar, and one at the beginning, suhour. “The periods between the meals allow the body to utilise the energy well by switching between using carbohydrates and fat,” says Karl. “The only difficulty is the time without hydration during the hottest hours of daylight, hence it is important to drink lots of water once the fast is ended.”
What happens in a fast
When you fast, the human body goes into conservation mode, burning calories more slowly. It switches from utilising carbohydrates to fats as its primary fuel and ensures a constant source of energy to the body.
Fasting causes a biochemical trigger of the hormones glucagon and cortisol, which stimulates the release of fatty acids from fat tissue into the bloodstream. The fatty acids are taken up by the muscles and other tissues and broken down (oxidised) to produce energy in the cells.
Hormones kick in
Eating triggers the hormone insulin into the blood to shuttle glucose into muscles and tissues to be used as energy. Excess glucose is converted to fat and stored.
“When you dramatically reduce your calorie intake when fasting, you will lose weight but it can also cause all kinds of health problems, including muscle loss if the iftar and suhour meals are not nutritionally balanced,” explains Zeina Younes, Clinical Diabetes Dietitian Specialist at the Dubai Diabetes Centre, Dubai Health Authority (DHA). “Hence, practising a healthy eating pattern along with physical activity during Ramadan can provide some weight loss.”
Dr Wafaa Ayesh, Director of Clinical Nutrition, DHA, says, “When the calorie intake is dramatically reduced as in case of fasting, the body’s metabolism also drops. Also, you may tend to lose more muscle mass than fat during this period.”
Lose weight healthily
The most effective way to lose weight is by opting for a healthy eating plan that can be followed in the long term. Ramadan can be a great opportunity to adopt healthy dietary modifications if you want to lose weight and maintain the loss.