Ramadan & fasting

Natascha de Vries

Although a lot of religions do it, fasting takes an extreme toll on your body. Today we focus on how fasting affects someone, and what the results are for your physical and mental health. 

It’s Sunday, April 10, 20:32. Sunset, and the start of iftar. Community center “De Ringvaart” has turned into a big dinner hall, with over 120 people attending. While soup is being served, people are chatting with each other. At one table three Muslims, a Christian, two atheists and a policewoman are eating and connecting. While they’re enjoying their soup, they can already smell the chicken that has been prepared.

During the iftar, several speakers share their experiences. Yassir Houtch says: “Ramadan is about showing self-integrity and trying to understand other people. It also shows that you have total free will. Of course you can drink a glass of water when nobody sees you. But the strength of it all lies within your power and the knowledge that you can do it if you want to.”

Anouk converted to Islam and has an eating pattern that works for her. “I start my meals with soup, after that I pray. This gives my body the time to process the soup. After praying, I like to eat spring rolls for example. I’m struggling with my weight and try to not lose too much weight. Normally, I wouldn’t eat that many fried foods.” When asked about her morning routine, she prefers to have a smoothie and lots of tea.

Suzan Tuinier studied nutrition and dietetics and has been working as a nutritionist since 2008.
She sees fasting as a way of reconnecting to yourself. “It’s a really good way to become aware of your own body. There are so many people who just sit at home and eat their food without thinking about it. And that’s the beauty of it, that you start to consciously think about what you eat. That’s a very beautiful principle.”

When Suzan Tuinier, nutritionist, is asked about fasting, she says: “When you suddenly change your eating rhythm, this can be tough for your body. Most people will experience discomfort in their stomach or intestines. But what has the most influence is what you eat. After a day of fasting, it’s best to start slowly and to avoid sweets and greasy food. It’s important to eat a lot of fiber and protein.” According to her, having lots of fibers and fruits for breakfast will be beneficial. “The fibers will last longer, so you won’t get hungry that quickly.” But the challenge is dinner: “I get it, that you would like to eat the tasty food, but try to eat healthy during dinner as well. Make sure your body gets what it needs.”

Not everyone is changing their eating habits during Ramadan. Abiba likes to eat rice with chicken and vegetables and fruit and to drink green tea without sugar. During the day she tries to walk or ride her bike as a form of exercise. Abiba: “I always lose weight during Ramadan. After a month, I have mostly lost 5 kilos of weight, even though I don’t exercise a lot.”

There is a consensus amongst the speakers: in the end, Ramadan is about connecting with the people around you. Fasting makes you aware. Aware of yourself, the people around you, your habits. Sharing this process with others opens a strong connection. And therefore, Ramadan is a mentally enriching experience.