What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and one of the most important months in the Islamic Year. It lasts for 29 / 30 days and is a time of year when fasting occurs. During this time Muslims around the world give up consuming all food and drink (including water) from dawn until sunset.
Why are Muslims fasting?
There are a range of reasons why Muslim fast. Firstly, the obvious being it is a commandment from god. As 1 of the 5 pillars in Islam, it is a fundamental part of the Muslim faith. As a result, Muslims all around the world come together for this month. It is considered an act of worship for the believers. Consequently it allows them to spiritually connect with their God thereby attaining taqwa (God-consciousness). It provides the opportunity for individuals to exercise virtues such as patience and self control. This is obtained by abstaining from food and drink as well as all other desires whilst fasting. As well as this, it helps Muslims to be appreciative of the blessings they have. Thereby feeling compassionate towards those less fortunate and in need.
Is there any science behind it?
There have been multiple studies on the effect of intermittent fasting. Harvard medical school have suggested the benefits include reducing weight and belly fat, reduce insulin resistance, reduce stress and inflammation, heart health, cellular repair, brain health and lifespan. Naturally this can be applied in helping a range of conditions including PCOS which I covered last week.
Since intermittent fasting consist of not eating for 14-16 hours and only eating in a 8-10 hour window, it is a little different from Ramadan. Ramadan has a dawn to sunset fasting time, and this can vary depending on when Ramadan is in the Gregorian Calendar. In addition, this changes based on where you live in the world.
Are there any health benefits?
Building on this, studies have shown that entirely removing food and drink has remarkable effects on the body. Reduced meal frequency helps prime the body to lose fat. Furthermore, fasting for 30 days has seen to reduce level of LDL cholesterol and anxiety. These are majority risks for cardiovascular diseases, and so it is argued that Ramadan helps to prevent heart issues and boost health.
Adding to this, fasting for as little as three days can help the immune system of individuals. Researchers found with fasting the body started to pump out brand new white blood cells, which helped the immune system to combat diseases also.
There have been some studies that have suggested that cancer may also be helped with fasting. A study using mice with cancer tumours showed the tumours reduce at a greater rate when fasting and chemotherapy were coupled, rather than the chemotherapy alone. However, this is still an area which requires some scientific study.
Can I incorporate fasting into my daily life?
There has been a recent phenomenon which many people have been adopting known as the 5:2 diet. This is a diet where individuals fast or eat around 500-600 calories for 2 days of the week and the other 5 days eat normally. However this is not a ‘new’ concept for lots of Muslims. The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) would fast on Mondays and Thursdays, and so many Muslims follow this in order to replicate his actions. With these fasts, you can reap the benefits of fasting on a weekly basis thereby improving your health.
Does fasting improve mind discipline?
It is agreed that fasting can help boost your brain, with the benefits been seen in mental well-being and spiritual focus. A study by scientists in the USA found that this mental focus achieved in Ramadan increased the levels brain cell production thus improving brain function. Furthermore, the reduced production of the cortisol hormone means that stress levels are greatly reduced during and after Ramadan.
If you remember my blog post on self control and sticking to diets, I discuss our chimp and our human. The chimp wants instant gratification (like a child) but the human will be more willing to wait for the long term gratification (like an adult). Muslim believe that each individual has a Nafs which can be translated as you ego or inner self. This Nafs has lowly desires which can either lead you to good or bad. With the constant desire we have around us, Nafs can lead us towards that which is not good for our mind, body and soul.
One of the ways to control the Nafs is through fasting and it is advise to do when one is struggling with lowly desires. If we relate this to eating behaviour, fasting can help individuals to control their chimp (child) and ensure that their human (adult) stays in control. As a result the individual can make more logical decisions around what food they eat and how much of it. Fasting can therefore help to reduce weight and encourage healthy eating on a daily basis.
Why not give it a try!
Since Ramadan has just started, if you are not already fasting, why not give it a go? There are many health benefits to be reaped, and you can keep your Muslim friends company too!
Have you tried intermittent fasting, 5:2, or Ramadan fast? Let me know in the comments below or via firstname.lastname@example.org!