Appetites Gone Wild – 7 Tips For Conscious Eating At Iftar

As Iftar celebrations are underway on Day eighteen of Ramadan, I have been inspired to share with you my take on how not to overdo it at when breaking your fast at Iftar.

July 10, 2013 marked the anniversary of my tenth year here in Dubai which means the idea of fasting and Ramadan is something I have become quite accustomed to, as a permanent guest of the UAE. With a temperature high of 40°C today, I particularly applaud those being able to go the whole day without any hydration. The idea of being in sweltering heat without being able to cool down, or for those indoors, being subjected to the moisture vampire we call air conditioning is not appealing to me in the slightest. It is definitely not something I’d like to voluntarily sign up for at this time of year, especially without having the indulgence of even the smallest drop of water to quench my thirst and I commend those who do.

During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar Muslims all over the world spend thirty days willingly abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking, physical relations and even chewing gum during daylight hours. The fast begins just before sunrise with a light meal (Suhoor) and ends at sunset when the call to prayer (Adhan) is announced. The most popular methods of concluding the fast in Middle Eastern culture is by eating three dates in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad, who broke his fast in this manner. Other popular ways are by drinking some water, milk or laban. The time when the fast ends is known as “Iftar” which is celebrated most evenings by large, communal meals.

Muslims fast to discipline their mind and body. The void of food, drink and other pleasures provide a suitable opportunity to concentrate on prayer and worship. Not having the luxuries of daily life present makes it easier to reflect on life and be appreciative of what we do have.

Muslim Mosque in Jumeirah, Dubai - United Arab Emirates

Muslim Mosque in Jumeirah, Dubai – United Arab Emirates

Fasting is not select to Muslims though. Many Eastern and Western religious faiths, including their diverse denominations practice fasting, prescribed with varying regulations and exclusions which may be only partially restrictive, limiting particular foods or substance.

In Western culture, fasting has become quite popular amongst fashionistas and celebrities alike. The Master Cleanse , also known as The Lemondade Diet and more recently intermittent fasting and Jason Vale’s juice feast (yes we are calling it a feast) are further versions of fasting that has been glorified by stars such as Beyoncé, Pink, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Jared Leto and Michelle Rodriguez, just to name a few. Vendors and detox retreats offering 3-10 day juices fast are quickly becoming a staple in most cosmopolitan cities. Like everyone else, the body needs a holiday. Detox retreats throughout India, Thailand and Indonesia are reaping the rewards of those selecting vacations focused on self-healing, raising energy levels and the prevention of premature aging and disease.

One of the things that all these periods of famine have in common is that are usually followed by a feast. On the first night of Ramadan it was reported by Arabian Business that scores of Qataris were admitted to hospital for overeating, with an average of fifteen patients expected to be seen each night for fasting-related illnesses. Although I am a firm believer in the many benefits to the mind, body and soul by hitting the Ctrl+Alt+Del button, I also advocate the importance of breaking your fast sensibly. Contrary to what you’d think, many Muslims actually consume more during Ramadan than other months, as they eat high-energy dishes at night to keep them going throughout the next day. Dubai has an abundance of Iftar buffets in fancy Hotels around the city which usually result in over eating and poor food combining, commonly followed by the buffet bloat, slow digestion, a carb coma and weight gain. The health repercussions surrounding this have become such a concern that the Dubai Government are promoting a 30-day weight-loss challenge to coincide with their holy month of Ramadan, promising to pay participants a gram of gold for every kilogram of weight lost. For more information about this click here.

Below I’d like to share with you my tips for the health conscious eater when breaking your fast.

  • Your first and foremost priority when breaking a fast is to hydrate, hydrate and did I mention hydrate?! A great way to do this is to prepare yourself an Iftar Juice. Having witnessed rapid development in the healthcare sector in Dubai over the past few years, I was extremely impressed when I recently stumbled across a great example of this at Cafe Baroque in JBR. Their Iftar juice contains a health boosting combination of pineapple, fennel, cucumber, pear, celery, lemon, mint and coriander, easily replicated at home. It claims to replenish lost fluids and reduce any headaches, cramps or bad breath associated with fasting. It will quickly rehydrate you, eliminate toxins, cleanse your whole system and neutralise bacteria. The combination of these ingredients kick starts and calms your digestive system, especially if you suffer from bloating, indigestion or nausea. Additionally, it prepares your digestive system in advance for what you will eat during the evening. If you decide not to eat anything else, this juice contains enough goodness and vitality to be used as a meal replacement. It can also suppress your appetite which is particularly beneficial if you are focused on being healthy or wanting to resist temptation at an Iftar spread.
The Iftar Juice at Cafe Baroque

The Iftar Juice at Cafe Baroque

  • Start your meal with fruit as opposed to saving it for dessert. Fruit is wonderful. It provides us with so many beneficial vitamins and enzymes. It is incredibly alkalising and will promote healthy skin, increased energy and heightened detoxification. But all of this can only be achieved if you eat your fruit on an empty stomach. Wait at least 30 minutes before popping anything else down your hatch. If you eat fruit close to a meal, especially right after a larger meal and combine with other foods, it’s held in the stomach too long along with other foods and will rot and ferment in the gut. If you experience indigestion, heartburn, burping and and other digestive discomforts and you blame on the meal – it could be the combination of the food, the fermentation with fruit that causes your upset stomach. If left uncontrolled it could lead to other health problems that stem from the digestive tract.
    NB. Melons should be eaten only on their own. Check out what MindBodyGreen has to say about the major rule for eating fruit.
  • Fill up on soup, salad and mezze first. Eating a raw salad before your meals does more than help you meet your daily veggie quota. Starting with a salad may be an effective tool in helping you decrease your total calorie consumption during lunch or dinner, which can help you manage your weight. Be mindful of your portions and avoid high-calorie salads full of too many extras like processed meats, cottage cheese, mayo, and high-fat cheese or dressings.
  • Don’t forget to chew your food. When you take a bite, the digestion process starts immediately. The motion of chewing triggers your body to produce stomach acids and pancreatic juices in anticipation of food entering the stomach. Powerful enzymes in your saliva begin breaking down fats and starches, and depending on how thoroughly you chew your food, much is actually digested in your mouth. Basically, the more work you do in your mouth, the less work your entire digestive tract has to do breakdown your food. A basic rule of thumb is to chew every bite of food at least 15-20 times before swallowing.
  • Slow down. It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness. Leisurely eating allows ample time to trigger the signal from your brain that you are full. And feeling full translates into eating less. It’s true that eating slowly and taking smaller bites can be very difficult to do, especially when you are busy and famished. It is important to therefore remind yourself that eating slowly and mindfully not only helps you control bingeing, it enhances the pleasure of the dining experience.
  • If you still don’t feel full after giving yourself an intermission and find you are still bee-lining it to the biriyani or um ali, ask yourself these questions.
  1. Am I hungry?
  2. Is this what I want to eat?
  3. Is this what I want to eat right now?
  4. Is there something else I can eat instead?
  • Don’t go to sleep on a full stomach. According to Help Guide, eating a big meal, especially a fatty, heavy one, makes your digestive organs have to work harder. At night before bed, try to keep any of the body’s system’s from working too hard. Everything should be winding down form the day’s activity. This is the same reason it’s not recommended to exercise before bed. Though a large meal may make you drowsy for a short time, lying down after eating can cause heartburn and digestive issues that may wake you up or keep you awake because you are uncomfortable. To get a better night’s sleep, have your final meal of the day at least three hours before bedtime, according to MSNBC.

Whether you are following and observing the rituals of Ramadan or not, it is perfect time for you to do something proactive for your body. These same tips can also be applied when facing the Hotel breakfast buffets that we often succumb to down-route or Dubai’s infamous Friday brunches. The word breakfast came about as it means breaking the fast after one has not eaten (fasted) from the night before. Essentially it is the same thing, however it usually follows a nights sleep as opposed to a full day awake in boiling conditions. Although breakfast is the most important meal of the day to rev up your metabolism, satisfy your food cravings and keep your spirits up throughout the day, it is no excuse for your appetite to run wild and use your stomach as a trash can.

If you feel your eating habits have been influenced by one too many buffets of late and you are ready to get back into your skinny jeans without starving yourself, popping pills, or following another fad diet, please get in touch with me here to schedule a free 50 minute health consultation. As we work together, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of the food and holistic lifestyle choices that work best for you and implement lasting changes that will improve your energy, balance and health.

Ramadan Kareem,

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