” … Eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then resume the fast till nightfall … “ [Al-Qur’an 2:187]
So fasting is now a trend, apparently. 5:2, Eat Stop Eat, the Warrior Diet…my Instagram feed is full of the fast breaking meals of people abstaining from food. Fasting is, so it would seem, a healthy way to eat. So how come every year when Ramadan rolls round we see nothing but articles berating Muslims for the damage they’re doing to their health? The answer is simply that fasting for us is a complete fast – no water or calorie-free black coffee allowed. And that changes things. Fasting during Ramadan is not a weight loss plan; it’s not an “easy way to diet.”
The first Ramadan G and I were dating, though respecting his fast, I berated him for the damage I presumed he was doing to his health. It was summer, days were long and the sun was hot. It can’t be healthy I thought, as I guiltily sipped the water he happily served me, surely there’s a “get out clause” when the weather’s this hot! A year later, as we fasted through our wedding day, I understood his smirked replies. If you fast conscientiously, it’s honestly not that bad. Sleep through suhoor – the pre-dawn meal – and you’ll feel the hunger pangs, but if you’ve sipped water from breaking your fast until sleeping and skip the daytime workouts, the thirst won’t be as overwhelming as you’d expect. When you break it down, it makes sense that your body can handle it. Between the call to prayer signifying the time to break fast and the nightime prayer after which you’ll (if sensible) sleep, there’s about 3.5 hours. If you sip water consistently through that time, you’ll consume between 2-3 litres of water – the exact amount it’s recommended we drink daily – and let’s face it, outside of Ramadan, few of us actually meet that target. The difference between drinking it condensed in those hours and sipping through the day is that we actually feel the thirst and experience our body asking for nourishment. For most of us, this is the only time of year we are so in tune with our bodies. Experts say most of the time we feel hunger, we’re actually thirsty. Having experienced fasting, I’m convinced this is true. Experts also say that we actually need on average only two thirds of the calories we consume in a day. Ditto this. A bowl of soup, a half-portion of a meal and a glass of water later, a fasting persons body feel as nourished as had they eaten all day. The key is to eat a balanced meal, slowly, and stop when you feel full. Actually, followed like this, I guess it actually *is* the prefect diet plan, huh! The problem is, and the reason so many Muslims gain weight during Holy Month is that after a days’ fast, our emotions often ignore the signals of our bodies. Dessert sounds better than ever, that chicken smells divine and after a day off caffeine, sure another coffee at 10pm sounds ace!
Ramadan is bountiful for those who fast and those who hold the intention to have done so health permitting, but it is not without its challenges. You’re tired, it’s inevitable. You’re irritable but trying not to be. You have much you want to accomplish and worry you won’t meet your goals. And, let’s face it, your breathe smells so you spend a lot of time trying to interact without breathing on people! In Turkey, all of these things are understood, allowances are made and the pace of life slows a little. This year Ramadan is going to be different. There will be no tables set for iftar, no call to prayer to ring in the fasts and few people around sharing the feeling. It will be a strange feeling to be the lone person fasting as people continue with life unaware of the significance of the month. It will be the first year I’ve fasted in a non-Muslim country and the first year I’ll have had a routine that still needs to be kept. In it’s favour, fasting here means the weather will be more merciful inshallah and though its probable G won’t be here, there’s likely to be an aunty or uncle of grandparent around who can step in so that Mummy can nap if needed. Everything comes with a ying and a yang and the best things we discover through challenge. Bringing newness to familiar is good.
Planning a balanced diet during Ramadan is a necessity, but so too is to plan in a few treats. This Amish Cinnamon Bread is highly likely to make the cut. Couldn’t be simpler to make, the boys absolutely loved it and the sweetness is light though indulgent. A little bit of what you fancy does you good, right?
Amish Cinnamon Bread
This ‘bread’ was T’s fault because he insisted we needed to make his Abi a cake for when he came home from nursery and I had very few staple baking supplies in. Without dried fruit or bananas or cocoa, Pinterest had to step up. From it’s name I was expecting a banana bread style texture with a slightly sweeter edge but this Amish Cinnamon Bread was a loaf cake pure and simple. A crumb texture between a sponge and a coffee cake with a sweetness that isn’t cakey until you bite into a piece with the hidden cinnamon swirl, and then it’s cake-textured-icing hidden inside cake. It’s divine.
(I adapted this recipe to be dairy-free/reduced sugar, halved the recipe to make one loaf and slightly upped the cinnamon)