Salaam alaikum and happy Tuesday y’all!
Fasting: the one thing I dreaded most when I converted to Islam. No food, no water, no nothing from sun-up to sundown for 30 days in the month of Ramadan. My initial thoughts: oh no, let’s just not.
I dreaded fasting for a month so much that I actually started doing sunnah fasts, before I had even taken my shahada, just to get in the practice of doing it. And for the first couple of Mondays and Thursdays that I woke up early to eat and pray, then broke my fast on a hasty mouthful of dates and water in the middle of my evening class, I truly hated fasting. It felt awful, I had no energy, and by 11 AM all I wanted was a cup of tea and my porridge.
But after a few weeks of doing it, my body slowly got used to it. I learned how to prepare properly so I didn’t run out of energy two hours after fajr, I learned how to break my fast in a way that wouldn’t shock my poor digestive system back into work, I learned how to make the most of the time freed up not having to cook meals or, in fact, even think about food until sunset.
Recently, I have been trying to get back into the habit of fasting Mondays and Thursdays, plus the three full moon days of the month not only for the spiritual reward, but also just to keep my body in the practice after falling out of it for a while when life got in the way. To this end, I have been doing a lot of reading on fasting, its benefits, and how to do it in such a way that it will be the most beneficial to your mind, body and soul.
So, the other day while I was having a read through The Fasting Handbook by Jeremey Safron (not an Islamic book, but a book on all the different types of fasting that people do, how it benefits the body, and how to practice fasting in order to get the most benefit from it in a secular view), I thought, “why not share this information with all my readers?!”
And especially for the new Muslims out there, who maybe haven’t even fasted one Ramadan yet, this kind of information can be so helpful to have going into it, not only to make it less scary but also make it more productive.
So today I am going to share some of my tips for fasting that I have found to be helpful, plus some information from other sources that I have been finding really useful in my own fasting practice.
Perhaps the most important tip I have for you: no matter what you are doing, be gentle with your body. If you go into a fast with not enough nutrition and hydration the fast will be more draining that rewarding, and if you break a fast on processed, fried, or otherwise unhealthy foods you can actually do more damage to your body than good by fasting.
The Fasting Handbook actually recommends that if you are going to do a day-long fast (such as our Islamic fasting), you give yourself three days to go into it, lowering your daily food intake and eating easily digestible foods such as juices and soups, and another five days after your fast to come out of it, eating only easily digestible foods a couple of times a day and building back up to solid food and a regular diet.
For me, and I think for most, this is not really all that feasible. Especially since I fast Mondays and Thursdays and another three days in the middle of the month, I don’t actually have three days to go in and five to come out. What I do like to do, however, in order to be more gentle on my body is eat very slowly when I come out of a fasting day. I usually break my fast with dates and water, which is the sunnah, and I also add in a small amount of yogurt, so that the cultures in the yogurt can get my digestive system up and running.
After I have broken my fast with this, I go pray maghrib, I sit and read my duas and tasbih, I pray two extra units after that, and then I go have my actual dinner, which usually consists of something very light, like a bowl of blended veggie soup and a cup of water. Later in the evening I may eat a bit more fruit or veggies if I get hungry, but I try to keep it very simple, and let my body re-adjust to digesting again.
My second tip for that just like you have to be gentle coming out of a fast, you need to be properly prepared coming into a fast. Maybe not three days prepared, but the day before a fast it is immensely helpful (especially if you are fasting in the summer) to drink plenty of water, and make sure you are properly hydrated. If you forget to do this and you guzzle a liter of water at fajr time before you fast, it is most likely just going to make you feel bloated until you let it all out in the bathroom a few hours later. Water needs time to run through your body, which means sipping slowly all day before you fast and during your pre-fasting meal is the best way to go.
I also like to try to eat even more nutrient dense food the day before I fast, so that my body will be stocked up and ready to supply energy for my fasting day. And by that I don’t mean that I eat more food, I mean that I eat my normal amount of food but I choose foods that have more nutrients and are more beneficial to my body. So I would probably choose an apple for a snack with my afternoon tea instead of my usual cookies.
In the same vein of being prepared, it is also a great idea to prepare you food for your pre-fasting mean (suhoor) the night before. That way, when you wake up all groggy early in the morning, all you have to do is unwrap and eat! I prefer to eat fruit, yogurt, and things like that for suhoor as my body doesn’t like anything too heavy that early in the morning, for me that is super easy prep.
This tip is for during the actual fasting day: get important stuff done in the morning. I find that I have the most energy just after I wake up around 8 AM, so I make sure that anything I need to get done, whether the laundry, paying the bills, writing, or even just a phone call, I do it first thing. That way, if my energy starts waning later in the day I can take it easy and work on something like my embroidery or just reading a book, and I don’t have to try to force myself to go running around town trying to get things done.
That being said, if I still have energy at 3 PM, I will totally keep on writing or running errands. Just depends on the day really.
Also, some say that they like to take a nap just after zuhr time, and even sleep until asr, and then wake up and continue to be productive. While that may work for you, I always find that if I take a nap, I am done for the day. Once I hit the pillow on a fasting day, I’m not getting up until the dates are in front of my nose. So maybe give it a try and see how you feel!
This one is going to be a bit weird, and I don’t actually practice this much myself (because I am lazy), but I have heard for many sisters that they find it very helpful to do some light exercise an hour or so before they are going to break their fast.
Going for a nature walk, maybe doing some kind of stretching or yoga if you are into that, or maybe even something a little more intense if you are up for it. I have heard from many sisters that this kind of exercise helps them take their minds of the hunger for that last hour, and actually gives them energy. And of course, a bit of exercise is always good for the body.
Plus, imagine how much more you will love your dinner if you have just come back from a long walk!
Ok, I’m almost done here. This one is about how you fast: fasting in Islam is supposed to be an act of the whole body, not just the stomach.
“A person who does not renounce false speech and practicing falsehood while he fasts, Allah cares not for his abstinence from food or drink.” [Bukhari]
So when you are fasting, try to make time for those extra sunnah prayers, a few extra minutes of tasbih, a few more dua while you prostrate in prayer. It can be difficult if you are busy and tired from the fast in general, but it can be so rewarding if you do it. And eventually, if you can keep trying to do this, you can build up a habit of praying a few extra units of sunnah prayer, or saying the adhkaar at their times in the morning and evening.
In addition to adding in more acts of worship when fasting, it is also so, so important to try to leave all acts that are displeasing to Allah swt. If you enjoy music, maybe try to listen to Qur’an recitation on your commute instead, or if you swear a lot (something I am still sometimes guilty of from my pre-Islam days unfortunately), try to clean up your language a bit on your fasting day. Try to use this day to decline talking about others, or doing haraam with any of your limbs. It is also a great time to go on a social media detox, or just a device detox in general!
The last tip! This one is also super important though: where fasting is concerned, practice makes perfect.
Like I said, I was so scared of fasting that I started fasting Mondays and Thursdays before I had even said my shahada. And it was hard, and awful, and I hated it. But I persevered, and my first Ramadan was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. So try to develop a habit of fasting; maybe not every Monday-Thursday or even every week, but at least once a month to get your body used to what it feels like, and to work out for yourself exactly how you best prepare for and break your fast.
It is also really awesome to have support while fasting. It can be a great thing to do together with a Muslim friend or even your spouse, but having someone around who understands and who can encourage you can be so helpful.
If you want more info on developing the habit of fasting and support while fasting, I would definitely go check out Muslimah Healthy’s post on the topic; there is plenty of great information in there!
Sorry for the length of the post…do let me know if you find this kind of post helpful, I will try to keep writing about these kinds of topics (as opposed to my personal story or rants)! And you know, it wouldn’t be a proper post if I didn’t give you a challenge so here it is: the upcoming Monday (or this Thursday if you are really feelin’ it), plan to fast for the day and see how it feels! And of course come back here and let me know how it went for you =)