Should the act of fasting go beyond the holy month of Ramadan? We discuss the benefits of one's well-being.
What comes to mind when you think of fasting? For many, it’s for a religious purpose, notably Ramadan. But could it be more than that?
Outside of religious purposes, fasting actually plays an important role in keeping our body healthy. That’s why, when people think about fasting, the first two things that come to mind are religious obligations or health purposes.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Taking it one step further, the act of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is more than simply not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset.
It’s, additionally, the abstinence of other moral vices that would help in purifying the mind, body, and soul. Muslims all over the world, regardless of status, wealth, or class observe this month bringing everyone together, as equals.
With the holy month now behind us, let me share some of my experiences as well as some of the proven mental and physical benefits of fasting that may make you consider fasting more often.
Intermittent fasting, macro nutrition fasting, calorie restriction fasting — do a quick Google search and you’ll be given a whole list of different fasting methods!
This goes to show that, nowadays, fasting is becoming more and more popular for health reasons.
Both religion and science has shown that fasting has several positive benefits on the body and, as quoted in Tafsīr Namūne by the Holy Prophet (S.A.W), “Fast and you’ll be healthy.”.
The scientific definition of how we lose weight is that our cells get stressed during fasting, which can aid weight loss since fat is used as a source of energy instead of carbs. This results in lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Fasting for a long period of time can shrink the stomach size which can affect our food consumption. In simple terms, our appetite can decrease and we tend to feel full with a little amount of food.
From my own personal experience, I can totally relate to this. The closer you are to breaking your fast, the hungrier you might get and sometimes seeing all the good food around you, you’ll tend to think that you can eat a lot. But during the actual time of breaking your fast, just eating a few bites might be enough to get you full. Of course, if you’re fasting to lose weight it might not be all that effective. A proper diet and exercise is still needed for a well-balanced lifestyle.
Chronic diseases mostly occur due to the surplus of fat in the body. Fasting is known to lower bad cholesterol as well as regulate blood sugar, significantly reducing the risk of gaining weight or getting diabetes, which are the main causes of coronary diseases. However, fasting isn’t recommended for people with health issues, eating disorders, pregnant women, or those who are breastfeeding. So, if you do wish to fast, remember to consider these factors.
Another benefit of fasting is that it helps to remove unwanted chemicals that our body consumes or produces.
A simple example is that it’s forbidden to smoke during the fasting period so that our body has time to remove toxins out of our system. The excessive fat and cholesterol accumulated when we eat can also break down faster when we fast as this gives time for the body to use the nutrients it has stored.
That being said, you’d think that you should rest more while fasting so that you’re able to save energy right?
In actuality, the optimum way to benefit from fasting is to stick to your usual routine as closely as possible instead of spending time sleeping during the day. In other words, try to adopt the same routine that you’d usually do when you’re not fasting.
If you’re not fasting due to religious purposes, then drink as much water as you can when you’re not observing the fast! Water is a good detoxifier and helps accelerate the removal of toxins out of the body (though this would definitely increase the number of times you visit the toilet!).
But fasting doesn’t just cleanse your body, there are also many mental benefits of fasting.
The act of fasting requires a great amount of determination and discipline and can help one have more clarity and focus. This, as well as the overall positive mental attitude that Islam encourages during the fasting period, has a huge amount of mental benefits as well.
With the stresses a typical day normally brings, it’s very common to get distracted by negative ideas or habits, which create extra clutter and pointless concern.
Ramadan is a time where Muslims all over the world seek inner tranquility via increased nighttime and daily prayers as well as the performance of good actions to others. This helps calm the heart and allows for a more positive attitude on life.
Easier said than done, right? I mean, how can I even concentrate when I’m literally starving myself to death? (exaggerated but you get the idea.)
Well, hunger can be a distraction — that’s true.
However, intentional fasting helps take your focus off what your next meal would be and, instead, allows you to focus to pay more attention and focus on the tasks at hand which, hopefully, would yield better results and productivity. Being productive is also a good way to distract the mind from hunger so it's an overall win-win situation.
Sometimes, fasting isn’t just about fasting from food but from the negative emotions we feel.
In light of the fact that Ramadan is the month of patience for those who fast, it’s also recommended to protect one's heart from revenge and anger. While fasting from food is usually said to affect ones mood for the worse, Muslims are encouraged to fast from negative emotions, giving a more holistic approach to fasting.
Instead, they should place a greater emphasis on forgiving others around them. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) experienced many difficulties and attacks throughout his life, but he never lost his patience or his desire to seek forgiveness via his prayers, no matter how difficult the situation appeared to be.
This is a valuable lesson to learn and it serves as an encouragement to continue to improve even after the fasting month has over.
In Islam, Muslims are taught and reminded that this world is temporary and what they should be focusing on more is the afterlife, not this world.
As a result, Ramadan is an excellent month to disconnect from a materialistic perspective and, instead, concentrate on training the mind to be more robust and compassionate. But this goes beyond the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting and practising this mindset also helps to bring the humbling realisation that there are less fortunate people in the world that go through this on a daily basis.
By practising detachment from materialism and understanding a fragment of what the lives of these less fortunate people could look like, we’re inclined to be more empathetic, understanding, and helpful to others.
Article continues after video.
With everything that happens in your life and the things you're supposed to do, take a moment and think, are you doing it because you're simply told to or do you really understand the meaning and the benefit of it?
We’re encouraged to live a life we’ve practised during this season into our everyday lives. It's for all these reasons that fasting is not only practised by Muslims but by people of different backgrounds and religions all over the world.
Now that Ramadan is over and we go back to our usual lives, perhaps it’s time for us to take the next step and apply what we’ve learned and practised into our daily routine.
Aisha Assenjee is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Quantity Surveying (Hons) at Taylor's University. She enjoys nature, meeting people and building her network of peers. Her dream is to travel the world and explore the different cultures and cuisines beyond the seas.
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