The Bahá’í month of fasting is an excellent opportunity to assess our behavior and habits and to adjust to a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Through fasting, we learn how to control our manners and our eating habits. It is also a good chance for the stomach to have a break and allow the body to eliminate accumulated toxins.
Many of us wonder what is best to eat during the Fast and how to stay healthy and get the maximum benefit from the fasting process. A quick review of the physiological changes that occur during fasting will help us determine what should be consumed before dawn and after sunset.
What happens in our bodies during fasting?
When the body enters into a state of fasting (approximately twelve hours after the last meal), it draws upon the glucose stored in the liver and muscles as the main source of energy. Fat is used next, as a source of energy once these stores of glucose are used up. This process promotes weight loss and also prevents muscle wasting.
After a few days of fasting, toxins stored in the body fat are broken down and hormones, such as endorphins, appear in the blood in higher levels, improving vigilance and inducing an overall feeling of well-being.
What to eat during the Fast?
A balanced nutritious diet containing adequate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water is vital between fasts in order to ensure a healthy state of mind and body.
As the fast approaches, many of us wonder if fasting will be “too difficult to do.” Here is a practical guide of how we can make fasting both easier and more spiritually rewarding:
1. Make your intention to abide by the will of God:
It is important for the acceptance of any act of worship to do it solely for the pleasure of God. If you sincerely want to fast for Him, He will make it easy for you.
2. Stock up on groceries a week in advance:
Fasting requires two major meals each day. If you buy the food you’ll need for the week, you won’t waste time and energy shopping when temptation might be high to buy more than you need.
3. Prepare yourself:
Read the compilation The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting to understand more about this spiritual obligation.
Make sure you have a printed timetable of dawn and sunset times in your area for the entire month in a place where you can easily refer to it.
You’ll want to avoid caffeinated drinks such as coke, coffee or tea during the fast, because caffeine is a diuretic. Three to five days before the Fast, gradually reduce your intake of these drinks, since a sudden decrease in caffeine prompts headaches, mood swings and irritability, which you’ll want to avoid when you are fasting.
If you are a smoker, you won’t be able to smoke during the daylight hours, so consider cutting down gradually starting a few weeks before the Fast starts. Smoking negatively affects the utilization of various vitamins, metabolites and enzyme systems in the body, so if you smoke, consider how you can replace these things during the Fast.
4. Prepare your family:
This is especially important if you have non-Baha’i family members.Let them know how their lives might be affected while you are fasting and what you expect of them.
5. Go to bed early:
In order to wake up refreshed and on time for the pre-dawn meal, go to bed early during the Fast.
6. Eat Moderately:
Contrary to popular opinion, nutritionist and dieticians suggest that people tend to gain more weight during the Fast compared to the rest of the year, as a result of following incorrect and unplanned food practices. To avoid the widespread occurrence of digestive and stomach-related problems, there are many eating habits that should be followed during the Fast.
There is no need to consume excess food before dawn.Some Baha’is eat more than usual at breakfast, thinking, “this is my last chance to get as much food into myself as I can, before having to starve till sunset”. Fasting is not the same as starving the body, so eat in moderation.
The body has regulatory mechanisms that activate during fasting. There is efficient utilization of body fat. Basal metabolism slows down during the Fast. A diet that is less than the normal amount of food intake, but contains all the required minerals and vitamins is sufficient to keep a person healthy and active during the Fast.
7. Don’t skip breakfast:
Some people, hating to get up so early, prefer to eat till well after midnight and sleep late, skipping breakfast altogether. Eating breakfast minimizes the feeling of hunger during the day and provides the body with all its nutritional needs.
8. Go about your normal daily routine:
Some people assume that since they can not eat or drink till sunset, they should “sleep off” the fast and awaken only a few hours before the evening meal. They draw their curtains, pull their comforters over their heads or put on the air conditioner, and sleep till the evening. They get up to eat and then dive back into their beds. This is not the aim or spirit of the Fast. Fasting does not curb energy for productive work, except in the last two hours of the fast, so continue to work or study as usual till 2 or 3 hours before sunset. If you have a chance to lie down and rest for a while for an afternoon siesta, this will help you get through.
It is recommended that everyone engage in some kind of light exercise, such as stretching or walking. It’s important to follow good time management practices to ensure you have enough time for prayer, sleep, studies, job, and physical activities or exercise.
9. Breaking the fast:
The dinner meal is the high point of the day for everyone who fasts.This meal, unfortunately, is also the cause of most of the excess and extravagance that takes place during this month.
Muslims break their fast by eating three to five dates with a glass of water.Dates consist of 80 per cent sugar, while the remainder constitutes protein, fat and minerals, including copper, sulphur, iron, magnesium and fluoric acid.They are high in fiber and are an excellent source of potassium so they compensate for the sugar and other elements the body loses during the day.
After the dates and water, they offer prayers with a light stomach and a thankful, attentive heart, and then return to the table to eat in moderation, which prevents them from overeating as soon as the sun sets.Starting with a hot vegetable and lentil soup alerts the stomach, facilitates the digestive process and provides the body with needed energy from the fiber and vitamins.
The main meal should contain vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates to give the body the nutrition it needs. Meat, chicken and fish, should be provided to make up for the loss of nutrition while fasting. It’s also important to eat small helpings of fruit for dessert, to give the body the required amounts of sugar.These should be eaten two hours after the main meal, to facilitate digestion and prevent gastrointestinal problems.
Fruits and mixed nuts may be eaten as a snack before going to bed, and make sure you drink sufficient water, to prevent dehydration.
The first week of fasting settles the body into fasting mode, and by the mid-point most of us have settled into a new routine.The second half of the fast can be used to intensify our focus on prayer and our spiritual connection with God. Consistent fasting does take its toll on the body, so during the last few days of the fast, you might find you need to spend a portion of these days sleeping or resting more than usual.
In summary, an intake of a balanced diet is critical to maintaining good health, sustaining an active lifestyle and attaining the full benefits of the Fast.
What would you like to share about eating during the Fast? Post your comments here: