Abrar Naely, MA, RDN, is a Syrian-American and Muslim dietitian registered in Dallas, Texas, who uses Instagram and TikTok to use social media to educate people about the benefits of eating and being healthy and active.
Many Muslims around the world are celebrating Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. From sunrise to sunset, those who are physically fit in Muslim communities will be able to fast from food to drink from April 2 to May 2 this year.
Being without food and drink all day can be difficult, according to Abrar Naely, MA, RDN, LD, a Syrian-American and Muslim dietitian. However, as a nutritionist who has been observing Ramadan for 14 years, Naely hopes to educate and inform more people about how they can incorporate nutritious habits throughout Ramadan.
Verywell: First of all, what does Ramadan mean to you?
Naely: I have been observing Ramadan for so many years and it is still a challenge, but we are doing this because we are working on self-control and self-restraint. I will say that it will be easier for the second and third week because your body is adapting to fasting.
Depending on where you are in the world, some people fast for 12 hours and others for 16 hours. People who fast longer are generally in countries where the sun sets late. It’s hard, especially if you’re used to having a certain meal or drink. I drink a lot of coffee for myself, to get one in the morning and in the evening, so it’s hard to have a cup of coffee before sunrise. But it really is just a chance to reconnect with my faith.
Nutrition is also a big part of my life, not just because I’m a dietitian. So every time I take that out, it helps me focus on different things. For me, it’s about coming back this month, doing good deeds, and reconnecting with my faith.
To make it safe, I eat breakfast before I start fasting. I make sure I wake up and try to eat a balanced diet that has enough nutrients, calories and protein, which will ensure that I have energy for the day. Ensuring that you are eating carbs at these meals will help you to have energy and when it is balanced, it ensures that your blood sugar level is normal throughout the day. If I can, I also grab a few snacks before going to bed at night.
Verywell: What kind of meals or foods should people include in their diet to balance fasting or hunger pangs?
Naely: When it comes to breakfast, you should definitely have a balanced meal, such as complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and enough fiber. Having a balanced meal will help you stay fuller for a long time and give you more energy without feeling sluggish.
As for protein for breakfast, I like to make eggs, Greek yogurt, or chicken sausage. I also like avocado toast because the bread I use contains some fiber and protein. Sometimes I eat oatmeal with peanut butter because oats are complex carbohydrates; they will slowly digest and give you good energy throughout the day. You can also drink a protein shake, as it is sometimes easier to drink your calories, especially for people who can’t get a big meal early in the morning.
It is common to break a glass with fasting water and a couple of dates. After that, I recommend taking a soup or salad, after fasting and then going into a big meal, because you will probably breathe the food. The one who fasts lives in the place where he eats immediately. Then you feel very tired because you ate too fast.
During Ramadan we often eat a lot of traditional food. So if you’re Arab you have a lot of Mediterranean food, stuffed with grape leaves or chicken and rice with specific spices. If you are from India or Pakistan, butter can be chicken or biryani, which is another dish of chicken and rice. Especially for dinner, try to focus on a balanced meal.
Very well: how important is it when you eat or drink after breaking your fast?
Naely: It takes your brain about 20 minutes to send a signal to your stomach that you are full. If you eat too fast and do not take steps, you will not be able to receive the signal to eat too much. Every time you eat too much, you are chewing too fast and swallowing air, then you may feel bloated and slow.
It is also important to limit distractions. If you’re usually having dinner and watching TV, it’s easy to get lost in mindless eating because you don’t focus on the meal. Usually when you’re distracted and eating, you’re not focusing on what or how much you’re eating. When you limit your attraction, you can get to know your body better and help you better identify your signs of fullness.
Very well: what about hydration? Are there any specific types of drinks that people should drink?
Naely: It is very important to drink water, but I try to emphasize that instead of pouring water quickly after breaking, you can drink small amounts of water while you can or while you are awake. If you drink a lot of water, you will usually need to urinate frequently and then stay hydrated. If you drink slowly, you are hydrating more.
Coconut water is a very good natural electrolyte and is high in potassium. If you feel dehydrated even after drinking water or eating foods high in water, such as watermelon, cucumbers, zucchini, celery, broths and yogurt, then I recommend adding an extra electrolyte such as powder or tablet. that point. Make sure you choose one that doesn’t have too much added sugar like pre-made sports drinks.
Very well: Why is it important to sleep well this time and how does it affect hunger hormones?
Naely: Sleep affects hormones, especially hunger hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, and can also cause melatonin and estrogen. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can also disrupt your sleep cycle and circadian rhythm.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to overeating because your hormones are not working properly. People don’t realize that every time you use low energy you get too little sleep, your body is looking for quick sources of energy. So every time you eat, it will cause you to keep eating and eating because you only want to build for that. But you know that if you sleep consistently, your hormones, especially hunger hormones, will work better. Whenever you have little sleep, you will probably be hungrier and more humorous. That’s why it’s so important to take a break or try to nap during the day, which will also help a bit.
Very well: Finally, do you have any other tips or recommendations for people who are celebrating Ramadan (whether it is their first time or not)?
Naely: I mostly try to eat balanced meals and still let myself eat the foods I like. I don’t try to limit myself to my favorite foods. Depending on whether some are working or a student, they may stay up all night and sleep during the day after eating. It can confuse their entire schedule. But I try to follow a routine for myself. It’s similar to the routine I follow most days, so I don’t compare to what I usually do. It’s just that I’m eating later and going to the gym later than usual.
My last recommendation, especially for people who are fasting for the first time, is to not be afraid to reach out to someone who is doing this. We will probably be happy to help you or invite you to dinner and eat with our families. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in the community.