Do you have any bad habits that you wish you could change but just don't have the stimulus or will power to do it?
Ramadan can be part of the solution to your problem by providing the motivation, the self-control, and the opportunity for you to implement better habits. Imagine, if fasting can teach us to control our cravings for things that are good for us (food and water), then it certainly can train us to stop doing things that are destructive to our health and lives.
Our Daily Addictions
According to Dr. Mohammad Zafar A. Nomani, professor of nutrition at West Virginia University, US, fasting tends to cause a burning or heavy feeling in the stomach and sour mouth for some people because of the increase in gastric acids in the stomach.
Consume a light meal and take a break from the doughnuts and coffee and eat foods high in protein, fiber, and nutrients. Whole-wheat bread, vegetables, humus, beans, and fruits are all good sources of fiber, which help in reducing gastric acidity and excess bile acids.
Smokers benefit from fasting, being forced to abstain during the day. According to Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network, smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for one year adds two cups of tar to a smoker's lungs. However, the body is able to eliminate the tar if you stop smoking. By the end of a month of not smoking, the senses of smell and taste return, shortness of breath subsides, and energy increases.
According to a study done by the American Psychosomatic Society, caffeine and nicotine use increase the occurrence of irritability during fasting, but by the end of Ramadan, the smokers' irritability had dropped to a level lower than before the month of fasting began.
Even our choices at the grocery store are impacted by our increased Allah-consciousness. With the enhanced awareness of food during Ramadan, we are motivated to eat more fruit and drink more water than in our usual diet. More dates are eaten during Ramadan than any other time of year.
By the end of the day, you have managed to abstain from not-very healthy things like snacks foods, cigarettes, caffeine, sugar. You will probably realize than that you cannot only survive without them, but actually feel better without them.
Once you have detoxified your system from the caffeine, sugar, and nicotine withdrawals, the headaches disappear and you are left with more energy than when you were drinking coffee all morning.
Breaking out of Isolation
Ramadan gives Muslims a great opportunity to escape this cycle of isolation and depression.
It is not unusual for people to get in a daily rut isolating themselves from those outside of their everyday routine. We get in the habit of going from home to work and back home for dinner each night with our families. Even weekends are so full of family-oriented chores and activities that we tend to put off praying at the mosque or visiting friends, which could end up leading to depression.
It seems that the TV and the computer get more of our attention each day than our faith does. According to the Sourcebook for Teaching Science, the average American home watches TV for 6 hours and 47 minutes each day. This time does not include the time spent on the computer.
The Sourcebook goes on to say that millions of Americans are so hooked on television that they fit the criteria for substance abuse as defined in the official psychiatric manual, according to Rutgers University psychologist Robert Kubey.
Ramadan gives Muslims a great opportunity to escape this cycle of isolation and depression. Ramadan traditions promote spending time together with family and friends, getting to know one another better, and meeting other Muslims that we might otherwise have not get acquainted with.
Iftars (meals to break the fast) and Tarawih Prayers (optional night prayers) provide a chance to break from our familiar patterns and relax with others who share our faith, thus increasing our connections as human beings and as believers. This socialization improves the sense of brotherhood or sisterhood within ourselves and the Muslim community.
According to Dr. Nomani, an added bonus of praying the nightly Tarawih is that it counts as mild exercise, burning up to 200 calories and helping to digest the food we ate at iftar.
Changing our normal routine during Ramadan allows us a chance to modify our lives and break free of bad habits. Fasting grounds us in reality, making us conscious of our behaviors and choices. Moreover, in being more mindful for one month, perhaps we will be strong enough to maintain better habits beyond Ramadan.
Quick Tips for a Healthier Fast
• Reduce the amount of caffeine intake a week or two prior to Ramadan in order to decrease the likelihood of "caffeine headaches."
• Avoid caffeine during Ramadan. Drink water rather than coffee or tea.
• Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and avoid sugary foods.
• Break your fast with dates and water, then eat a meal after the Maghrib (Sunset) Prayer.
• Try to get enough sleep at night or take a nap during the day.
• Use the spiritual and social uplifting to keep you excited and motivated beyond Ramadan.
Saffia Meek is a passionate volunteer, working with a variety of organizations including the Lewisville Public Library in Lewisville, TX, the Flower Mound Humane Society and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Dallas/Fort Worth chapter, the Unites States. She has been published in the Dallas Morning News, United Press International, Myrtle Beach Sun and several Islamic publications. She holds a Bachelor of Science.