IT’S that time of the year again when Muslims around the world would observe a month of fasting, which constitutes, among others, refraining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.
While the majority of Muslims will slide into this routine quite easily, there will be a group for whom fasting will be a challenge. They’re usually the sick, the elderly, women who are having their menses, women who are breastfeeding and travellers. Some pregnant women feel well enough to fast. Those who don’t can replace the days missed as soon as they can.
There would also be those whose health is now challenged, and coming to terms with their new reality of not being able to fast would be a blow to them. I remember those years with my late parents all too clearly. It took them a few years to finally accept that they were no longer able to fast due to illness. Mum underwent haemodialysis for several years. Dad had several health issues that rendered him severely dehydrated. I remember that he required emergency treatment at the hospital on the few occasions he tried to fast.
They tried many things before they finally accepted their fate. One was avoiding oily, salty and spicy food. This could lead to indigestion, they said. Eating highly processed food can also make you hungrier faster so it’s only sensible to avoid it. Eat slowly and chew your food. Chewing 30 to 40 times before swallowing and spooning in your next bite helps you digest your food better and keeps you feeling full longer.
Avoid certain drinks such as sodas, sweetened drinks and caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee. They don’t quench your thirst and they don’t count towards your water intake. You still need to drink plain water.
It doesn’t help that our body tends to trick us into feeling hungry when we’re actually thirsty. So when you feel hungry, drink a small glass of water first. If you still feel hungry after that, then you should eat because you’re really hungry. You just have to be mindful of your water intake and watch the indulgence.
Besides, the whole idea of fasting during Ramadan is to eat in moderation. It’s not about making up for lost time of not being able to eat during the day and feasting at night like you’ve not eaten in a while.
Having said all that, dehydration is a very real problem, especially among the elderly who, even on a normal day, have problems keeping up their fluid intake, what more during the fasting month. Even a person of average good health can suffer from dehydration when fasting if they don’t drink enough water from the time they break fast to the time they resume their fast.
How would you know if you or your loved one is dehydrated? If you pass very little or no urine, feel disorientated, confused or faint, you should break your fast with a drink of water or any fluid. You can always make up for this fast at a later date when you’re better. If your doctor has declared you unfit for fasting, you’d have to pay the fidyah as compensation.
Here’s how you can drink enough water after breaking your fast. You should still target eight to 10 glasses of water (about 200ml per glass). Trying to do that in one sitting will make you sick. Besides, it’s nearly impossible to do that after a day of fasting.
Sip your water throughout the evening from the time you break your fast until sahur. Have your first glass when you first break your fast followed by dates and fruits. Drink another one or two glasses after your meal. Take a break and drink a glass after maghrib prayers. Sip two to three more glasses or put 600ml in a water bottle and sip throughout the evening. When you wake up for sahur, drink another two to three glasses of water. You can also eat food that has high water content like watermelon, cucumber, salads, soups and porridge.
Those who have to restrict their water intake, for example, like those on dialysis or have kidney problems, shouldn’t do this. Ask your doctor if you can fast at all. Don’t skip meals, especially sahur. Even if you don’t feel like eating a full meal, have at least a glass or two of water. Ideally you should eat complex carbohydrates or food rich in protein. I personally find breakfast food to be ideal for this such as scrambled eggs or omelette and toast, and/or a bowl of oats.
Fasting in Ramadan isn’t about starving yourself. It’s basically a time when you eat differently, bearing in mind that some people actually face hardship and hunger not just during Ramadan but also every day. It’s a time for all of us to be grateful for every blessing that we have and enjoy.
Putri Juneita Johari volunteers for the special children society of Ampang. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org