Gaining Weight During Ramadan

Oh-oh! I’m about to suggest something no one wants to admit— that it’s easier to gain weight in Ramadan than during any other month of the year. Perhaps I should qualify that statement, for those readers who are quick to say, “Not ALL of us gain weight in Ramadan!”

OK, not all of us gain weight in Ramadan, but maybe more of us do than don’t. Anyway, let’s get on with it. 

I’ll admit straightaway that I gain weight easily.  Ramadan has never taught me control. It’s taught me postponement. I can postpone. I can fast and fast, but by Maghrib, I am like a cat ready to pounce.  I used to follow the Sunnah, which is to break the fast with dates and water, juice  or soup, then pray. That’s because one cannot pray comfortably on a gorged stomach, so, the serious eating had to wait until after dates and liquids.

I’d eat a full meal, including dessert. That would have been fine, except that another meal (and maybe  dessert) followed during the night, after Tarawih, followed by yet a third meal, Suhoor, just before Fajr. Between meals, I’d sleep a few hours, if I was not visiting someone or having guests at home.  Days passed in a groggy haze, similar to jet lag. The hospital in which I worked during my fist six years of fasting allowed Muslims to reduce their shifts from eight hours to six. That was nice. 

I worked in Riyadh, at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. We Musims would stagger our shifts; one worked from 7AM to 1PM, another from 8 to 2, and another from 9 to 3, etc. I was committed to maintaining as close to normal a daily schedule as possible, because I believed I was supposed to do that. I criticized the Saudi practice of switching days and nights.  I accused them of sleeping all day because they did not want to feel the discomfort of fasting. Their focus on food, food, food, both in the grocery stores and in homes, seemed inappropriate and somehow sacreligious, especially when they slept during the day and never felt hunger. 

Well, at the end of each Ramadan, I’d find myself tired and fatter, and finally had to accuse myself of the same fault I’d attributed to the Saudis. Something was wrong.  One is not supposed to gain weight during Ramadan, I thought.

Then I got married, quit my job, and joined the Saudi liftestyle, especially in switching my day and night activities during Ramadan. From the first year I did that, I no longer gained weight, and the whole twenty-four cycle proceeded more smoothly, productively and comfortably.  I slept from fajr til just before Asr, prayed, then read the Qur’an and cooked. I’d stay up all night, going to the
mosque for all twenty rakat of tarawih, and using the rest of the night for household duties usually done during the day— laundry, vauuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc. (I didn’t have a housekeeper). Many evenings I’d have an invitation, or extend one.  Then I’d eat Suhoor, pray Fajr, and go to bed.

Only then did I understand why the Saudis switched their days and nights
during Ramadan. It was a matter of physiology. The body gets tired without food and water; it wakes up after having been nourished. Switching days and nights was the most natural thing in the world during Ramadan, and I no longer criticized anyone for doing it. I found no evidence in the Qur’an or Sunnah to contradict the practice. We are enjoined to fast from fajr to maghrib, but we are not forbidden from sleeping during the day and becoming active at night. I am convinced that switching days and night in Ramadan is not only natural, but more healthy than trying to force the body to behave as if if were nourished during the day, and then force the body to sleep when it is no longer ready to sleep. That practice effectively produces ‘jet lag”, and I see no need for it. As one who is always severely effected by jet lag or any other disturbance in my circadian rhythm, I recommend the Saudi  style of observing Ramadan.

The problem is that the rest of the world is not ready to follow it. When we live outside the Kingdom, we cannot “do what comes naturally.”  That means that here in the United States, if one wants to observe Ramadan, one must remain active while fasting, and try to sleep while not fasting. 

 Ramadan Kareem!

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
This entry was posted in Home Life, Ramadan, Saudi Arabia. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Gaining Weight During Ramadan

  1. Issam says:

    Good observation. I have just woken up and it is 6:43 PM! Recommended.

  2. shayanmirza says:

    Why fast at all, then? Isn’t it just turning into insomnia with a few extra prayers?

    Did the Companions sleep the day away?

    I’m very curious about this, because if I can religiously justify it, this sounds tempting!

  3. Marahm says:

    Welcome, shayanmirza! I do not know whether the Companions slept during the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Days in the desert without air- conditioning can be downright dangerous, fasting or not fasting. Even today, in the modern Kingdom, where buildings are air-conditioned, business activity ceases from noon to after asr or maghrib.

    The Qur’an does not say we have to stay up after Fajr, go to work and perform at our usual attentiveness for eight or nine hours while fasting. Some people are capable of doing that, but some are not.

    Insomnia with a few extra prayers? Well, that sounds like Ramadan in the West, where you have to sleep at night whether you want to or not.

  4. shayanmirza says:

    Well if it is religiously permitted then it makes much more sense than the way I have to do it here!

    Today I compromised and took a nap after Asr.

    The hardest part about Ramadan in the West is the loneliness. I don’t know of any Muslims near me at all, so Iftar is basically a solitary affair! Goes against the spirit of the month, I think 😦

    Best wishes and thanks for your blog! Ramadan kareem, or as Iranians say, Ramadan mobarak!

  5. Marahm says:

    “The hardest part about Ramadan in the West is the loneliness.”

    This part of your comment struck home for me, too. Since I repatriated to the United States, Ramadan has only emphasized the sense of being isolated as a Muslim. I hope you find at least one Muslim with whom to break fast this year. In any event, Ramadan mobarak!

  6. djd says:

    I have noticed my weight going down during Ramadan, but recovering afterwards. I don’t think it is healthy to eat a lot at night so we fast from 7 to 7 and then eat a reasonable supper. When fasting, it is good to rest if tired so it has happened that I have taken a few naps even though I ordinarily resist that. I don’t know any Muslims personally either and it does seem like something is missing breaking our fast just the two of us.
    Postponing and then gorging, no, I don’t think that is the point.

  7. Marahm says:

    “Postponing and then gorging, no, I don’t think that is the point.”
    No, that’s not the point, of course, but that’s the result, sometimes, for some of us. I used to get such a rush of energy after magrhib that I could never sleep during normal nighttime hours, especially since napping in the afternoon became irresistable. Then, the mental “teaser” of knowing I’d have to fast again the next day overcame my better judgement. So, I became a staunch believer in staying up all night in Ramadan.

  8. djd says:

    Oh those mental teasers! 🙂

  9. djd says:

    Please excuse me if my phrase about not being the point seemed at all judgmental. I share this effort and use the technique of telling myself I will eat tonight when hunger pangs strike. I have become conscious of the need to watch out for crabbiness nearing the breaking of the fast and remind myself to enjoy, to savor, the meal. Coming into the home stretch now. 🙂

  10. Laylah says:

    I worked there too 🙂
    It’s still about the same, Muslim employees have shorter hours and less total days. I would say 90% of muslim employees working shifts change to nightshifts 7pm-7:30 am for the whole month. I have to admit it is much easier and on off days I would just continue the same rhythm, going to bed around 7 am and getting up at 5 or 6 pm lol!
    The unfair thing is the non-muslim employees have to work mandatory overtime to compensate the lost hours..

  11. Marahm says:

    In my section (the laboratory), non-Muslim employees did not have to pick up extra hours, but I’m sure they worked harder to pick up the slack. I didn’t feel sorry for them— but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

    So do you still work in Riyadh? I’ll have to spend time at your blog and get to know you better.

  12. Laylah says:

    Ohh the infamous KFSH LAB! LOL
    I’m in Riyadh but currently on maternity leave, not in any hurry to return to the hospital chaos yet 🙂

  13. Marahm says:

    Infamous? Tell me what you know!

  14. Laylah says:

    I mean it was just always such a hassle to deal with the lab people, especially the Saudis. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean 😉

    Like say you needed a stat CBC done on a night shift…
    You have paged the lab technician 5x until he finally replies. He is busy on another ward. You remind him it’s an emergency STAT order that needs to be done before anything else.
    “Ok sister I will come, inshallah.” You wait 10 min nothing happens, page again. “Sister I must do this first”. Ok, so you remind him again about the urgency, then wait another 10 min while patient is possibly bleeding to death internally. Still no lab tech.
    Page again. The lab tech tells you he is on a break. WHAT?! My patient is bleeding and we need the blood drawn NOW!
    “Ok sister, I am coming, inshallah in 1 minute.”
    Meanwhile the patient, his 15 relatives and the on call doc have all asked you every other minute when the labs will be taken. You have been called names and they have threatened to make a complaint. The patient has pressed the call bell about 7 times by now.
    The lab tech finally arrives and asks for the labels. He checks them and informs you the dr. has ordered the wrong ones.
    (Insert appropriate curse words here)
    So you page the dr. He tells you to ask the lab tech to change it on the computer. Lab tech declines. He is busy tapping on the Blackberry chat.
    You are tempted to grab the phone from his hands, take his tray and go draw the blood yourself. But that’s not the way things are done in Saudi 🙂
    So you change the order on the computer yourself, print new labels, give them to the lab tech and show him to the patients room where everyone is anxiously waiting.
    By the time the results are back it has taken you about two hours for something that needed to be done in less than 15 minutes.

    I don’t miss work too much right now!

  15. Marahm says:

    OMG, what an ordeal! Things have changed since my time, that’s for sure. When I worked there (late 80s), even on the night shift, we lab techs did not draw blood. We actually did not have time to do so. There was a dedicated phlebotomy team, which was mostly Egyptian.

    Secondly, we did not have computers when I started. We did get them after I’d been there a few years, but the system was probably elementary compared to what you have now.

    Saudi-ization had just started while I was there. I was involved in training a group of Saudi laboratory technologists. They were excellent academically, and caught on quickly to the tasks of pumping dozens of tubes of blood through the system, evaluating each one quickly and accurately before sending it out.

    Our biggest problem was impressing upon them the need to begin work promptly at 7AM, and to stay until 5 or 6.

  16. Laylah says:

    Yes it sounds like the system has changed quite a lot. The computers make it more complicated sometimes though!
    What nationalities did you use to work with? Were there many westerners in the 80s?
    Saudis still have that same “problem” lol

  17. Marahm says:

    LOL! Well, there were all kinds of nationalities in the 80s. Professional staff were generally American, Canadian, Philipino, Arabs and Pakistanis who had studied in the West, and various Europeans. Support staff came from mainly the surrounding Arab countries.

    When I started there in 1986, Saudis worked only in managerial positions, and not many of them. Department heads and administrative managers were generally Saudi with a heavily Western staff.

    Six years laters, Saudis started entering the laboratory as colleagues, after having completed their B.S. degree in laboratory science. (No nursing students were Saudi, since nursing was a profession they disliked.)

    We then had to train them in the practical applications of what they’d learned so well academically. Apart from Arab-specific issues such as time management, they were generally good workers. I do remember one young Saudi man who thought he was a manager, and caused disruption because he wouldn’t accept direction, but he was the exception.

  18. tevra1 says:

    this is so true, I usually have to go on a diet after Ramadan..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s