” Adnan! We are going to eat healthy this Ramadan”.
“We’ll start a diet in Ramadan?”
“Not a diet! Hardly a diet! We will just stay away from all fried foods and sweet Iftar drinks”.
“No way! If you wanna start any dramatic changes to our diet, please start some other time of the year. Not Ramadan. I can’t be fasting for sixteen hours and then try to follow a diet”.
“It’s not a diet”.
“It sounds like it.”
This is pretty much the conversation each year, ten or fifteen days before Ramadan. Has this conversation alone ever managed to change what our spread looks like in Ramadan or other times of the year? No. Sadly, no.
Muslims are big eaters. Like most people. But if I said that Muslims are given a penchant for food by Allah, it would ring true with many people. Food is our indulgence. We use food as a means to bond, we use food as a means to love and actually a lot of us cook food in order to stay busy and productive.
But is food supposed to be for sustenance or pleasure? Is it to fuel our bodies or fire up our appetites? Is it to have something to nibble on in company or be the main focus when two friends are together? See what I’m getting at? Food has become important to humans in general and to fasting Muslims in particular in a way that’s not really healthy. And the purpose of food is health. Only health.
One of my friends recently held a food drive before Ramadan. She gave us a little talk before the drive about what she needed in what amounts. Because I live in a very diverse Muslim population with a strong mosque system, she wanted to hold a little cultural training before she asked for food. When I talked to her over the phone she simply put it as “every Muslim’s Iftar is different according to where they’re from. I want this drive to be educational. I’ve made a list of Muslim countries whose people are a part of our masjid and you’ll see some women from different parts of the world explain how they eat in Suhoor and Iftar”.
Naturally, for a smart ass like me, this was an unnecessary talk and I could just donate whatever I wanted.
The day of the drive I went laden with what I thought were food staples for Ramadan for every family. I didn’t stop for a moment to see what others had brought in.
My friend examined my stuff and then returned half of it to me.
“Thank Sonia! But the only snacks we are allowing to be distributed are unseasoned nuts and seltzer water. I think all these samosa packets and prepackaged rolls can go back”.
“Okay! Are you sure? I mean I can get some more stuff if you can’t use this. But I thought this would make for a nice Iftar and they’re almost painless to make.”
“No really! I don’t think you were here the other day. We had a nice talk by several women on Muslim food being more diverse than shown in popular media. We had a nutritionist who showed how to make scrumptious meals out of simple ingredients”.
Can I say that the term “simple ingredients” was enough to turn me off? Why would we use simple ingredients? Food is all I’ve got to look forward to when I’m coming back home from work. Food is what I mainly look forward to when catching up with an old friend. My SIL lives with her lovely family in Plano, Texas but each time I talk about our wonderful time together over this past Thanksgiving, I talk just as much about the food she fed me and the eateries she took me to as I do about the amazing time I spent with her. I love my mom but a lot of my love is about how great my mom’s food makes me feel. I plan our anniversary dinner for months and focus loads on good food, good ambience, good service. I realized that my relationship with food is not for sustenance. It is for pleasure.
Which is not bad, okay? It’s not bad at all. Food is a naimat (نعمت)or a blessing and has been outlined by Allah as such. However through Sunnah I know that devouring food like there’s no tomorrow every occasion we get isn’t a very likable trait.
Also, I’m sure you’ll realize it too when you analyze it as critically as I had to, that our relationship with food is sometimes stronger and bigger than our relationship with people. It is true and if you’ve been in any one of the scenarios as above then you’d agree with my statement.
But it’s not our fault entirely . Really it isn’t. We all have fallen victim to the prepackaged, high fructose corn syrup, processed, ready to eat, TV dinners, point eating systems. We have all found a way to eat more and feel less accountable for it. Even some of the weight loss programs encourage eating junk food even though that should be the whole focus of these programs. Their focus should be a lifestyle change. Not just weight change.
The Standard American Diet or SAD has been a lot of folks’ go-to diet. It’s usually delicious, ready to eat whenever we crave for it and is sometimes even touted to be healthy. I’ll let you decide if processed sugars are healthy.
It’s also more available. It is easily available in stores, at vendors in a park and on airplanes. The amount of thought that goes into calorie count and portion size when eating SAD is zero because that’s not how this diet works. It works to boost your appetite.
I was listening to Yasir Qadhi one day and he was describing how Muhammad, our beloved Prophet and whom Allah may always be pleased with, did not approve of his wife stuffing his leather bed with slightly softer date palm leaves. Our Prophet (PBUH) admonished his wife because he was afraid that a comfortable bed would make him miss his Salah.
This led me to thinking. Is eating consistently delicious and tempting food a way to an unhealthy lifestyle? Probably. It definitely makes us eat more. Excess of even healthy foods is probably not great for our cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.
So I devised a simple plan to eat a little healthier. If it works for you then this blog post was a success.
1. Whether I like it or not, I have to eat salad. And not seasoned, dressed and high calorie salad. I have to eat salad before my main course and as Allah sent it to me. Raw and crunchy. I can then start on my main course.
2. I’m not to cook/heat/slow cook more than what my family needs for that meal. I can may be make an extra portion but not overwhelmingly large amounts of food. That’s not gonna work.
3. For Iftar, we indulge. But not like we eat twenty pakoras. I make between 2 and 5 pakoras for each of us. That’s enough indulging for people with a family history of coronary disease, strokes and diabetes.
4. I don’t go shopping on an empty stomach. Try it. The temptation is a lot less.
5. Before buying junk food I stop! Like dead stop! I don’t move. The urge washes over me and sanity usually prevails.
6. I snack on nuts and frozen ice. Every junk item out there gets sold because of temptation. I curb my temptation by carrying nuts in my pockets.
7. I have changed my relationship with food when it comes to having it with a friend. My close friends know this and this has worked. We don’t make frequent lunch dates. We get together for drinks. Simply that. And have some fish or something low calorie if we are hungry. My friends are amazing. Dates with my friends don’t need food to make them great. They’re great already.
8. I don’t force myself to go on a careful plan during Ramadan. Ramadan is the month for Ibadah and in order to make that happen, I don’t mind indulging a little. I can do this because I’m careful the rest of the year. Ramadan, as I’ve mentioned before in my Ramadan series, isn’t the month where we start new practices. This is the month to reap the benefits of the training that we put ourselves through the rest of the year.
Please read my blog post about training for Ramadan.
9. I don’t invite people over for Iftar anymore. I tell them it’s a dinner. And I set the menu. No excessive food, drinks or cutlery. I curtail the use of junk food, pizza for kids or other unnecessary items. I make my rules at my party. I learned this from my friends so they’ve already been aboard for a long time.
10. Lastly, I have learned to say Thanks regularly for food. شکر for food was always part of my post-meal ritual but I said it exactly like that……. a ritual. I have tried to incorporate my heartfelt thanks into it. I praise Allah if I liked the food or not. I praise Allah for filling my tummy because that’s all that food was created for anyway.
This year my relationship with food changed a little and I’m so happy about it.