In an attempt to bring more religion into my life, I’ve decided to try a diet that sort of follows the Sunnah. It’s the 5:2 or Fasting Diet, where you fast two non-consecutive days a week and only have 500 calories on those days. The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) typically fasted two days a week – Mondays and Thursdays – and as a practice, only ate to fill one third of his stomach with food.
So when I read about the 5:2 diet having actual proven health benefits and results, firstly I thought, OF COURSE IT WOULD! ISLAM IS FULL OF SCIENTIFICALLY-BACKED CONCEPTS! (We supposedly backwards and barbaric Muslims are always happy for a bit of empirical validation of our beliefs). And then I figured, I should try a version where I follow the Sunnah as much as I can. So for me that means I am doing a proper Islamic fast on Mondays and have no more than 500 calories when I break my fast in the evening. And as we host a family dinner on Thursdays, which would be hard to do when fasting and less fun limited to 500 calories, I do the normal 500 calorie diet on Wednesdays instead.
It’s been about 4 weeks, and Alhamdulillah, so far so good. I’ve lost a bit of weight and I am not as constantly hungry for carbs as I usually am. But what I like most about it is how every Monday, it’s like the first iftar of Ramadan. Because I only do one proper Islamic fast a week, my body can’t get accustomed to fasting as it does in Ramadan, where it becomes easier as the days pass. That means every Monday is a struggle – I am hungry, headachy, emotionally ragged and exhausted – and every Monday night, is a revelation.
As I finally get to eat my long-awaited 500 calorie meal, suddenly I remember how amazing the blessing of food is. Fasting shows you the taken-for-granted access and reliance on food and drink you have – throbbing as you are through the day for the want of caffeine, water, sugars, salts and satiation. We don’t have to go to Mongolia for that Mongolian beef – we can order cuisines of every kind to be delivered right to us at little cost. And there are numerous cafes with caffeine on offer in every make you can imagine. There are hardly any foods you can’t get with a bit of trying and nothing is rationed.
Which is not the case for many many people in the world. While we get to put our ‘suffering’ to end when the sun sets, for about 842 million people in the world, their starvation isn’t voluntary and doesn’t have a pause button. In the developing world, nearly 15 percent of people live with chronic hunger. Globally one in four children has stunted growth due to insufficient access to food and poor nutrition is the cause of half of deaths among children under five.
These are numbers we hear all the time without much reaction, but when your memory of how awful it feels to be hungry all day is so fresh – refreshed every week in fact – it becomes harder to turn a blind eye. When you fast, you not only rediscover how amazing food can taste (“Hunger is the best seasoning”) and appreciate your access to it, but more importantly, you get a glimpse into the horror of unassuageable hunger and starvation. That is one of the best things about Islam’s tradition of fasting – it not only can lighten your body, but it can also clean off the rust on your heart. And that’s some weight we can all afford to lose. No wonder why our Prophet lived like this. :)