Ramadan fasting gave me horrendous temper at first – I learnt how to make it work

Ramadan is an important date in the calendar for Muslims across the world. It marks the month when the Prophet Muhammad received the beginning of the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) from God.

This year it starts on April 2nd. For 30 days, observers of the faith will fast from sunrise to sunset while engaging in self-reflection and acts of kindness to others.

Some find it easy from the start, but for others it’s a challenge.

Ava Vidal, from Bedford, is about to start her fourth fast. Her first experience, in 2011, was “very very” hard, she says, adding: “My temper was horrendous for the first few days!” But she adds that last year "was the easiest ever. I just got on with it, as natural as breathing."

For Maira Rana, from Manchester, the initial few days are always a challenge but "it’s just a matter of routine" and she soon gets used to it.

Fatima Sheriff, from Hitchin, loves the sense of community it brings, both spiritually and socially.

“The rest of the year can be so busy – it’s nice to have a whole month where everyone I’ve not seen in a while comes to the mosque. We can catch up.”

Of course fasting safely is vital for good health.

Here are some tips on how to do so while maintaining good energy and spirits…

1. Don’t skip the morning meal

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially during Ramadan. So waking up at 3am for the morning meal (known as Suhoor) is crucial. NHS GP Dr Nighat Arif, says otherwise you’ll end up fasting for longer and “your body will become reliant on its reserves of water, nutrients and energy until the evening meal.”

Hannah Naeem, a Muslim who started fasting in her teens echoes this: “It’s tempting to only have a glass of water first thing but we need this time to nurture our bodies and get ready for the fasting day ahead.”

2. Drink plenty of the right thing

Dr Michael Mosley, an intermittent fasting guru thanks to his Fast 800 programme, says, “Drink plenty of water before and after your meal. Otherwise, you may become dehydrated and develop headaches.”

Other common signs of dehydration include feeling dizzy and your wee turning dark yellow-ish. He also recommends finishing off the evening meal (known as Iftar) with “hydrating foods containing modest amounts of sugar, such as strawberries, watermelon or cantaloupe.” A trick It takes a few days for the body to get used to the lack of water during daylight hours, but you can make up for it by hydrating throughout the night.

Ava has learnt to “avoid the Ramadan headache” by consuming two litres of water a day.

Some Muslims recommend cutting down on certain drinks. For Fatima that’s caffeine. “I drank so much tea while studying for my GCSEs, when I fasted I just crashed! I’ve switched to decaf for the morning so I don’t face that withdrawal.” She recommends Yorkshire Tea which makes a “glorious decaf!”

3. Eat well to fast well

Some foods can help make fasting easier. High fibre and whole-grain foods “keep you fuller and aid digestion” – bread, oats and yoghurts are firm favourites at Suhoor as they slowly release energy throughout the day.

For the evening meal, mindful eating is recommended, listening to when your body is satisfied. After abstaining all day, it’s sooner than you think. Dr Arif says that while “there’s no such thing as the best food” Muslims should consider the impact their choices will have on the body.

She advises foods such as “dates, protein-rich foods, vegetables and fruit” but says to “avoid salty, fried and sugary foods” as they can make fasting more difficult – but luckily the odd chocolate is just fine!

4. Give yourself time to rest

Fasting during the day alongside work or study and late night prayers, makes it hard to get sufficient rest, leading to headaches and mood swings. However, research suggests that a25min nap improves physical performance during the Ramadan fast .

Maira Rana, a Muslim from Manchester who has fasted for many years, agrees. “I find the fasting schedule can disrupt your sleep pattern – it’s good to have an afternoon nap to boost your energy and reset focus levels.” Set an alarm to avoid over-sleeping, which can make you feel groggy.

5. Keep busy

Staying busy, helps time pass quicker and keeps your mind off the lack of food! For many people, that means going into work while fasting.

Others devote much more time to reading the Quran and studying Islam as a distraction. Fatima Sheriff, Ramadan says, “Because I’m not snacking during the day, I become more structured and focused on my work.”

When tired, she then finds it easier to “switch off” and enjoy a film. “I have a better appetite after being busy and put much more effort into cooking so my diet definitely improves.”

Zesha Saleem is a freelance journalist, Muslim and medical student. As a child she did half-day fasts, beginning fasting properly when I was 13, which now she enjoys each year.

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