Intermittent fasting: The health trend Muslims have been practicing for centuries

Kitchen staff prepare Ramadan meal orders for takeaway in Riyadh. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 May 2020

Intermittent fasting: The health trend Muslims have been practicing for centuries

  • Its benefits are great to us as Muslims, including feeling for those in need, and it promotes self-control and avoiding the health problems caused by extravagance

JEDDAH: Muslims have been practicing eating patterns similar to intermittent fasting for centuries.
Intermittent fasting has been around for over five decades and there are different forms. It is a popular health and fitness trend, with people using it to lose weight, improve their health and simplify their lifestyles as a number of studies show that it can have positive effects on the body and brain.
It is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It does not specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. Common intermittent fasting methods involve daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours, twice per week.
Saudi clinical and sports dietitian and lecturer at King Abdul Aziz University, Sundos Malaikah, said elderly Muslims held onto the habit of fasting twice a week as it was Sunnah (the way of the prophet).
“I appreciate the fact that we’ve been practicing this method of fasting years before it became cool and popular,” Malaikah told Arab News. “Many of the older generation continue to fast all year long because they’ve seen how good it makes them feel. A lot of our grandparents fast Mondays and Thursdays, and it’s part of their lifestyle. They don’t know the scientific health benefits of fasting, they merely follow it because it’s Sunnah and makes them feel good and lighter and I like that. There’s even a two-five fasting method where you fast two days a week only which is what the Sunnah recommends — to fast Mondays and Thursdays.
Ramadan fasting involves refraining from drinking or taking any form of food between sunrise and sunset, whereas in intermittent fasting zero-calorie liquids such as water, tea, and coffee are usually allowed.
Malaikah said that, when done right, there were many health benefits to fasting. It could help reduce excess body weight, improve glucose control, enhance insulin sensitivity, reduce blood lipids, and reduce risk of chronic disease.

FASTFACT

There were many health benefits to fasting. It could help reduce excess body weight, improve glucose control, enhance insulin sensitivity, reduce blood lipids, and reduce risk of chronic disease, says expert.

“People usually say they feel ‘lighter’ when they fast because we’re giving our digestive system a lot of time to digest food and eliminate waste.”
Intermittent fasting was much easier than Ramadan since there was less chance of dehydration.
“However, some would argue that proper fasting as it is done during Ramadan shows even more pronounced benefits since it’s more rigorous.”
She added that the problem was that some people lost all the health benefits of fasting by binging when they were finally allowed to eat “which is exactly the opposite of what we want to achieve.” 
In order for people to make the most out of Ramadan from a health perspective they should eat home-made meals as much as possible.
“Unfortunately, during Ramadan we observe many wrong eating behaviors such as binge eating, buying too much dessert, preparing more food than what the family needs and so on. To make fasting easier, our meals should be carefully planned so that they’re highly nutritious, have enough protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates.”
Clinical dietitian, Arwa Bajkhaif, said Ramadan fasting was a time-restricted intermittent fasting practiced by adult Muslims for a whole lunar month every year.
“In my opinion, they both would have similar health benefits if implemented healthily and correctly, since the main similarity for both of them is the practice of abstinence or restriction of food, calorie-containing drinks and or water for a certain period regardless of the aim or the reason behind the fasting whether it’s for religious, spiritual reasons or aiming for losing weight,” Bajkhaif told Arab News.
She said there was no ideal number of hours for intermittent fasting when it came to weight loss advantage but that practicing was worth a try.
“Unfortunately, currently, there is not enough evidence for us to neither generalize what the ideal number of fasting hours nor to tell whether intermittent fasting is a sustainable treatment for obesity as well as if it’s health-related benefits are maintained for a long time. But it’s still worth trying.”
She said many people found intermittent fasting to be more flexible than strict calorie counting and that, since there was a certain eating window and less time for eating was required, less planning was required too. By eating fewer and burning more calories, intermittent fasting caused weight loss by changing both sides of the calorie equation. Ramadan fasting could be an effective approach for weight loss as well as for diabetes and disease prevention. Bajkhaif warned that intermittent fasting was not recommended for children, teens, people on medication that required food intake, diabetic patients, those with eating disorders, pregnant and breastfeeding women.
She said Islam was a great teacher for every Muslim. “It prompts us to avoid many problems before they happen. Its benefits are great to us as Muslims, including feeling for those in need, and it promotes self-control and avoiding the health problems caused by extravagance. Our religion also urges us to take care of our health — that is one of God’s blessings on us — and this is an individual responsibility of all Muslims,” she added.


Waking the sleeping giants above Saudi Arabia’s deserts

Milky Way core rising above Wahba Crater. (Credit: Huda Alerwy)
Updated 26 October 2020

Waking the sleeping giants above Saudi Arabia’s deserts

  • Saudi stargazers are fusing ancient traditions with cutting-edge technology

JEDDAH: Saudis have for years wandered off to explore the country’s varied landscapes, with excursions that focus on stargazing and meteor watching.

The Kingdom’s vast, open lands provide one of the most optimal views of space in the region, a hidden secret has not been fully discovered yet, and which feeds curious minds and wakes the sleeping giants above.

For thousands of years, Arabs traveling across the region’s lands used stars to navigate through rough terrain and vast deserts. Indigenous tribes inherited their navigation skills on land and sea from those who traveled from one end of Arabia to the other.

Today, satellites and navigation apps do the job instead, but people’s curiosity has remained, and many still look up at blue or red dots of glowing planets, star systems, and constellations in a bid to understand their historical significance and beauty.

Photographers in the Kingdom have advanced the field of nature photography, with some branching out to become astrophotographers, documenting celestial events such as eclipses and meteor showers. The keenest have gone even further and captured nebulas and star clusters.

Many medieval Muslim scholars made huge contributions to astronomy — from Ibn Yunus’ successful attempts in correcting historic Greek calculations of planetary movements to Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sufi, who was the first astronomer to observe the Andromeda Galaxy and Large Magellanic Cloud.

Anas Al-Majed, an avid astrophotographer based in Riyadh, bought his first telescope seven years ago and was able to view the moon’s mountains and craters as well as neighboring gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, in fine detail.

“I was awestruck with how detailed everything was, like Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s gaseous bands. With time, I upgraded from a simple telescope to a Dobsonian 8-inch, where I delved into discovering deep-sky objects, starting with the Andromeda Galaxy and Orion’s Nebula,” Al-Majed told Arab News. “As a photographer, I wanted to know more and continue discovering, and again, upgraded to a refractor with an equatorial mount for my camera, which brought simple results.”

But the photographer still needed more, as he wanted to capture images of the sleeping giants in bright detail, and he soon bought a camera with features that suited deep astrophotography. The result was surprising and magnificent.

“The refractor’s lens is the closest to a camera lens, my first love. Maintaining the refractor telescope doesn’t take much effort and it can handle the tough terrain unlike other telescopes,” he said.

Although an expensive hobby, turning to international sites means cheaper prices for proper equipment and telescopes, which many say are expensive in the Kingdom.

Al-Majed said the field is still young and there is more room for exploration, but warned that it takes time, practice, and patience to achieve optimal results.

With seven years of experience, he is still keen to find more deep space objects to photograph. “It’s the challenge that’s exciting. The Bubble Nebula is very difficult to photograph due to its distance and the Veil Nebula is a strange and beautiful object. There are still many deep space objects to find and I can head out of Riyadh and search.”

The Kingdom is ideal for stargazers and astrophotographers, but few know where or how to watch one of nature’s most striking sights in all its glory — the Milky Way Galaxy.

With proper research and by selecting the right time and place, the Milky Way’s core can be seen rising during the country’s summer months and disappearing toward the Southern Equatorial Belt.

Huda Alerwy, a Jeddah-based photographer, went on a hiking trip in April 2019 and camped off the edge of the Wahba Crater, a volcanic crater located 250 km from Taif. There she witnessed the Milky Way galaxy’s rise above the horizon for the first time in her life.

“The scene was mesmerizing. We started to see the glow of the belt at 2 a.m. and I had the chance to capture the moment,” Alerwy told Arab News. “We spent more than an hour photographing its rise and if I get the chance to relive that experience again, I’ll do it with no hesitation.”

With her tripod in tow, she was able to ensure that her camera was stable enough to withstand any wind gusts and stabilize it for a clear shot.

Some of the constellations that can be viewed with the naked eye during autumn above the Saudi deserts include Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and Minor, Crux, and Draco. Planets such as Venus, Saturn, Jupiter also shine bright, but it is Mars in opposition that steals the show this time of year.

For casual stargazers in many parts of the Kingdom, the stars have been further away, photographer Mohammed Jan told Arab News. “Many Saudis can’t see the Milky Way where they live, or many stars for that matter, due to light pollution. They’d have to drive for hundreds of miles outside city limits to get away from it.

“Fortunately, there are apps that people can use to reach areas with relatively clean and stable air to make the viewing of stars sharp and clear for both stargazers or photography enthusiasts alike,” he added.

Obsessed with astrophysics and space for years, Jan captured his first glimpse of the Milky Way in 2014 and soon became more knowledgeable in the field. He often drives for hours just to make sure he is away from any light pollution.

“There are different apps that you can use to make sure that you’re in the right area. Large cities such as Makkah and Jeddah are within Zone 9 and barely feature any stars. For optimal viewing and astrophotography, you’ll need to be in an area less than a Zone 4,” he added.

With time, Jan grew used to capturing celestial objects, but soon ventured into new territory — nebulas and deep-sky objects.

“The Helix Nebula has always captured my interest. The planetary nebula was and has always been my favorite object to photograph in the dark skies,” said Jan, repeating Al-Majed’s warning that it is through time, practice, and effort that he was able to reach his level of expertise. Jan is looking forward to doing better but has called for greater community support for astrophotography.

“Not many understand what we do and why we do it. It’s educational, it’s knowledge and its understanding,” he said.