Muslims across the world from the straits of Gibraltar to Iran to Indonesia to Peru will be celebrating the Eid on 28th July or 29th July 2014. As soon as the moon is sighted for Eid al Fitr, (celebration marking the end of Ramadan), the celebratory atmosphere will engulf every city and country across the world, where Muslims live. The reason why Eid al Fitr is so greatly anticipated and the most celebrated day of the Muslim calendar is because it comes after the culmination of a 30 day period of fasting that can last for up to 19-20 hours in some countries.
This year Internet sites and printed media were filled with advice on eating for health during the month of Ramadan. Extensive advice on healthy eating and what to eat was offered by companies like Nestle.com. The National Health Services (NHS) in UK also published guidelines for fasting for health during the month of Ramadan. This was to avoid health related problems and to prevent people from overeating after the long day of fasting.
However, the problem we really need to address here is what happens after Ramadan, especially on the day of Eid al Fitr? Are people still going to exercise individual abstinence, eating in moderation and apply healthy eating guidelines to their daily lifestyle? or are they simply going to let go and eat plentiful? On the day of Eid, people get together to enjoy what is possibly the most lavish and important meal of the year. There’s traditional breakfast and then a lavish lunch and then a very lavish dinner. The whole day revolves around feasting and eating. Women will spend hours in the kitchen preparing these meals. The Eid Dining table will feature everything from fried food to breads to platters of meats to different kinds of sweet savoury rice to lavish sweets and puddings. Throughout the day, other dishes will also make their way across the dining table.
The restaurants across the world offer special Eid packages, coaxing those who fasted for the whole month to come and experience their delights. The underlying message, ‘After the month of abstinence, you deserve to indulge’. Can you imagine the zenith of feasting on these days? It’s like people can’t get enough.
One of the grave dangers of end of Ramadan is binge eating/over eating and uncontrolled Eating
Eid is a time of jubilation, a time of high spirits, a time of charity, a time of community hood and light hearts, but in today’s world, the way Eid al Fitr has become, it merely leads to food and more food.
When you are fasting for 30 days, the metabolic processes are switched to conserve energy. Long gaps between meals switch the body into storage mode and the balance between fat and lean body tissue is greatly disturbed. So soon after when people eat and over eat, they are frightened by their increased appetite. There is a common pattern to compensate fasting with bingeing. We’ve seen this happen over Easter in Greece, where some orthodox Greeks fast for up to 40 days and then they eat lavishly for next few days. For those who saw the month of Ramadan as a month to lose weight and to detox, it is ultimately humiliating for them to lose control of their eating and over eat. This disturbance in eating after a prolong period of fasting can have a greater implications for one’s physiological and psychological health.
After Ramadan people will vary greatly in what they eat and the amount they consume:
Some will binge. Bingeing is any large amount of food that is eaten rapidly and a person has completely lost control over their eating. This binge can fall into deprivation-sensitive binge eating category, where after a month of restrictive can lead to binge eating episodes.
Some people will overeat on Eid or at a dinner party, but these frequent episodes of overeating can be viewed as a normal part of celebrations and so many people do it from time to time on Christmas, Thanksgiving and on Easter.
Some people will not binge, but will graze or overeat, i.e. they will nibble all day without being able to stop.
For some people their mind becomes so preoccupied with food that they simply can’t help themselves but to overeat. They will snack on high calorie foods that they avoided during Ramadan, such as sweet and savory ones. Scientists, practitioners and Eating Disorder institutes across the world are still investigating why overeating and binge eating takes place. The cause differs from person to person but the consequences on one’s psychological and physiological health are all the same.
What can happen to your body if you binge/over eat on Eid?
Overeating soon after such a prolong period of fasting is dangerous. Feasting, indulging will have consequences for your health and will lead to gastrointestinal tract and a rapid weight gain for some people. Some people who rush through their meal will experience wind, stomach distension and abdominal pains.
Peter Cooper writes in ‘Overcoming Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating: “Binge usually produces a sense of fullness and bloatedness, sometimes this is so extreme as to cause profound abdominal discomfort, and, occasionally acute pain in the abdomen. The fullness frequently leads to breathlessness caused by the distended stomach pressing up against the diaphragm and thereby interfering with breathing. In rare cases, the stomach wall can be damaged and even tear. THIS IS A SERIOUS MEDICAL EMERGENCY.[i]”
And this serious medical emergency occurred in 2011, when 1300 Qataris were hospitlaised for overeating during Eid al Adha, the feast of the Sacrifice. This celebration takes place three months after the celebration of Eid al Fitr (Reported by Gulf News). In 2013 again dozens of Qataris were hospitalised for over eating during Ramadan.
People who’ve binged/overeaten will experience wide range of depressive symptoms, such as feelings of guilt, feelings of worthlessness, lack of energy, depressed mood, upset stomach, irritability and poor concentration. All these feelings stem from feelings of failure surrounding their lack of control over their eating. It’s well documented that binge eating leads to anger. In the after math of binge, many who suffer from disordered eating take laxatives as a mean of self punishment, some embark on so-called other aesthetic diets and some will use extreme measures to over compensate for binge eating.
To Avoid these Risks- Safe Eid Tips
Eid al Fitr is not for feasting, over eating or over indulging in myriad of culinary delights and heavy meat dishes; it’s about celebration of Ramadan, of individual abstinence and community hood.
Be very careful on how you eat and how much you eat. Don’t forget that after 30 days of fasting, your gut function has decreased and your body has adapted to a new eating regime. It’s difficult for your body to digest large amounts of food.
Challenge your patterns of eating. Is your eating chaotic? Bingeing is often a result of starvation and dieting. These cravings for foods indicate that your body is not getting enough nutrients. See a consultant/practitioner after Eid.
Don’t skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast will just lead to over eating during the day.
Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
In order to avoid excessive consumption of greasy, fatty fried foods, always start your meal with a light salad. I find this tip by Katie Sheen very useful, always add a serving of salad or fruit with whatever you eat- here you are just preventing your system from collapsing, which can happen due to compulsive consumption of heavy foods.
Be careful with salt if you suffer from a heart condition.
Manage your portions- Your plate should be divided into ½ vegetables and salad, ¼ protein and ¼ carbohydrates.
Do not attempt to try all the dishes, no matter how tempting they may seem.
Chew every mouthful. Chewing is optimal for good digestion. When you actually have to stop and chew your food until it’s soft, your brain will have a chance to catch up and send out the signal when it’s feeling full, or if it’s still hungry. When you finish your meal in 5 minutes, you’ll probably still be full and go back for seconds only to end up feeling very full half-hour later. According to Dr David Forecast, consultant gastroenterologist at the London Clinic it takes 20 minutes over your meal, if you chew it properly.
How to tell if you’re full? Dr David Forecast suggests you should stand up at some point during your meal, ‘if you feel comfortable but not over-full when you stand, then you’ve eaten enough’[ii].
Eid is not a day of overeating, but a day of meeting and greeting and spending time with your loved ones. So Eat Smart and spend the Day with your loved ones under the summer sun and not in the local A&E unit.
After each meal, move away from the table and try to go for a short walk to help your body recover from all that eating.
Some further tips to Maintain Good Health After Eid
Bear in mind that after such a prolonged period of fasting, your bodily metabolic rate has changed. Long gaps between meals switch body into storage mode. So tread carefully and work with your body to obtain your optimal health. With small steps you can relearn to eat normally after the celebrations of Eid al Fitr and to ensure that you maintain this health and vitality all year around.
Eat small amounts regularly throughout the day- this is essential and it could restore the balance between fat and lean tissue.
Good Breakfast is essential- remember how important it was to have a good early morning meal in Ramadan, that was well-balanced and would provide you with plenty of energy for rest of the day? Same applies here, breakfast is the key to beating over-eating and binge eating cycle.
You must not cut out any meals. People often make things difficult by cutting out meals, this will just eventually lead to overeating. Make sure that there is no gap longer than 3 hours between each meal. After four hours your body will begin to go into starvation mode and it will switch all the metabolic processes to those that conserve energy.
The idea here is three meals almost equally divided in calories with small snacks in between. Make sure that your meal contains adequate amount of protein (e.g. egg, fish, lean meat, beans, lentils etc) fibre (fruit, vegetables, salads) and carbohydrates (bread, potatoes, pasta, whole grains etc).
You must not try to lose weight at this time, your body needs time to recover and to heal. Treat it well and feed it with proper nutrients.
Exercise regularly but not excessively.
Keep yourself hydrated as you will be replenishing your glycogen levels.
Once you restore some normalcy around your eating, look at the size of your meal, your portion sizes and ensure that you’re eating enough calories in a day to manage your energy expenditure.
Keep practising these mindful habits and keep eating for your health and you will find in coming months that your satiety levels have improved by all the nutrients that are absorbed in the blood and that you have plenty of energy.
Always keep in mind that a small slip up can’t undo the good work you have done in Ramadan. Try to use an assertive response to your unhealthy eating problems. Keep calm, and renew your commitment to your health and well-being. Perhaps review the situation that led to overeating/binge eating, so it doesn’t happen again.
[i] . Overcoming Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating- A self help guide using Cognitive behavioural Techniques. Peter Cooper