Ramadan is expected to commence on May 27th and last until June 24, 2017, based on moon sighting reports. Commonly referred to as the holy month, it is a time that also possesses an inherent potential to shift one’s health to a more optimal state, that is, if the fast is performed mindfully and supported by modern nutritional science.
The ‘how-tos’ for a “healthy Ramadan” are becoming a more relevant and discussed topic as of late. But, when health is approached through the lens of nutrition alone, it is common to focus solely on the diverse ways food impacts health. This is certainly a key component of the ‘whole health’ approach, but it is by no means the only component. Therefore, to ensure you reap the benefits of a strong heart, body, and mind (they are all interdependent), I recommend that your first steps towards making Ramadan count concentrate on nourishing yourself through Primary food.
A philosophy identified by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Primary food is more than what is on your plate. “The foods you eat are secondary to all the other things that feed you—your relationships, career, spirituality, and exercise routine. Those are the things we call primary foods. All that we consider today as nutrition is really just a secondary source of energy.”
Ramadan is a time to renew, redirect, and refocus—it is an opportunity to explore the next level of what is possible for you—and you should be ready to fully embody positive lifestyle changes. Preparation is key to sustaining any positive changes you desire in your life. So, I encourage you to use this holy month, which is intended to be a deeply spiritual time, to really allow yourself to pursue whatever skill set, self-mastery, or space you have been aiming to inhabit.
Ways of tapping into Primary Food:
- Meditation.The profound health implications of meditation are being increasingly noted by mainstream science. “When discussing meditation as a science and technology, it’s important to acknowledge the ultimate goal is a profound cognitive shift to a more accurate perception of one’s self and one’s relationship to the world. This cognitive shift is traditionally known as “liberation,” “enlightenment,” or “awakening” (the latter being my preferred term), which in turn, produces a dramatic and persistent increase in well-being. Therefore, both knowledge acquisition and its consequence also serve as outcome measures by which to evaluate efficacy.”- John Yates, Your Brain as Laboratory: The Science of Meditation
When you take time to create space to be with yourself (in non-reaction to the outside world and to your constant mental intrigues and habitual patterning), you become more connected and aware of your innate wisdom. Resistance to meditation is a natural byproduct, but every time you still choose to form a new habit, it’s reinforcing your neural wiring to create positive change in the brain. We have a negativity bias that reaches back to our caveman ancestors, who had to remember negativity in order to survive. Out of 60,000 thoughts a day, 80% are negative. Shift your focus by not getting down on yourself for having negative thoughts (it’s normal!). It takes us at least 20 seconds to really register the positives, so that they create changes in the brain. Thus, mindfulness and meditation become very effective ways of quieting the mind.
- Breath work. The vagus nerve runs from the midbrain to the lungs, then to the heart, and finally to the abdominal organs. Simple breathing techniques stimulate the vagus. It helps you breathe slower, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the body’s relaxation response), and positively changes the microbiome, inflammatory markers, and how the brain works. Remember: “Inhale to expand the body, and Exhale to expand the mind.”
- Sexuality. “So, this is a month of many beautiful things. Allah in his book makes the most spiritual and sacred month the most sexual month of the year. If a marriage will be reformed, it will be reformed in this month,” says Nouman Ali Khan (Muslim speaker and founder, CEO and lead instructor at Bayyinah, the Institute for Arabic and Qur’anic Studies). Sexuality is one of the most powerful dimensions of life. Sexuality means: sex, intimacy, love, touch, pleasure, connection, closeness, surrender, the Feminine, the Masculine. When we push sexuality down; and curse, suppress, repress any desires, this unexpressed energy will live in the body as unwanted symptom, disease, habit, shape, etc. When sexual energy truly flows (meaning the truth of who you areas a sexual being) metabolism will glow. Sexuality truly heals!
- Claiming your Power.Claiming your power means, answering: Who am I? What am I here to express? So many people go through life unfulfilled and unexpressed. We have been fed messages that we will never be good enough. We become disempowered because we compare, we don’t believe what is possible inside of us, we don’t even sense it, and we don’t even know it. As we evolve, the body heals for ‘personal power = metabolic power’. Ramadan can be a reminder for you that it is time to start to discover your greatest potential. What’s next? What creative expression/ power wants to be released? Where are you going in life? If you were perfectly healthy, what would you be doing right now? What is your gift? How can you give back? How can you use the life you have been given to grow, heal, and evolve?
- Slowing Down.Life is not easy, so be compassionate and patient on your journey. Your true creative energy and power will start to show up when you start to slow down and embody. The more you claim your inherent gifts and powers, the more you embody. Slow down with your to-do list for the day, with the places you go, the way you speak, the way you move, the way you eat, etc. Try incorporating more massages or self-care methods to help you slow down and de-stress.
- Movement.Think of movement as something beyond exercise. How can you move in ways that you celebrate the beauty of the body? What helps you feel pleasure in your body, and a happiness to be there? How can you move more freely? What are the places in your life that you are resisting? Where is change wanting to happen? What can you do that will get you out of your head and into embodiment? I encourage you to explore, and try something fun and new!
- Nature. Nature is a powerful nutrient, metabolizer, and healer. Being in nature opens you to the wonder of life, and the universe. It expands you. Set aside time every day to be in nature without the distraction of electronic stimulation. And, get some sun (aka vitamin D)!
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that we make when we are exposed to the sun, or when we consume foods with vitamin D (it helps absorb calcium from the intestinal tract). It is the most immune changing substance, meaning it will alter your immune cell function more than anything else. Researcher, Colleen Haye’s study of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in mice found that she was able to reverse MS in an animal model by giving adequate vitamin D. As people get their vitamin D levels up to 40-60 nano grams per mL, you start seeing their pain levels go down.
The optimal time to get your vitamin D is from 10AM-2PM. This will also help balance your circadian rhythm so you get better sleep.
What is enough sun? (the amount is called “minimum erythema dose”)
– Light skin: 10-15 min (of light pinking of the skin)
– Olive skin: 30-45 min
– Very dark skin: 1 hour 20 min
Alternatively, supplementation: 3000-4000 IU/ per day to bring your levels up. If you do that consistently over time, you want to make sure that you are at 40-60 nano grams per mL (25-hydroxy vitamin D test).
- Letting go of Toxic Beliefs. We adopt beliefs of the world, and these are often limited. These are the beliefs we hold that drive us every day, that move us into behaviors, stress physiology, and that takes us into the opposite direction of where we want to be in our lives. Toxic beliefs of any kind need to be detoxified, but it takes time for change to happen. Know that the beliefs holding you back do not belong to you, and that you are not alone. Much of the learning we do is un-learning, so discard what is useless. The moment you can shift your perception (if only a little), you can spontaneously heal yourself. Once there is a profound change in belief, you will experience the power of the mind has on your overall health.
- Visualize. What we see is typically conditioned by our past, family, media, society, and culture. From this, we create very strong conclusions and beliefs that we think are correct, and that is not always the case. Visualizing or re-imagining is a beautiful and empowering process. Our imagination can be used to invent and re-invent. It has the power to change the world “inside” of us, and to attract what you desire most in your life. Allow this to be a gentle process that teaches and informs you.
- Love.Arguably, the deepest human desire is to love and be loved. But, we often limit our love to some definition or condition. As you have more love in your life, you literally tap into an emotional and mental power that lives inside each of one of us. Where is the flow of love blocked in your life (i.e., nourishment, self care, parents, relatives, children, co-workers, money)?
Nutrition is only half the story of who we are as humans. Nutrition, in particular our relationship to food/ food challenges, can be a doorway to transformation. This holds true for reasons extending beyond the physiological effects nutrition has on health (i.e., inflammation, autoimmunity, metabolic disease, degenerative disease, cognitive development, gut health, etc.) Nutrition also works at a deeper spiritual and intuitive level.
“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”- Rumi
What else nourishes you on a primary level? The answer does not have to complicated, the simpler the better. So, how will you make Ramadan count for you?
“Nourish. Practice. Inspire.”
Ilaria Garrett holds a Masters in Nutrition and a Bachelors degree in both Psychology and Japanese. She is also a Certified Eating Psychology Coach Ilaria is a practising wellness consultant for individuals, small groups, and large organizations. She advocates empowering individuals through a combination of scientific research and their own innate wisdom, and by doing so tackling lifestyle driven diseases (aka non-communicable diseases). Her goal is to provide guidance that optimizes a person’s entire lifestyle and thereby their wellness. Resilient individuals are inspiring. Their resilience leads to resilient communities, and it is communities that can be true vectors of change.