For quite easily 10 years, I’ve been curious to know what it is like to be fasting over Ramadan. But when you have been granted the volition to do it or not, the easiest option has of course been not doing it. Now with all of the self-empowering things I’ve achieved recently – going vegan, doing all sorts of crazy physical stuff and, holy cow, getting married – I finally picked up the courage to give fasting a go once and for all.
One thing I decided to make a compromise with was the drinking of fluids. As I’ve been entering my mid-30s I’ve observed that my body doesn’t take too well to dehydration. My father’s side has been prone to head-splitting migraines and I have been dealt that card. It hits the hardest when I don’t drink enough water, combined with being out and about working all day. With a body not conditioned to fast from young, it was a decision I made in order to not jeopardize whatever work engagements I had. So if someone says I didn’t fast the proper Muslim way, I totally agree. But to be trying out the act of fasting out in any capacity at all is something I am personally proud of, and I knew I was still going to learn a lot from the experience.
I figured that a week would be good, two would be better, even longer would be extraordinary. I ended my fast at ten days. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t the hunger that got to me, but the sleep! With my husband working until late evening on most days, I took it upon myself to maintain some quality time together before he left for a two-month trip back to his home country, whilst still waking up at 5am for Sahur. My energy levels were fluctuating from day to day and it was starting to affect my productivity. A Muslim friend has said that hardship experienced from fatigue – especially since the frequency of praying intensifies during this time – is an accepted part of the practice.
Those ten days, even whilst drinking only water, was an eye-opening experience, which lead me to some realizations which all linked to each other:
The human body doesn’t need THAT much food
Despite my brain wanting food, the body was functioning perfectly normally on most days of the challenge. This is despite an overall societal concern that busy people don’t make enough time to look after themselves through eating.
Food takes up a LOT of time
With food being pretty much my job, as well as my diet being predominantly whole-foods-plant-based, I spend a lot of time buying groceries, recipe developing, cooking lunch and dinner OR searching around for food when there’s no time to cook, and washing up. With all that eliminated from my schedule, I suddenly had HEAPS of time on my hands which I used to be able to focus on work for longer stretches of time. It was actually very liberating to not worry so much about having – or rather wanting – to eat.
I give in to cravings ALL the time
I don’t get that many cravings because of how nutritionally dense my diet is, but when I do, I don’t do anything to stop myself. Nuts on the table? Munching wouldn’t hurt. Teatime? Walk down to the mamak for a vadai and a teh ‘O’ ais limau. Not giving in to those whims suddenly thrust the spotlight on those cravings as they festered in my mind. It almost felt like I am a slave to food, and how it must be for everyone around me too… that an addiction to food is actually normal. It was quite a scary revelation.
Fasting is a great mindfulness practice
Because fasting shook me out of my daily routine, I would wake up already feeling attuned to a day that was not like the usual. I would keep tabs on physical and mental self. It bred silent observations. It was a heightened state of being, and such sensitivity educated me about my impulses and inner workings. And knowing that I only had this small window to eat every day, it made me even more conscious about feeding myself with wholesome, healthy food whenever the chance came, and allowing myself the time to feel how my body reacts to each meal – especially the occasional not-so-healthy ones.
By the end of the ten days, I was in awe of those who commit to a full month of fasting. It was challenging, even with water.
Would I do it again? Quite likely, and not even necessarily over Ramadan. Disconnecting from an innate dependency on food provides a good reminder of the other values we easily take for granted, like patience and staying present.
I was appreciative of my attempt to fast, and whether one is Muslim or not, I find it to be a deeply valuable learning experience.