This Ramadan Is Like No Other – Here Are 10 Ways To Prioritise Your Nutrition & Mental Health

This Ramadan has been an extremely emotional journey for many of us as we've seen what's happening around the world. It's more important than ever to invest in our nutrition and mental health.

Beautiful Dates in cup with prayer Beads photography on light pink background.

Photo by Rauf Alvi / Unsplash

We’re almost at the end of Ramadan and while we believe that your health should always be a priority, Ramadan is an especially important time to prioritise your nutrition and mental health. 

This Ramadan has been an extremely emotional journey for a lot of us as the genocide takes place in Palestine – and we're exposed to live footage from the ground in Gaza and also in West Bank.

More recently, we are seeing the effects of the man-made famine and starvation of the Palestinian people, where civilians only have animal feed and grass to eat in Northern Gaza. Our privilege has never felt more naked than it does now, and as we fast during this blessed month, we realise that they have less than the bare minimum to break their fast with.

Being exposed to raw violence and harrowing footage of malnourished children will likely be taking a toll on those viewing this content, both mentally and potentially physically as well. Our body stores stress and emotions when we do not have the means to express them. Often after seeing visually explicit images, videos, or reading descriptive accounts, our bodies may store those complex emotions, which can be experienced through our physiological reactions, like nausea, heart palpitations, headaches, body aches, sweating, etc.

If you are noticing some of these reactions in your body, having some space to reflect on the content you consume may allow for some processing of those emotions. Name and tame your emotions, access them wholly and express the ones that demand more attention.

To support our community that may need a safe space and practical content to help feel prepared for this Ramadan, we hosted a “Ramadan Wellness Webinar” in early March where we went through various reasons why it’s important to invest in nutrition and mental health. We highlighted practical tips and information to improve energy levels, elevate mood, access better sleep quality, improve digestive health, optimise diet and nutrient absorption, improve mental clarity and focus, and better spiritual connection. 

It also included a healing circle at the end to talk about the things that are impacting us after seeing daily social media content and news coverage of our fellow Palestinian brothers and sisters. We used that time to speak about how some people and leaders have left us feeling betrayed, how these emotions are manifesting in our bodies, and how we are attempting to cope whilst collectively grieving. 

It’s not easy to prioritise your mental health and nutrition when we are seeing injustice, however, as Muslims, we believe that our bodies have a right over us to be cared for, and we should not feel guilty for doing so. It may be quite hard to function as we used to, and that is the reality of life at the moment. Please know that you feeling dysregulated at this time is quite normal, as a genocide should NOT be happening. However, if you’re struggling significantly, please reach out for professional support!

To focus on your nutrition on these last blessed days of Ramadan, here are some practical nutrition tips that might help for the final week of Ramadan. 

  1. Focus on hydration 

While you are fasting, your body will experience mild dehydration so it is important to replenish your body with plenty of fluids after breaking your fast. If you are struggling to drink enough, you could try having fluids in other forms such as in smoothies, shakes, infused water or herbal teas. Soup is another great choice but make sure to go low on the salt. 

  1. Wake up for Suhoor 

It certainly is no easy task to wake up before dawn but it will help you cope better with the fast. Suhoor is highly recommended as it will help you fuel your body for the day (you wouldn’t get in a racing car without petrol; same concept goes with fasting). To make things easier, prepare your meal before you go to sleep. Include sources of protein (such as eggs, lentils, yoghurt, nuts, fish, chicken and lean meat) and have carbohydrates that are wholegrain or low GI (such as basmati rice, oats, wholegrain bread or flatbread). These will keep you fuller for longer as they are digested slowly. 

  1. Incorporate fruit and veggies in your meals 

These foods typically require a lot of chewing so it’ll help you eat slowly. This is particularly important iftar as you may be tempted to overeat and overfill your plates because you haven’t eaten all day! If you are living in summer countries, opt for fruits that have greater water content such as watermelon or strawberries. 

  1. Add in gentle movement 

It is likely that your workout habits would be affected as it is difficult to exercise in the hours you are fasting. If you are struggling to keep up with your usual routine, it is completely okay to take a break from doing intense workouts. As an alternative, you could switch to lighter activities such as some brisk walking or yoga. 

  1. Enjoy small indulgences of your choice 

You don’t have to completely abandon the foods that you love. It is okay to incorporate some sweet treats and fried foods. The key is to have these in moderation or making a healthier alternative, if possible. 

  1. Check in with your body

If you are feeling extra peckish even after eating large quantities of food, ask yourself if you had enough water. We often tend to mistake thirst for hunger because some of the symptoms of mild dehydration (i.e. headache, fatigue, light-headedness and difficulty concentrating) can resemble symptoms of hunger. 

  1. Practise mindful eating 

It’s not just about what you eat. It’s also about how you eat. Remember to eat slowly and pause in between to engage your senses. Notice the sounds, colours, smells, tastes and textures of the food and how you feel as you are eating. You can also try putting the food or cutlery down in between your meal. 

For your mental health, here are 3 quick prompts to journal with to help you access your emotions and regulate and process them:

  1. What emotions come up for you as you reflect on this month of Ramadan?

  2. Are these emotions new to you in your daily life? What specific stories/images/events have brought these emotions up for you?

  3. How can you find a way to express your emotions in a creative way?

Expressing emotions can be hard for some of us, and creative expression through activities are a great way to access emotions using colours, voice, language or movement. Put aside some time to express yourself and connect spiritually in these especially-blessed 10 nights of Ramadan. Make dua (prayers) to alleviate your stressors and for all those suffering under occupation and genocide. 

Follow our pages for most practical guidance and tips around nutrition and mental health!

Please note this is general advice – for further confidential support, contact your GP or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

About the authors:

Nafisa Abedin is a psychotherapist based in Sydney and owner of TherapywithFisa. She focuses on creating a community for Muslim and non-muslims alike, to reflect, gain insight and awareness around themselves. She provided one-on-one counselling and therapy for clients with a range of conditions and circumstances including anxiety, depression, trauma, interpersonal relationships, communication, intimate relationships, navigating motherhood alongside marriage and more. Follow Nafisa on Instagram here.

Dr Anika Rouf is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and is a Media Spokesperson for Dietitians Australia (DA). She completed a Master of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Doctorate in Behavioural Science. She is passionate about advocating a non-diet approach and has a particular interest in communicating nutrition using digital platforms. Some of her notable work includes being featured on SBS Food, Men’s Muscle and Health, 9 Coach, Channel 7 and Body and Soul. She currently teaches at university and runs her own virtual practice which is focused on women’s health. She sees clients across Australia and globally. Follow Anika on Instagram here.