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How to Make Ramadan Fasting—or Any Other Religious Fasting—Easier

Summary:
This is the first full day of Ramadan this year. During Ramadan, Muslims are not supposed to eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. That includes coffee. Raja Abdulrahim’s April 7, 2021 Wall Street Journal article “Could You Go for a Month Without Coffee?” tells of the careful preparations some Muslims go to to avoid caffeine withdrawal during Ramadan with its no-coffee stretches longer than 12 hours. What would make Ramadan fasting even easier is preparing to avoid carb withdrawal during Ramadan. If the body is adapted to sugar and other easily digested carbs, going without food for over 12 hours can be very hard. But if the body is

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How to Make Ramadan Fasting—or Any Other Religious Fasting—Easier

This is the first full day of Ramadan this year. During Ramadan, Muslims are not supposed to eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. That includes coffee. Raja Abdulrahim’s April 7, 2021 Wall Street Journal article “Could You Go for a Month Without Coffee?” tells of the careful preparations some Muslims go to to avoid caffeine withdrawal during Ramadan with its no-coffee stretches longer than 12 hours.

What would make Ramadan fasting even easier is preparing to avoid carb withdrawal during Ramadan. If the body is adapted to sugar and other easily digested carbs, going without food for over 12 hours can be very hard. But if the body is adapted to a high-fat low-carb diet, then going without food for over 12 hours can be quite easy.

My knowledge of Islam is only second-hand, but the Ramadan meals before sunrise and after sunset seem to have important social and religious significance. For example, the Wikipedia article “Suhur” (the pre-dawn meal) reports ""The Prophet said, 'take suhur as there is a blessing in it.'" So a full fast—or eating only one meal a day during Ramadan—may not be acceptable. But it should be religiously acceptable to have make one’s meals during Ramadan (and ideally for a week or two beforehand) low-carb and high fat. For example, the pre-dawn meal could be scrambled eggs and a whole avocado. Then, even if the evening meal is a big social gathering, it might be possible to eat more meat and avoid the bread, pastry, rice and sugary treats.

For other food options that should make fasting easier, look at the list of low-insulin-index foods in “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid,” supplemented by the information in “Using the Glycemic Index as a Supplement to the Insulin Index.” (Also, note that both the insulin index and the glycemic index give effects per 100 calories of food consumed. For most non-starchy vegetables, 100 calories worth looks like quite a big serving.)

A similar approach could work for those celebrating the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and for Mormons doing their fast ending on the first Sunday of each month.

And a similar approach can work if one is making fasting a regular part of one’s health regimen. The one difference between a religiously motivated fast and a fast for health is that a fast for health should ideally allow the drinking of water, while many religious fasts require abstaining from water.

Anyone who physically suffers during fasting now would be well advised to try preparing for fasting by surrounding the fast by low-carb eating. I’d be interested to hear about people’s experiences trying this.

For annotated links to other posts on diet and health, see:

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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