Ramadan Kareem! As most of you must know, the month of Ramadan is underway. A month that is extremely sacred for over 2 billion Muslims we share this planet with. If you happen to be a part of those 2 billion, then this article is definitely for you.
Ramadan is a month of mindful abstinence and fasting. A month of abstaining from not just food and water, but from all sorts of evil including foul speech, reprehensible thoughts and ill-intentions. Although the latter requires a lot of spiritual strength, it does not make the clinical rotations nearly as difficult as the former.
As a fresh medical graduate myself, who is currently powering through his internship, fasting for 14+ hours is not the easiest feat. Interestingly, though, fasting has given me a new viewpoint on my work with patients and has given me a new perspective on everyday interactions. Therefore, know that fasting is not going to be a huge impediment in your training, but can rather benefit you if you know how to go about it the right way. So allow me to share with you the little tips which I personally benefit whilst working in the wards as I fast.
- Pack in the proteins at the morning meal (suhoor)!
The morning meal is unquestionably the most important meal of your day while fasting, since it is going to provide you with all the fuel you need to power through the day. Taken just before dawn, your suhoor should consist of high-protein foods like eggs, yogurt, dates, oatmeal, chicken, fish or beef. Avoid high-sugar items like chocolates, desserts and fizzy drinks since they are going to give you empty calories without any nutrition. The proteins are going to be the most filling nutrients of your meal which are going to keep you satiated for the long day ahead of you.
- Stay hydrated between the fasts.
Dehydration is perhaps the greatest challenge whilst fasting and in the summers (or if you happen to live on the East Coast), it is much more draining. The best way to work around this is to increase your water intake between sunset and sunrise (the eating window). Now most Muslims make the mistake of gulping down gallons of water just minutes before sunrise (which marks the start of the fasting window) which is not only counter-productive but also leaves you feeling very bloated and uneasy. A much better way to go about this is to start drinking water in small portions throughout the eating window. This would mean drinking a liter of water every hour or so. Try this hydration technique and your body will thank you!
- Follow a strict sleep schedule throughout the month.
I can not keep count of the people who complain of sleep deprivation in Ramadan and rightfully so! Given the nature of the fasting schedule, one has to wake up before sunrise during the entirety of the month. Although this does not change much for people who go to bed early, but for people like me who used to be night owls, getting sleep was extremely difficult during Ramadan. Imagine, going to bed at 4 in the morning and getting up at 7 for your morning classes. To avoid getting stuck in this loop, follow a strict sleep schedule throughout the month. Although there are different patterns that you can follow to catch up on your sleep, the one which worked the best for me was sleeping at 9 pm and waking up at 4 am. And guess what? I can finally testify to the aphorism; the early bird gets the worm! This sleeping pattern not only gave me a solid 7 hours of sleep but also greatly added to my energy levels. In fact, it benefitted me so much that even 2 Ramadans later, I still stick to it to this day.
- Know that there is no sin unto thine if you can’t fast.
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.’’, The Qur’an (2:256).
This part of the article is for the enthusiastic practitioners of the faith who feel that fasting is non-negotiable, regardless of one’s circumstances, and if one does not fast, one will lose out on their Muslim identity. However, that could not be further from the truth. Fasting is only for you if you can go on with it without compromising your health. If you have certain health issues or if you feel that fasting is going to get in the way of your daily life responsibilities, you are exempted from it. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) famously said, “Verily, the religion is easy and no one overburdens himself in religion except that it overwhelms him.” So go easy on yourselves and don’t be overwhelmed. By all means, fast if it is feasible for you and do not beat yourself up over being unable to do so.
All in all, fasting alongside the medical profession is no easy feat, but it definitely isn’t impossible either. Not only does it instill a sense of strict discipline into the person (a quality which is vital in doctors), but it is also immensely beneficial for the body’s digestive system. Follow these pieces of advice and you will see that managing Ramadan along with med school will be a job well done!