My week didn’t turn out precisely as planned. My daily average fasting hours over the past week was 15 —one hour short of my goal. The actual day to day numbers varied:
Monday: 19 Hrs
Tuesday: 14.5 Hrs
Wednesday: 16 Hrs
Thursday: 14.5 Hrs
Friday: 13 Hrs
Saturday: 7 Hrs
Sunday: 21.5 Hrs
The easiest way for me to do intermittent fasting has been to skip breakfast. Breakfast is one of those meals that are forced on us through culture. We repeatedly hear it’s the “most important meal of the day” and that if we don’t eat breakfast we’ll somehow gain weight (baffling), but many don’t find themselves hungry in the morning and could easily skip it if fear mongers weren’t warning us of the alleged detriments in skipping this most important meal. It also allows us to go a longer period of time without eating with relative ease, even though we haven’t eaten for 8 hours while sleeping, we usually have the least physiological hunger in the morning. This phenomenon is explained here in this video, but to put it in the simplest way our bodies have been fasting for 8 hours and basically say “a few more won’t hurt”. As I expressed in the last post in this series I find it a great deal easier to eat nothing than to eat less, I also find it easier not to eat when I haven’t eaten. What that means is that once I eat it’s easy to feel like eating again 2 hours later and when I’m fasting it’s easier to fast a little longer… Hoping that makes sense.
What causes weight gain? I’m sure most of us would say simply eating too much, and of course, that is a part of the answer. The second best answer is, “not exercising enough”, and of course that’s also a part of the answer. We might even point to some foods like sugar and carbs, but what about insulin? While we may have never considered insulin and may not even be quite sure what it is (or it’s function), new research is leading doctors to believe that insulin is directly related to weight gain;
In this study, the insulin dose was massively increased. Under this hormonal signal, the body tries to gain weight (increase the BSW). As weight increased, patients tried to restrict calories. Since they weren’t eating more, their body is forced to ‘shut down’ in order to conserve energy to increase weight. TEE is lowered. We feel tired, cold, and hungry. And the weight still keeps going up. Sounds like most conventional low-fat low-calorie diets. Diet, exercise, feel lousy and still can’t lose weight.
There is, in fact, a direct correlation between total dosage and weight gain. The more insulin given, the more weight gained. The higher the insulin levels, the more weight gained. Insulin causes obesity. (1)
And this relates to fasting in that every time one eats insulin rises and thus not merely eating less but eating less frequently can aid in weight loss. The problem in one sense with simply doing intermittent fasting is that it doesn’t necessarily prevent one from eating several times a day even though you purposely give your body a break for a number of hours you could still eat 3 meals a day or more in your shortened ‘feeding window’. This is one reason some who start off intermittent fasting end up on the ‘OMAD diet’ —which is essentially an extreme form of intermittent fasting, eating once a day.
Imam Al Ghazali in his book ‘Discipling… the Two Desires’, translated by Timothy Winter (Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad), states, “The Predecessors used to eat only once a day. And the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) once said to ‘Aisha, You should beware of extravagance, and it is extravagant to eat twice in a single day”. When fasting I realize how unnecessary eating is, of course ( I assume) we must eat at some frequency to stay alive, but I certainly didn’t feel much hunger within my average 15-hour daily fasting. Even on the one day, Saturday, when I only fasted 7 hours I didn’t break my fast out of hunger I simply wanted to eat particular foods and decided have a Twilight Zone marathon that involved lots of ‘caramel rice snacks’ until late at night. When I’m fasting I realize that most of my eating is not physiological.
During this week of fasting, I can’t recall any actual hunger pangs reaching my body, there were certainly days I didn’t feel like fasting but there were no days where I felt real hunger. In that way, while it may feel extreme, I can understand why eating twice a day is extravagant. One good meal certainly suffices physiologically. I also have little doubt that one good meal every other day could suffice, during my (almost) three-day water fast I also don’t remember feeling hunger until the very end, what I felt more than anything was immense boredom. Which attests to the fact that much of our eating is strangely for entertainment and not out of necessity.
Ghazali also quotes the prophet, peace be upon him, as saying, “Meditation is half of worship while eating frugally is all of it”. One of the issues I see with myself that you, dear reader, may identify with, is a problem of excess. Its part of what attracts me to zuhud and minimalism, I do believe that the root of many of our modern problems is excess. Unjust labour practices, polluting our environments, obesity, hoarding, depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, etc. all have to do —at least in part, with excess (over-production, over-processing, too many chemicals, etc.). Fasting is an answer to the overconsumption of food and all the ills that come from it. And ridding ourselves of excess is a pathway back to ourselves and back to our Lord.
There are many ways fasting bring us closer to God. And I’ll share more from Ghazali next week but one way in which I see a possibility for this is simply an increase in consciousness. When I’m fasting (Sunna fasts in particular) I more aware of eating as a grace from God. When Maghrib comes in I get this feeling of, “Alhumdulilah, I get to eat”. There is a specialness to eating that isn’t there when I’m not fasting, my ‘Bismillah’ feels more conscious, and I’m more aware that I’m only eating with God’s permission. Of course, that reality is always there but I find it harder to tap in to without fasting.
There’s an immense benefit to ridding ourselves of excess in whatever way we can. Of course, we can attempt to hold the world in our hand and not our heart, but I’m not sure how many of us are capable of doing that. For myself, I find the less of the world I have the easier it is to not have an attachment to it. Allahualim, we’re all a work-in-progress.
I don’t think they’ll be a spiritual benefit in my fasting if it doesn’t involve fasting from other excesses as well —Youtube, entertainment reads, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. All the things that no matter how valuable we convince ourselves it is or how deserving of downtime we believe ourselves to be, are just excess. News we didn’t need to know, statuses we didn’t need to read, information that adds no real value to our lives… Well, these are my thoughts for now.
Until next week,
(Apologies for this post being two days late)
Nuriddeen Knight is based in Brooklyn, she completed an MA in psychology with a focus on child and family from Columbia University. Alongside her academic degree, she studied traditional Islamic knowledge including Islamic law, theology, spirituality and prophetic biography with local scholars and in the majlis in Amman, Jordan. She has recently published her book 40 hadith of Aisha.