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Gaining weight after giving birth is the by-product everyone anticipates but nobody really wants. It is accepted by most people, after all, you are growing a beautiful tiny little human for which you need to consume 200 extra calories for in your third trimester. As your body grows and changes shape you naturally feel hungrier. The tiredness and nausea many people experience directly impacts the food choices made. You’re less likely to reach for healthy, nutrition-packed foods that fill your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs – you’re much more likely to reach for that chocolate bar or that muffin that’s quick to consume and gives you a burst of sugar that you crave.
I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum during both my pregnancies, a condition that affects 1% of pregnant women. For me, it meant throwing up between 6-12 times a day for the first trimester and 1-3 times a day for the rest of the pregnancy. Certain foods were unbearable for me to eat due to the overbearing sense of smell and nausea. Unfortunately, this included anything green, any source of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Instead, the only thing I could really consume was a load of junk food, nachos were a prime favourite as well as chocolates and cakes. I would still vomit whilst consuming all of this sugar, but I was able to digest parts of it. Filling my body with empty calories for months was the sole reason for my 30kg weight gain. It’s the embarrassing truth. As a personal trainer, it’s not something I’d like to admit, but it happened. It’s the reason I was classed as obese.
What I didn’t anticipate, however, was how this sudden weight gain would affect me spiritually. I had no idea that it would become a physical barrier in my quest to attain khushoo – a deep level of concentration where you converse with your Lord as if you see him, a conversation with your Lord so beautiful that all the worries of this world diminish as soon as you raise your hands.
Khushoo in prayer is the ultimate goal of every believer – its sweetness can be felt by those with no sweet tooth. It is where true happiness lies, a feeling which no words can describe, and it cannot be explained except by those who have experienced its glory. Every atom of your body wholeheartedly submits to your creator, every inch of you yearns to speak to your Rabb. In that moment, there is nothing else but you, a weak, fragile slave worshipping your Lord with sins as far as the Earth stretch but you try to concentrate to the best of your knowledge and ability. Even when you get distracted, you refocus and repeat this cycle until the prayer ends. With every prayer, you attempt to gain closeness to your Lord, and just as your Iman fluctuates, so does the quality of your salah. It’s a constant battle, but one worth conquering and mastering.
The negative effects of weight gain are often attributed to health problems, functionality, and aesthetics. These are all important. It’s vital to take good care of our bodies and reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, in fact, it’s commendable to honour and adorn ourselves in the way we present our outward appearance. However, there is a much more pressing reason as to why we need to lose weight, and why we need to lose it fast, but in a healthy and sustainable way especially if it is the reason you cannot connect with God during prayers. We need to lose weight in order to be physically lighter in prayer so that extra bodily fat does not become a barrier during the movements required to validate our salah.
Eating a lot hardens the heart and causes us to be tired. It causes us to be counterproductive and we end up with a surplus of energy that needs to be burned off. Eating little is emphasised by our Prophet PBUH who said:
“The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few morsels to keep him alive. If he must fill it, then one-third for his food, one-third for his drink, and one-third for air.” (al-Tirmidhi –saheeh by al-Albaani)
Carrying an extra 30kg most definitely took its toll on my physically. I noticed how my thighs were a lot wider and how my belly stretched in all the directions unknown to me before. When I stood in front of my Lord and raised my hands before him, I was unable to recite longer chapters from the holy Quran because the extra weight pained my limbs and caused much distraction. Even reciting the shorter chapters required extra effort to try and concentrate as the discomfort felt in my thighs, at times, overpowered my longingness to lengthen my prayers. With my head buried in the ground in prostration I tried to refocus but the extra weight on my shoulders, arms, and stomach meant I was in a rather awkward position which I couldn’t hold for long. My head was arched at an angle closer to vertical than horizontal which interfered with the blood circulation in my brain. Again, I felt deflated that my weight had become a physical burden in rejuvenating my faith through the best form of worship; prayer.
I write this, embarrassed and ashamed in many ways. I contemplate how I will stand in front of my Lord on the day resurrection, the day when your mother and brother will run from you, the day when the only thing saving you is your good deeds. How I will I stand in front of God knowing that I did not attempt to lose weight for His sake even though the extra weight drifted me further away from Him? What will I answer when the quality of my prayers will be questioned? I had the ability to eat less but I didn’t. We will be questioned for every morsel of food we ate when we didn’t need to. Any form of enjoyment in excess is disliked and will drift us further away from productivity and worshiping God.
A famous Sufi Proverb comes to mind:
‘Eat less, sleep less, socialise less, and talk less’.
This is a somewhat sensitive topic for many, but it needs to be discussed. After lengthy conversations with my family and friends I soon realised I’m not the only one whose weight gain is becoming an ever-increasing problem. Let us make the intention to burn fat for the sake of Allah SWT, to please him, to worship him and to obey him. Any other reasons for losing weight is, and should be secondary. I pray God allows us to shed the pounds we need to feel lighter in front of him on the prayer mat, and may it be a source of light for us on yawmul Qiyama.
Maryam Akram is 25 years old of Indian origin. She is a fully-qualified personal trainer and Hatton boxing instructor and is currently studying towards an MSc in Obesity and Weight management. She offers individualised coaching, in person and online, that supports women to lose weight and develop a healthy, positive relationship with food. She studied Arabic at SOAS, university of London and at An-Najah University in Nablus, Palestine. She currently resides in Newcastle, UK with her husband and two children. IG: @coachmaryam