As the diversity of our population continues to increase, many dietitians will come across Muslims fasting for Ramadan. However, some may not be familiar with Ramadan and the best practices to support their clients. The following provides key information on working with clients fasting for Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a month during which Muslims fast each day from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, drink and oral medications. The main meals consumed are at pre-dawn, called suhur, and at sunset, called iftar. The fasting is not only a physical fast but involves a spiritual and social aspect. It is a time marked by increased worship, nightly prayers called taraweeh, readings from the Quran, charity, and family and community gatherings. The intentions of Ramadan include increased spirituality, self-discipline, compassion and gratitude.
In 2019, Ramadan is expected to start on May 5. Fasting hours may be as long as 16 hours depending on the region.
Fasting of Ramadan is obligatory upon all Muslims, however there are exemptions. These include menstruating women, pregnant and breast-feeding women, children, individuals with acute or chronic diseases, and those who are traveling. These exemptions are emphasized in the religious scripture. Exempted people are able to participate in the blessings of Ramadan beyond fasting, such as praying and taking part in charity efforts.
Despite the exemptions, many people with health conditions choose to fast. These may include people with diabetes, eating disorders and pregnant women. It is important that healthcare providers work closely with at-risk individuals to provide the appropriate support and care.
Counseling Clients who are Fasting During Ramadan
Fasting can be a very sensitive and emotional topic for many. Approaching counseling sessions in a non-judgmental and compassionate way can help cultivate trust and rapport with patients. Failure to do so may affect patients’ willingness to open up and share their desire to fast with their healthcare provider. Dietitians are encouraged to work closely with patients’ healthcare providers and community leaders to assess and minimize health risks and support patients’ personal decisions.
For many people, Ramadan is considered a new beginning. As such, Ramadan is a golden opportunity for dietitians to connect with patients. Dietitians may encounter Muslims from various ethnic backgrounds, each with different cuisines and food traditions. Dietitians can work closely with patients and counsel on healthy eating strategies while incorporating patients’ cultural foods.
Proper nutrition is important during Ramadan. Incorporating balanced meals and adequate hydration is essential for optimizing energy and health.
At sunset, Muslims follow the Prophetic tradition of breaking their fast with dates and water. The dried date fruits provide a quick source of energy, fiber and minerals. The sunset meal, which is called iftar, consists of a variety of foods and buffet style meals. Special foods are prepared during Ramadan which may include fried pastries, such as samosas, and syrup-coated desserts. Meals are shared with family and friends in the community.
Following the sunset meal and nightly taraweeh prayers, many people will sleep for a few hours before having to wake up for the pre-dawn meal, referred to as suhur. This pre-dawn meal can include breakfast type foods, such as oatmeal and toast, or cooked dinner meals, such as rice and meat, depending on the individual’s food customs.
Dietitians can provide culturally sensitive healthy eating tips during Ramadan. Helpful education topics can include balanced meal planning for Ramadan, mindful eating, hunger-fullness cues, healthier cooking techniques and hydration.
Incorporating joyful movement and activity is important for health. During Ramadan exercise may be continued; however, excessive exercise during the fasting hours should be avoided. The taraweeh prayers, which involve repeated cycles of rising, kneeling and bowing, can also count towards one’s exercise.
Dietitians have a key role in counseling clients fasting during Ramadan. It is a golden opportunity to connect with patients and provide client-centered culturally sensitive nutrition education. Dietitians can work closely with healthcare providers and religious community leaders to support patients’ decision and health journey.