The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the tag “Ramadhan”

The Dip Has Come

When I interviewed Dr Michael Mosely a couple of days ago for the Ramadhan program I am presenting for BBC 1 – he suggested keeping a diary of how I was feeling throughout the day. Prior to starting fasting I have also taken a set of bloods, weighed myself and recorded my BMI. I want to tackle this Ramadhan with a difference. It is supposed to be a period that develops you as a person for the better through the discipline of fasting and I want to measure that. Spiritual development will be recorded through reflection and the changes in terms of my own physiology and body through science! I have had a set of bloods taken prior to fasting and then will have a set taken after – the results of which I will reveal within the BBC programme.

But today – in fact right now at about 7pm I am having a dip. I feel a little tired and a bit woolly around my head. Michael suggested that fasting is like putting the body under stress in a way that we ‘stress’ our bodies when exercising. It is during this time of stress that the body repairs itself. It does that by creating new cells. We do the same thing when we lift weights where our muscles rip – then we create a healing process to repair. Michael’s words of how this process happens in fasting are ringing through my head now. He said the process happens throughout the body including our brain. When I begin to feel a bit fuzzy minded, I should think of it as my brain ‘getting a polish’ as new brain cells form in response to the process.

So I think that’s where I am right now. My body is relying on my fat reserves right now to draw on the energy it needs. I have plenty of those and so the essential organs I need to keep functioning are certainly not in any shortage of what they need! It is more that I as a human being am a creature of habit and it would be around now that I would be drinking tea or coffee and also looking for the evening meal.

And I find that if I distract myself, mentally, I can overcome the dip. Michael described that within the 5:2 diet process he also used meditation and that mindfulness is an important reinforcement for helping to go through fasting. So for me the mindfulness and the ‘meditation’ process actually comes through the process of prayer. It’s the time to pray the afternoon prayer – Asr – and so I will use that as a time to reflect, to connect and to relish what I am doing and why.

In two hours I will be able to eat and drink again. Taking time to think of the entire process from both a spiritual and physical perspective has been a more meaningful way to approach Ramadhan.

I have the strongest desire to eat pasta – I hardly ever have it normally but how bizarre to experience the cravings our minds create for us.

Ramadhan Kareem 2014

So it’s here. Like most things that require a bit of work and may prove a bit of a challenge, I have been mentally prepping for this first day of Ramadhan since about May!  I have been worried about how fasting for 19 hours will work out, especially with the normal routine of work but reading back over my last two years of blog posts, has been quite helpful. Writing this blog again is really something I anticipate eagerly and look forward to every year. Thinking about the first few posts I have planned this year I know I have something different to offer.

This Ramadhan has already proven a bit different before it even began. I have never been to an Islamic Relief event but was invited to the Pre-Ramadhan Dinner the other night. It took place in the the Church House, near Westminster Abbey. A rather lovely setting and the food was delicious. Speakers included Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties Simon Hughes MP, Amir Khan and Jon Snow. The night was dedicated to launching the latest fund-raising announcement – DFID is to match pound for pound money raised by Islamic Relief. I’ll write more about this event in a piece later when armed with a post Iftar cup of tea.

Also I want to bring in some thoughts about the Algerian football team playing against Germany on Monday 30 July at the World Cup. I am a Les Verts fan – the Desert Foxes are back. I will actually be watching the match tomorrow evening around Iftar time with an Algerian friend and no doubt we will be heading to little Algiers in Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, London to see the fans. Algerian football fans are a unique bunch and one can’t help but love them.

And then I have been given the rather unique and wonderful opportunity to make a film for the BBC about Ramadhan which will be screened on the 20th July. It has involved meeting and interviewing the London based imam, Ajmal Masroor. It was inspiringly hearing what Ramadhan means both to him personally and to the Muslim community. I also had the chance to sort the science of fasting out in my head with a really insightful meeting with the fasting expert Dr Michael Mosely. It was fantastic. After what I learnt from Michael and also the reassurance I gained from him about what was going on physiologically inside me I felt so much more ready for the challenge ahead in fulfilling my religious obligation of fasting through Ramadhan.  He told how the fat burning stage kicks in about 8 hours into the fast, which for me today at about 6pm I know I am well within. He talked through the dips and cravings we can experience and why. He also explained that over-coming habits is an important part of the process. Michael told me that I should be careful about what I eat in the evenings so that I avoid what normally happens to me every year – I put on weight. it’s because I anticipate the day ahead and eat the food I think will help. He advised lot’s or protein and fresh veg. Sounds rather sensible. Will I stick to it though?

Michael also talked about really taking time to savour the food and not to just gorge. It all makes perfect sense. It is a time of restraint and control and could provide lessons to learn that will remain after the last day of the 30 days.

I am also going to use this time to yet again sort my life out – both the spiritual, physical and the disorganised pile of stuff I keep under the desk.

So today is being spent taking it easy. No caffeine withdrawal headache thank goodness – the reduction in intake over the last few weeks has obviously paid off. I am however struck by how much food is thrust at us on the television. Most of the adverts are screaming at us to buy food, eat and drink all sorts of stuff.

Although I actually feel fine and full of the eagerness of spiritual awakening that fasting can bring, I am switching over from Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me.  I am human after all and have not eaten since 2.49am!!


LIfe and other weird ideas

So the soggy defrosted food (because my freezer has broken) that got cooked and eaten in phases through the night has meant that I felt bloated and stuffed until about half an hour ago after 12 hours of fasting so far. Now I want a coffee sitting there on the side of my desk – maybe only a few sips of it drunk – but nonetheless sitting there as my work companion to help me through the pile of paperwork that needs doing. My poor accountants keep sending me hopeful emails for me to do essential bits of admin that I just can’t make myself do. I feel guilty because I know they are fasting too.

No hospital shift today so I am enjoying a lazy day. But it does go slower that’s for sure. I made up for it by watching two episodes of Scrubs back to back and will hold out for the Simpsons at 6.

But no coffee until 21.01 hours.

There are clouds in the sky but it’s still baking. How about a little thunder storm? I love a good storm – it feels rather refreshing afterwards. And rather crazy exciting during it too.

Man it’s so hard to focus and do work when you feel so rubbish and just want to crawl into bed and watch tv for the rest of the day. But that’s not the point of Ramadhan. You have somehow got to ‘dig deep’ and keep going. A voice echoes in my head from Sandhurst days agin ‘Work hard ladies’…yes it’s my colour sergeant again shouting encouragement from somewhere deep in my memory. This fasting stuff is undoubtedly great for stamina building and good for a reminder about the important things. And I tell you I won’t be doing this for just anyone – so it reminds me of who I am, what I believe in and how faith is such a significant part of me. I suppose sometimes we all need a central grounding to bring us back to who we are in amongst the crazy busy lives we lead. I mean today I have been pondering my career, my life and how I need to move forward. I have also been having my own pangs of insecurity, self-doubt and how much has been procrastinated about and yet left unfulfilled. I mean have I learnt French yet? No. Have I learnt Arabic yet? er no! Have I sorted out my manky ankle that has stopped me doing the one sport I love – running? No – even though I am a bloody doctor myself! And yes prospective patients – do as I say and not as I do! And time is just trickling past. So in this period of forced slowing down I am having a detox of my body and brain – a time to use the F word – FOCUS! There I said it  and instead of trying to do six million things at once it’s time to break it all into man-sized chunks. The other weird thing that has recently happened is that I have become a bit more serious about my medical career – about working out how to be a really good EM doctor and climb the ranks to consultant. Yes I have admitted it – I want to complete my training and staying a middle grade is not enough. How did I get all these thoughts so far in Ramadhan – and we are not even half way through yet! What am I going to come out with by the end? Maybe it’s the sugar deprivation playing weird tricks with my brain.

I know I have plenty of reserves on board that could do with being used up so I am hardly wasting away shall we say! No weight loss so far.

Yep it was a tough one today

Today – what a day. Thought it would never end. As I ploughed through the list of patients I just wanted a coffee – the way I normally have it – hidden discretely in the stationary cupboard in Minors within A&E so matron doesn’t see it when she does her walk around. We may be the doctors but matron still rules and we still scamper like naughty school kids caught out when she comes onto the shop floor.

I realised that although I wasn’t particularly thirsty or hungry – it was more the habit of ‘going for a coffee’ or taking a sip in between patients to signify the end of one case and starting a new one. Thank goodness I don’t smoke. How on earth do they cope – Ramadhan is as much about fasting as it is about habit breaking. Nearly half way through – and I am flagging. But on the positive side – I am being forced to slow down. It is difficult and I am getting rather vexed by not being able to do about three things at once but I suppose one month a year to ease the pace a bit is no bad thing!

I am back in A&E tomorrow and hope that my mind is stronger than my distracting cravings. They are really annoying.


So I remember a frequent call from my colour sergeant when I was a cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. It was ‘Shut the f*** up ladies’. Nearly always deserved because we would break out into chatter whenever we could and I will admit with 25 women all talking together at a unified higher pitch the sound is a bit like the most annoying nails across a blackboard ever.

I think the imaam at the mosque at last night’s prayers would have felt the same pain as my colour sergeant at Sandhurst. I was at the night prayers – called taraweer- that are held during Ramadhan, which take place after the usual last prayer of the night Isha. Am I making sense? Basically it’s an add on extra set of prayers at the end of the day. More blessing/ brownie points. It’s actually a way to recite the entire 30 chapters of the Qu’ran through the month, whilst in prayer. Quite impressive to witness as it’s physically demanding and someone has learnt all that off by heart. Standing in those prayers takes some stamina! But it’s nice and spiritual. It also helps with digesting all the food just eaten after the day of fasting so I think it all works well together. Food for the body and then more food for the soul. Anyway because everything is done in blocks – we pray the ishaa prayer together and then there’s a little gap whilst everyone takes some slugs of water, shuffles along to fill gaps in the lines and prepares for the next set. And guess what – the ladies up in their section start TALKING! In mosques men and women are segregated. I for one would not feel comfortable with some of the moves we do in prayer, like bending over or kneeling in prostration if there was a bloke behind me. It’s practical. Anyway at the prayer interlude there goes that high pitched chatter that pierces the eardrums of all not involved and the ladies will not be quiet!! The imaam tried twice to shut the ladies up – but he gave up in the end. He just started with ‘Allah-u-Akbar’ to mark the start of the taraweer – indicating that we are starting without you ladies – and then thankfully they did stop talking about what they had cooked for breaking the fast or complaining about women not standing where they should be. Oh yes – that is a whole blog piece of it’s own. The little dictators that emerge every year to pull and push you around mid-prayer. Grrr.

No wonder women get a rough deal in getting access to mosques – Muslim blokes can be rather fixed in their ideas and women being women and having a good old gossip and chatter kind of plays into their hands. Especially when the blokes are being like the good kids at school, sitting there in quiet contemplation like butter wouldn’t melt….oh yeah right!

Fasting in the midday sun

I had some filming to do today in London. I needed to be there for about 2pm but just quivered at the thought of getting onto the underground in the heat of today – something over 30 degrees I think. I got a taxi instead and fell asleep learning my lines in the back.

The rest of the team did a pseudo fast with me – I think people find it difficult to eat and drink in front of fasters. It was immensely hot and Rob was not only producing and directing the shoot he was also filming it too. So I disappeared for little periods of time and hoped he was gulping water during my absences. No point in everyone getting dehydrated. And anyway I have been doing this for most of my life and am used to it. And I am getting acclimatised to it for this year now.

I stumbled, coughed and spluttered my way through the pieces to camera. But it’s all in the mind – because as soon as Rob said ‘Action’ I imagined  a switch turning on and sparkly me was there. It really did work.

It flowed so well that the shoot finished earlier than anticipated and I piled into the back of a taxi once more to get home. I fell into blissful sleep again and let someone else worry about the traffic. When I got home I had about 7 minutes to the break of fast time and I just appreciated the cool evening air like I was experiencing it for the first time. I think when you fast all the things you go through and are denied are reinforced in their wonderfulness and you appreciate them that much more. A cool evening breeze and a glass of cold water really do feel like the most precious things when you have not been able to enjoy them all day. Being reminded of that – of their simplicity and yet their importance – is surely a good thing.

When to fast and when not

So I might have slipped in my blogging obligations but to be fair I was exempt from fasting in the first week. I was on the lady’s holiday. So I am now a week behind in acclimatisation. But whilst we are at it I thought I would go through what the rules are for who can fast and who is exempt and what they can do to feel part of the gang.

Essentially fasting during Ramadan is compulsory for Muslim adults who are in good mental and physical health. The age of when Muslims are supposed to fast is when they have past the age of puberty. Those who have a chronic health condition which would result in a deterioration of their condition are of course exempt. A good idea for those in doubt is to check things out with your doctor first. The aim is not to make yourself unwell by pushing your body to do something it is not able to do because of ill-health. So be sensible people and don’t try to be a hero! There are other things you can do to make up for the missed days.

If you’re travelling and on a journey you are also exempt. but this is a case of do as I say and not what I do. I went to Libya in 2011 and my journey came towards the end of Ramadhan. I thought about not fasting during the journey – it was going to be a bit of a crazy one from a sleepy little village in Essex to Gatwick onto Tunis and then Tataouine near the Libyan-Tunisian border. Yes it was a hike and a half. But my flight was in the late afternoon and so I thought I’d tough it out and fasted. I am pretty glad I did. On the flight with Tunis Air I found that fellow travellers were also fasting and when it came to the iftar – breaking the fast  – I have never seen an inflight meal like it. We all got min-banquets on a tray. It was such a lovely sight and I felt really humbled by the respect given to us as travellers and Muslims observing Ramadhan. We even got an announcement from the pilot on the time when the fast was open. And that sealed my thoughts on whether I was going to fast for the rest of the days spent travelling even though I was exempt. Fasting in a Muslim country is a far different experience than fasting here in the UK and I wanted to embrace it.

The Muslim Council of Britain website suggests the following list of exemptions but acknowledges that some of them are optional:

• People who are mentally incapacitated or not responsible for their actions
• The elderly
• The sick
• Travellers who are on journeys of more than about fifty miles
• Pregnant women and nursing mothers
• Women who are menstruating

It is kind of widely appreciated that if you miss fasts you make them up later. And if you can’t do that then you feed those who can’t afford food.

Channel 4’s British Ramadhan

Channel 4’s British Ramadhan

So Channel 4 are really embracing the Ramadhan spirit. There are LOADS of programmes on about the Muslim month of fasting.

WELCOME RAMADHAN 2013!!! Woohooo – it’s been a year


Woohooo – it’s been a year since I uploaded here. I can’t believe it’s been a year! It’s that time again – feeling, hungry, sleep deprived, a bit caffeine withdrawn and for you smokers out there – oh dear is all I can say. BUT hold tight, dig deep and go for it. It’s also a massive hardcore group stamina test – a massive community event, an international fest of shared togetherness and rumbly tummies. I mean how cool to think that when you are not eating during the day, abstaining from coffee and the fags, and the chocolates and the biscuits and the morning croissants well so are others – whether it’s someone in your town, your city, your country or on the planet!

It kind of is quite cool to think about. Although I am not going to fluff this up to be anything dreamy. IT IS HARD! OK there I admitetd it. I am onmy knees fasting. I don’t float around in some spiritual high. I get caffeine withdrawal headaches from some dark place, I get embaressing growly snarly tummy sounds emanating from the pit of an empty stomach, I worry about my breath – we all know that we get smelly breath from fasting! It’s embarressing and I worry about leaning over my patients with a killer breath.I mean they come to hospital because they feel ill- and then I’m all over them with my fasting breath. So there are many things to contest with. And then once you have fasted, there is an even bigger stamina test of standing in prayer for quite awhile each night. It’s called the taraweer prayers – which people can do on their own or more commonly in congregation in mosques. When I am in the middle of one those sessions, and if my mind wonders for a moment, and I think about my feet being a bit sore – I get a bit of buzz thinking that everyone else must feeling a wee bit weary too – but how hardcore are we for what we believe in!

I might be bringing this to a basic level – but I am just being honest. I am apprehensive because I don’t want to fail by obligations. I am apprehensive because I know my dedication to this month surpasses all else – and I am worried how it will impact what else I have to do in my life during this month. So I do ask God to help me – to stop me from being a wimp or feeling sorry for myself because I am going to have to find other ways to wake me up other than caffeine! So my first prayer is to thank God for giving me another Ramadhan where I have the health to fast. My brothers can’t fast this year because during the last Ramadhan one of them was diagnosed with end stage renal failure. He was only 24 at the time and it was out of the blue. He now only has one working kidney – after my other brother donated his kidney to save his life. So now both are vulnerable, on medications and at risk of complete renal failure if they don’t keep hydrated and medicated. They never knew that they would not be able to participate in this global fasting event again. So I do appreciate that I have another year so much. I suppose when it is taken from you – that is when you’ll miss those times the most.

I am also rather impressed with my naming of this blog last year- ‘The Ramadhan Diaries’ as I have just seen a diary starting on Channel 4- video diaries called – guess what RAMADHAN DIARIES!!

Another fasting Olympic story

Another fasting Olympic story

….but this one looks at those who have fasted. it also looks a little into scientific opinion on how fasting affects athletes. Best of all it talks about how one of my local mosques, East London mosque, held huge iftars to which Olympic athletes attended!


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