Originally published in December 2012
It is probably the most common New Year’s resolution. We have likely made it ourselves, or have heard it from countless friends and family. It goes something like "This year I will lose weight and get fit." The stampede to the gym ensues, and about three weeks later our resolution finds itself buried inside our mashed potatoes at the Cheesecake Factory. A familiar story, we all know. So how do we break the cycle? The answer involves reorienting our eating habits with that of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family).
Qur'anic Perspective on Food
Allah touches on two extremely important points in the Qur'an when it comes to food consumption: quantity and quality.
As to food quantity, He states:
وَڪُلُواْ وَٱشۡرَبُواْ وَلَا تُسۡرِفُوٓاْۚ
Eat and drink, but not to excess
As to food quality, He states:
يـأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُلُواْ مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـكُمْ
O people of faith, eat from the pure provisions we have given you
These verses are the golden rules of food consumption. Both the quantity and quality of food we eat have a direct impact on our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Excessive food consumption and poor food choices can lead to obesity. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 35.7 percent of U.S. adults suffer from obesity and 17 percent of adolescents aged from 2-19 are obese. Americans on average currently consume 31 percent more calories than we did forty years ago. Obesity can lead to countless health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, anxiety and depression.
So what is the solution to this growing problem? It begins with changing our approach to food.
The Messenger and Food Quantity
“The worst vessel the son (or daughter) of Adam ever fills in his (or her) stomach. It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a few morsels that will maintain his back’s uprightness. But if he must add more to his stomach, then let it be one third for food, one third for water, and one third for air."
The statement is a stark warning and profound advice from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). He is not advocating starvation here, but drawing our attention to the dangers (both physical and spiritual) of overeating and how little food we really need to live.
The way most of us approach food and its consumption is fundamentally flawed. We eat for sport, not survival. When we are bored, we eat. When we see food, we eat. When we watch Food Network, we eat. It is very rare we eat when we are hungry and when we do eat we overeat.
So what is the correct way of approaching food consumption? One Prophetic answer to this is fasting.
Fasting was a regular part of the Messenger's life. He would fast every Monday and Thursday. He would also fast the 13th, 14th and 15th of each month. Once you add them up you get eleven days, or roughly one-third of the month in which the Messenger would fast.
When the Messenger was not fasting, he was "intermittently fasting", eating only once a day. If he ate in the morning, he would not eat again until the next morning. If he ate at night, he would not eat until the next night. He once stated, “A believer eats with one stomach while a nonbeliever eats with seven stomachs." The profound import of this Prophetic statement points to the importance of rooting even our food consumption in faith and the Sacred. It is interesting to note that even ascetics of other religions (such as Buddhist monks) eat one meal a day. This prophetic advice of fasting and intermittent fasting has even recently been championed by some contemporary fitness gurus today.
Now we are all aware of some of the great spiritual rewards of fasting, but I want to share with you and emphasize some of the physical results of regular fasting as well. Many Muslims do not realize that when the Qur'an states that the purpose of fasting is to increase taqwa (God-Awareness), this "taqwa" attained through fasting should also manifest itself on a physical level. These physical results of fasting may have some of the following benefits :
-Reduce blood pressure
-Reduce risk of developing cancer
-Decrease oxidative stress
-Protect against degenerative brain diseases
-Increase fat burning
-Improve blood sugar control and appetite control
-Increase sense of well-being
The Messenger and Food Quality
The Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) was a careful and healthy eater. His diet was simple, but packed with nutrients. Among the food he would regularly eat:
-Meat (on occasion)
It is important to note that the Messenger’s diet did not center on meat. It is well known in the modern context as well as through most of the world's wisdom-traditions that excessive consumption of meat can lead to serious physical and spiritual aliments. There is currently a push in America to make every Monday “Meatless”, and this is something I think all of us should join. The proponents of this initiative cite evidence that keeping your red meat consumption at bay can limit your cancer risk, reduce heart disease, fight diabetes and curb obesity. You can check it out for yourself here: http://www.
The Messenger and Exercise
By all accounts, the Messenger of Allah was what could be described today as a "power walker". Abu Hurairah once said, “I did not see anyone walk faster than him, as if the earth folded for him. A few moments ago he would be here, and then there. We found it difficult to keep pace when we walked with him and he walked at his normal pace.” When another companion complained to the Messenger about being overweight, the Prophet advised him to walk fast, or in other words, power walk! The health benefits of walking are too many to numerate, but here are a few:
· Low Impact Exercise – Many of my friends complain of bad knees and joints. Walking can help improve those issues
· Build Aerobic Fitness – A strenuous walk can help build up your maximal oxygen consumption (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
· Burn Fat – Power walking, for 4-plus hours a week, has been proven to burn fat.
· Stress Relief and Means of Meditation (Fikr) – A brisk walk is a great time to collect your thoughts and reflect on Allah's signs (ayaat) in the world and our life.
Our New Year Resolutions should not be to go on just another diet. Instead let us try and align our health habits to some degree to what could be called the "Prophetic Diet"! If you start to add fasting, better food choices with whole and pure foods in lesser quantity, and power walking into your weekly mix you will, God willing, see a renewed sense of spiritual and physical well-being. Better yet, you will be reviving three habits of the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). So tell us, what will you do differently for the next year? We want to hear from you.
Moutasem Atiya & Hasan Awan, M.D.
By Moutasem Atiya , 30 Dec 2013