Over a week has passed since Ramadhan started in Brunei Darussalam, and since then, Muslims have been fasting every day from dawn to sunset.
During this time, perhaps you’ve heard your friends or family members say, “I’m going to lose weight this Ramadhan”.
Losing weight, if done in a healthy way, comes with many health benefits such as decreased risk of diabetes, lowered blood pressure, improved mobility, as well reduced back pain and joint pain, among many others.
Several studies suggest that weight loss is also associated with positive changes in our lifestyle and psychological well-being such as better sleep, improved mood and increase in self-confidence.
As such, it’s important to look after our health by managing our weight.
Overweight and obesity are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health”. Obese people are at higher risk for potentially serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, joint pain, sleep apnea and breathing problems.
Based on the Brunei National STEPS Survey on Non-Communicable Disease and Risk Factors 2015-2016, 28.2 per cent of people in Brunei Darussalam are obese. For people aiming to lose weight, fasting during Ramadhan can be the first step of their weight loss journey.
To lose weight this Ramadhan – and after Ramadhan ends – it’s useful to understand how weight gain and weight loss works.
ENERGY IN, ENERGY OUT
The WHO website states that “the fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended”.
To put it simply, consuming more calories than the amount you burn will make you gain weight over time.
Think of calories you eat as “energy in”, and calories you burn as “energy out”. While “energy in” mainly comes from the food we eat, there are many ways for us to burn calories – “energy out” – even when we do nothing.
The simple act of just breathing burns calories, because our bodies are constantly at work to make sure all parts of our bodies are functioning properly.
Of course, working out burns calories too, and comes with many health benefits to boot. When it comes to losing weight, both “energy in” and “energy out” must be taken into account.
For a person to lose weight, “energy out” must be greater than “energy in”. This can be done by increasing physical activities or eating less, or doing both at the same time. Limiting food intake can be an effective weight loss tool, and several studies have researched the weight change during and after Ramadhan.
STUDIES: RAMADHAN FASTING AND WEIGHT CHANGE
According to a study published in the Journal of Public Health, out of a sample size of 202 people, 46 per cent lost over one kg after a month of fasting during Ramadhan. Another 16 per cent lost 0.5kg-one kg.
Meanwhile, 21 per cent maintained their weight within a range of ±0.5kg. The remaining 17 per cent gained at least 0.5kg, showcasing the possibility to gain weight during Ramadhan by overeating. But it’s also possible to lose weight this Ramadhan, as shown by the study results, and it’s important to remember that just regulating the food intake during Ramadhan isn’t enough.
Even harder than losing weight is what comes next – keeping the weight off.
In the same study, 87 participants who recorded their weight a month after Ramadhan ended gained back the weight they lost.
A recent study published in Nutrients, a peer-reviewed open access journal of human nutrition, mirrored the results of the study mentioned above.
Although the study participants lost weight at the end of Ramadhan, they also gained back the weight within five weeks after Ramadhan ended. The study concludes that Ramadhan fasting led to a decrease in weight and “these findings suggest that Ramadhan fasting may be a suitable starting point as an intervention for the global obesity epidemic, including in many Muslim-majority countries”.
It also points out the importance of sustainable weight management after Ramadhan.
LONG-TERM WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
Eating less and eating healthy is easier said than done, but it is doable, and is perhaps more manageable during Ramadhan when we limit our food intake between sunset and dawn. That can be the first step to weight management.
But even after Ramadhan ends, we shouldn’t be complacent and go back to our old eating habits, because that would mean gaining back all the weight lost and putting our health at risk.
As always, when it comes to health, it’s best to seek professional medical advice to ensure getting the proper treatment safely.
The Obesity Clinic at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital provides obesity treatment for adults and children.