Ramadan: why the 5:2 diet is for wimps

Fasting has been getting a good press lately. The 5:2 diet (also known as Intermittent Fasting) – where you eat normally for 5 days a week, then eat just a quarter of your normal calorie intake (500-600 calories) for the remaining 2 days – has propelled the idea of fasting into the limelight over the last year or so.

Leaving aside my personal scepticism about a diet that restricts your calorie intake for two days then gives you psychological carte blanche to eat whatever the hell you like for the rest of the week, it’s supposed to have all kinds of health benefits, from weight loss to reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But eating just 500 calories in a day is tough, right?

Not when compared to proper fasting it’s not. Fasting where you get up in the morning to eat before the sun comes up, and don’t eat again until it sets. Fasting where nothing passes your lips – nothing at all, not even water, never mind how hot it is outside – until the sun goes down again and you hear the first strains of the call to prayer. Now that is fasting. That, without a shadow of a doubt, makes the 5:2 diet look like fasting for wimps.

Out of solidarity with M, who is observing Ramadan, I’ve decided to give proper fasting a go. This is partly because it’s so much easier getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning when you have someone else to get up with, but partly because I’m just plain curious. I have fasted during Ramadan before – when I lived in Bangladesh, for example, eating surreptitiously every day became so difficult that I just gave up. Some may find the idea of a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan a bit odd. After all, I’m not a very religious person and I wasn’t raised in a particular faith. But religion has always intrigued me, though, and in my experience, few things help you to understand others better than walking in their shoes for a while. So what better way to do that than by seeing what Ramadan is like from the inside?

Here in Istanbul, sahur, the last time you can eat before the sun begins to rise, is around 3.35am. Iftar, when you break your fast, is not until 8.40pm. For those who can’t be bothered to do the maths, that’s nearly EIGHTEEN HOURS without food or water (and here in Istanbul we have it relatively easy – Muslims living in higher latitudes are still expected to fast during daylight hours, even when they live in places where daylight lasts a lot longer.)

Anyway, I’ll be keeping a diary of my fasting days, so watch out for my next post coming soon…