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 where Muslims fast each day from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, drink and oral medications. 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 the elderly, the weak, the mentally ill, those with an illness, menstruating and pregnant women, children, and those who are travelling. 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.

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Counseling Clients Fasting for Ramadan

Fasting can be a very sensitive and emotional topic for many. Counselling sessions should be approached in a non-judgmental, compassionate way to cultivate trust and rapport with patients. As each case is unique, dietitians are encouraged to work closely with patients’ healthcare providers and community leaders to minimize any health risks and support patients’ personal decision.  

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. Working closely with patients, dietitians can 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.

Baklava: phyllo stuffed with walnut and syrup
Baklava: phyllo stuffed with walnut and syrup

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 have a key role in providing culturally sensitive healthy eating tips during Ramadan. Education topics may include balanced meal planning, 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 play a key role in counseling clients fasting for Ramadan. It is a golden opportunity to connect with patients and provide gentle and culturally appropriate nutrition education. Dietitians can work closely with healthcare providers and community leaders to support patients’ decisions and health journey.

Dietitians can check out these resources on this blog as well:

  • Guide to Healthy Eating During Ramadan
  • Meal Planning for Ramadan

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