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being underweight during ramadan

Being Underweight During Ramadan

A person who is underweight is a person with a weight below the range of a healthy weight. This definition is usually made with reference to the body mass index (BMI). A BMI of fewer than 18.5 is usually referred to as underweight.

What are our concerns during Ramadan for underweight individuals?
During Ramadan, we fear that these people because of fasting will face the following:

  • They might lose more weight 
  • They might have a loss of appetite
  • They might lose essential vitamins, minerals and  nutrients

How to gain weight if you are underweight?
Healthy weight gain for some is as hard as weight loss is for others or even harder. Persons who are underweight are advised to gain weight by increasing calorie intake. The target is to consume more calories than what is burned. To gain ½ kg in a week, a person needs 3500 extra calories. However, it is important to gain a healthy weight during Ramadan. Eating foods that are dense in nutrients is essential such as: 

    • Seeds and nuts; add them to your cereal, salads, yogurt and smoothies.
    • Dried fruits like raisins and apricots.
    • Full-fat dairy products such as cheese and whole milk rich in vitamin D and calcium.
    • Cook food with oils; make sure that you use healthy oils such as sunflower and olive oil.
  • If you feel that you are not able to meet your calorie supplies through food then increase your fluid intake such as milk, fruit juice, and smoothie.

What about supplements or medications
Nutritional supplements to be prescribed by a dietitian.
Vitamin and mineral supplements might be recommended for individuals with insufficient vitamin or mineral intake.
Certain drugs may increase appetite such as appetite stimulants, to be prescribed by doctors.

Is there anything we can do other than increasing calorie intake?
Another way for individuals who are underweight to gain weight is by exercising. The addition of muscles will boost the body mass. In order to gain lean muscles you must do strength and weight lifting training. Exercise during Ramadan can help stimulate people’s appetite if they are not prone to eat.

Is there anything not advised to do?

  • Consuming big portions makes you feel full early. In order to eat more, eat small frequent meals instead like having Iftar, then two snacks, and then suhur. 
  • We advise not to drink water while eating to avoid feeling full.
  • Avoid junk food as it can only result in needless fat gain.

What are the health problems of underweight individuals?

  • Severely underweight individuals may have low physical stamina and a weak immune system, leaving them open to infection
  • In women, being severely underweight can result in amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), infertility and possible complications during pregnancy.
  •  It can also cause anemia and hair loss.
  • Underweight is a risk factor for osteoporosis, even for young people.
  • Being underweight causes higher mortality rates compared to morbidly obese people.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon

Author Info

Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian