During Ramadan, people tend to face more stress, which is due to many reasons. Lack of food is the most important one but there’s also the stress that comes from emotional eating. People under stress don’t make good food choices and they may eat inappropriately, without control, craving food high in fat and sugar like muffins, sweets, pastries, doughnuts, and cookies. All this can lead to weight gain and feeling more stressed because of the feeling of guilt that comes from overeating, leading to a vicious cycle.
Some of the reasons behind the stress felt during Ramadan are:
- Hunger caused by the lack of food
- Thirstiness caused by the lack of water
- Changes of routine and activities
- Shorter periods of sleep
- More duties: maybe preparing food, going to formal invitations etc…
- Lack of caffeine and tobacco during the day.
This stress will increase even more during the last weeks of Ramadan for two reasons: more energy was stored in the body in the beginning of Ramadan and fatigue and dehydration will accumulate more and more with days passing by.
How to fight stress during Ramadan?
Food can give us the feelings of control and satisfaction that we need in stressful situations. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for making us feel happy and for the regulation of our mood. Low serotonin levels may make us feel bad or even depressed; it is also associated with sleep disturbances. During stressful times in Ramadan, we reach for fattening and sugary comfort foods; serotonin is released, making us feel happier.
What are the healthy comfort foods that we can reach for during Ramadan?
Serotonin itself isn’t in food. It is made from the amino acid, tryptophan that is derived from food then converted to serotonin.
- Protein rich tryptophan: turkey, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, cheese, eggs, soy foods and beans. Tryptophan works best when consumed in conjunction with a small amount of carbohydrate.
- Complex carbohydrates: can help in increasing the serotonin levels. Choose whole grain or brown bread, pasta, cereals, rice; potato, legumes; root vegetables such as potatoes, corn and carrots.
- Omega 3: an essential fatty acid that can trigger serotonin production, found in mackerel, salmon, sardine, tuna, flaxseed and walnuts.
- Vitamin B can also increase the amount of serotonin in the brain.
- Minerals: Food sources that help with serotonin production are foods rich in calcium and magnesium. Calcium is found in dairy products, almonds, brewer’s yeast, green leafs, cruciferous vegetables, sesame seeds and tofu. Magnesium is essential for easing muscular tension and may reduce anxiety. It is found in seafood, whole grain bread, nuts such as almonds, oatmeal and soybeans.
What are the unhealthy comfort foods that we reach for during Ramadan?
Fried foods like cheese spring rolls, fruit juices and drinks prepared with sugar like jellab, sweets like kallaj, mafroukeh, chaaybiyet, qatayef, daoukieh, as well as caffeine and tobacco are unhealthy choices that can boost your mood during Ramadan but temporarily. They are actually the foods that stress you out: they are a fast fix but they do nothing to stimulate ongoing production of serotonin. This is why we advise you to consume these foods in moderation.
What changes in our lifestyle can help us?
- Know the sources of stress. Do not take on more than you can handle; maybe prepare one dish less for Iftar.
- Avoid thirst and hunger during Ramadan.
- Exercise: Try yoga, meditation or go for a walk.
- Avoid caffeine and tobacco.
- Get enough sleep.