Renowned film director Hanung Bramantyo fasted for much of Ramadan this year, but still found that at the end of it all, he had put on three kilograms.
“Before Ramadan, I weighed about 75 kilos, and by the time it was over I was 78 kilos,” he told the Jakarta Globe.
Though the idea of gaining weight over a monthlong period of fasting for more than 12 hours each day may seem counterintuitive, it is a phenomenon that many Indonesian Muslims grapple with every year as they seek to combine the religious obligation with the opportunity to shed some weight.
Hanung blames his own weight gain on the drastic change to his regular eating habits, including eating dinner, which he otherwise skips.
“We tend to eat twice during Ramadan, once before dawn and again at sunset when breaking the fast, but my problem was that after the first meal, I always went back to bed and only woke up for work shortly before noon,” he said.
He also ate a lot at night, when no longer fasting, and concludes that it was this combination of heavy meals and a lack of exercise that contributed to his added kilos.
Titi Sekarindah, a clinical nutritionist at Pertamina Hospital in South Jakarta, confirmed that the more sedentary habits adopted for Ramadan contributed to weight gains.
“Some people sleep more and exercise less, and it’s this reduction in energy expenditure that becomes a factor,” she said.
Another major contributor, she went on, was the type of foods typically consumed during the holy month.
“During Ramadan we usually eats lots of sugary foods that are high in calories when breaking the fast,” Titi said.
Among the most popular foods to break the fast is kolak, stewed bananas in a heavy coconut and palm sugar syrup. A single serving of this sweet dish contains about 300 calories, or 15 percent of the recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories for an adult.
Tit said there was also a tendency for people to eat more fried foods than usual during Ramadan, thereby compounding the decrease in exercise with an increase in the amount of calories being taken in.
Faris Akbar, an event organizer, managed to dodge the problem this year and even shed three kilos to end up at a leaner 66 kilograms.
His secret? “Stop eating before you feel full.”
He said he had to exercise a great deal of self-control to limit how much he ate, especially in the evening after breaking the fast, which in the end helped him lose some stubborn fat.
But for many Indonesians, Hanung said, this is harder to do than it sounds, largely because of a long-ingrained dependence on eating starchy, high-calorie white rice.
“The Indonesian food paradigm revolves around rice,” the director said.
“Most of us believe that a meal without rice is an incomplete meal. That’s why I feel I need to change my dietary habits.”
Done properly, fasting can be an effective method for losing weight, Titi said, as well as an excellent opportunity for the body to detoxify. However, that relies on keeping well hydrated, she said.
“Even though we’re fasting, the body still needs about eight glasses of water each day in order to function well,” she said.
“To ensure that the detoxification process is done properly, people need to ensure they drink this much, perhaps three glasses before dawn and five after breaking the fast.”
She added that proper water management also contributed significantly to the weight-loss process during Ramadan.
“That’s why those who managed to stay properly hydrated during Ramadan were able to see a fair amount of weight loss during that period,” she said.