Managing Your Weight Through the Sunnah
Our relationship with food can at times be a grievous one. Counting calories and weighing ourselves constantly can make the eating process a burden rather than something to enjoy. Taking time to become more aware of what we eat does not necessarily mean restricting our diet to a certain type of food intake. It’s more about giving attention to how we eat. This concentrates more on the process rather than the food itself.
Dr. Wail Abu Hendi is a psychologist with interests in dieting, obesity, and slimness, as well as eating disorders. Abu Hendi believes that modifying eating behaviour is more effective to accomplish weight loss than traditional dieting methods. Abu Hendi developed a therapeutic behavioural program for patients in Egypt suffering from obesity and extreme slimness. This therapeutic behavioural program was designed in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him).
Eating can be looked upon as not only something pleasurable, but also as an act of worship. Thus, our Prophet (peace be upon him) emphasized the concept of food as an act of worship by performing ablution prior to eating just like for prayers, as well as having the intention—niyyah—of seeking Allah’s favour.
Like other acts of worship, this form of worship shouldn’t take up too much time. Dr. Abu Hendi says that we begin to feel full (satiated) after twenty minutes of eating, regardless of the amount of food we have consumed, so dedicating approximately 30 minutes to each meal would be better than wolfing it down. Also, eating should not be made a secondary activity while watching television or listening to music in order not to avert your attention from the food unnecessarily.
Duties, Sunnah, and Manners
The first duty in Islam concerning eating is ensuring that the food is both permissible (halal) and comes from a permissible source. You should also feel satisfied with what Allah has provided you and believe that these provisions are a blessing from Allah. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once told `Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him), "O Ali! There are twelve rules a Muslim must learn to adhere to before the table (of food), four of which are duties, four of which are Sunnah, and four of which are manners. Knowing what you eat and its source, mentioning Allah’s name prior to eating, being grateful for provisions, and being content with them are duties. Sitting on the left foot, eating with three fingers, eating from the food closer to you, and licking the fingers (used while eating) are Sunnah. Restricting the size of each mouthful of food, chewing very well, refraining from looking people in the face, and washing the hands (afterwards) are of manners."
Good or Bad?
It is best to eat three times a day (or twice if fasting), and try to eat a variety of foods; do not shun bread, rice, fruit, or other foods in their natural form. Classifying foods as good or bad according to the calories they contain can lead to depriving the body of essential needs, which may drive the body to react adversely. Severely depriving the body of calories may result in cases of binge eating (excessive overeating), or nocturnal eating where a person gets up at night half asleep, heads to the kitchen, and begins eating large amounts of foods that were originally avoided during the day.
Try to change your usual sitting position while eating. So, following in the footsteps of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) try sitting either on both knees or on your left leg while keeping the right one upright. It’s best not to change the position you choose before you finish eating. If this position does not suit you, particularly at the beginning, then you may take the position you prefer most, but try not to lean on anything. The Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would seat himself attentively before food.
First and foremost say "bismillah" (in the name of Allah) before your first mouthful. It would be preferable to begin your meal with some fruit. If you wish to use the first three fingers on your right hand (starting with the thumb), try as much as possible not to involve the last two fingers while eating to buffer yourself against overeating. Incorporating the fingers into the eating process has several merits, including increased awareness of the food you eat and pleasure from enjoying the food’s texture.
Avoid using your left hand while eating unless you are left-handed, though you may use it to peel fruits or separate meat from bones. In any case make sure that your left hand does not carry any food up to your mouth (due to explicit and strict cautioning against this in the Sunnah).
A merit of using just one hand while eating is to decrease the amount of food a person consumes, in addition to increase awareness of the food one is eating. Each time you notice your left hand involved in the eating process you should pull it back and attempt to complete eating with just one hand. This will help prevent slipping into excessive eating. Training yourself to adhere to this procedure may not be easy at first, but repetition and ongoing trials along with your persistence to follow the Sunnah will gradually facilitate the matter.
After bringing something to your mouth with your right hand, do not extend your hand once again to the plate before properly chewing and swallowing your food. This may be very difficult at the beginning, but this is the fashion by which the Prophet (peace be upon him) ate. Gulping down food without proper chewing, or eating in a hurry is not healthy. This is an important reason behind obesity and overeating. Since the feeling of satiety comes after twenty minutes of eating, we must train ourselves to chew food properly and not to reach out for more food before finishing what’s already in our mouths.
After finishing your meal, it is sunnah to lick the three fingers you used while eating. Do not be disgusted to lick your fingers, if you used them, after you finish eating, since these fingers carried the food to your mouth.
After you finish your meal, thank Allah and express your gratitude to Him, for this is an imperative duty.
After a meal, the sunnah is to wash your hands and mouth, and it is preferable to renew your ablution.
The above steps are guidelines for those who wish to keep in shape and maintain their ideal weight. These steps do not involve resorting to the pains of modern dieting, and rely completely on the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). This diet has no negative side effects since it preaches responding to our bodies’ signals, by eating when we feel hungry and only when we feel hungry.
Dr Wail Abu Hendi is a psychologist with an MD from the University of ZagaZig’s Faculty of Medicine. He is the author of several books discussing issues of religion and psychology. He is also a prime contributor of the Arabic web site Maganin.com.