Islam encourages us to keep our bodies healthy because it is given by Allah as a trust. The Quran and Sunnah show what types of food we should eat and those that we should refrain from. This results in effective weight control that leads to physical and spiritual benefits.
The Sunnah methods for weight control include:
- Moderation is key
- The Prophet never ate alone
- Etiquette of eating
- Manner of eating
- Consuming Sunnah foods
Before we go any further, please make sure to confirm with your doctor that it is safe for you to do any of the practices mentioned in this article, before you decide to make any lifestyle changes. Because for some losing weight is actually not healthy, if you are already slim and not in your healthy weight range.
‘Then let mankind look at his food.’
Weight control in Islam, using the Sunnah method
The Prophet (SAW) advised that food was the primary reason for illness if we eat too much of it or if we eat the wrong type. If you have to follow a simple principle with the Prophet’s diet, it would be less is more.
Why food is so important?
Allah loves His creation so much that He has included in the Quran and His Prophet’s example what types of food we should eat and which we should refrain from. The best foods will give us physical and spiritual benefits and the worst foods will have the opposite effect.
Muslims must take care of their physical health as well as their spiritual health, because our bodies are given to us by Allah as a trust. They require to be maintained rather than be abused or neglected.
Remember, three of the five pillars of Islam require sound physical health: the daily prayers involve movements of muscles and postures from standing to prostrating; fasting in Ramadan requires good health too; the Hajj (pilgrimage) also requires many days of physical exertion.
The Prophet’s health and weight
As with everything, the Prophet (SAW) was the perfect example. His physique was lean and he was incredibly strong. For example he once wrestled to the ground (body slammed) 3 times, the best wrestler in Makkah. This was while he was in his forties.
As a summary, he wasn’t a person who would gorge on food, or who would chug drinks down, but he would sip. He also was a very organic eater, as he would eat dates, loved water and fresh milk, preferring not to have many things that are mixed. It is generally reported he ate twice in the day. For us, this could mean timings of say 11am and 7pm, for example. This would help in controlling weight.
The Prophet (SAW) didn’t eat until he actually felt hungry. Due to our busy lifestyles, we tend not to have a regular pattern for eating; we eat whenever we feel like instead of having specific times for meals. As there are so many options available in our kitchen cupboards, we keep binging on food and as a result, our stomachs have to work the whole day.
The Sunnah way to control weight
1. Moderation is key
‘…and eat and drink, but be not excessive….’
A good description of his meals was that he was semi-vegetarian rather than being a meat eater and certainly not to the extent that many of us today eat meat.
He portioned a third of his stomach to be filled with food, a third with drink and leaving a third for air, so would not keep on eating until his stomach was full. Because the Prophet (SAW) disliked overeating, he apportioned eating to a third of your stomach capacity.
In practice, we can all individually determine by looking at the food in front of us, how much will it take for us to become completely full. Then split this into thirds and have water before starting to eat. Make sure to drink in between too. You will find by doing this and chewing slowly, you eat much less but still feel full, thereby being able to watch your weight.
2. The Prophet never ate alone
He (SAW) never had a meal that wasn’t shared with others. There isn’t a hadith mentioned which states that he ate alone by himself. This was the hallmark of Prophets anyway, but in our situation it goes some way in lessening the amount you eat too, and therefore controlling weight, by not wanting to eat alot and look gluttonous.
When sharing food, he taught that the person serving should be the last one to eat, making sure others are fed and watered before the person considered their own needs. This self discipline also helps with weight control.
3. The etiquette of eating
He (SAW) taught us not to blow on our food to try and cool it down quickly, but wait until it cools down itself. This is a test of patience and teaches us not to be greedy.
He mostly ate with his hands rather than with utensils and there is wisdom in this too. Importantly, he made sure to clean the plate on completion of his meal – so finishing everything on the plate. He advised there is barakah (blessings) in this, which in today’s language would mean most nutrition in cooked foods is present at the bottom of the plate.
If you must eat more than two meals a day, aim to keep at least a four to five hour gap between every meal, rather than having small amounts of food at small intervals as some dieticians advise. If you eat healthy nutritious food, you will feel fuller for longer. You’ll become hungry a lot sooner if you eat unhealthy foods like processed or junk foods, because these foods don’t contain essential nutrients.
4. Manner of eating
Eat slowly and mindfully. The Prophet (SAW) used to chew each morsel many times before swallowing, some hadiths state around 32 times. This shows that food shouldn’t been gulped down quickly. Chewing food more means it is broken down into easily digestible pieces, thereby making it easier for the intestines to absorb the nutrients from the food.
In addition to this, the more you chew the food, the more time it will take to finish the meal, helping you to eat less and thereby lose weight. This is from findings that it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to signal to the stomach that you’ve had enough.
Overeating also causes lethargy and drowsiness as our bodies slow down and concentrate on digesting the food. The consequence of this is laziness in carrying out duties we have to ourselves, our families and others but ultimately laziness in worshipping our Creator, which is the ultimate loss for us.
There were occasions when the Prophet (SAW) used to restrict food by fasting on certain days and occasions. For example, he would fast on Mondays and Thursdays; the 13th, 14th and 15th of the lunar calendar and other special days and of course the full month of Ramadan. When following this practise, do keep in mind that the intention should be to please Allah and expect a reward from him, and as a consequence you will also be helping to control your weight. Whereas fasting with the only intention being to lose weight will get you the weight loss but no rewards.
Also when we talk about fasting, it is the full Muslim fast which involves no drinking or eating anything from just before the start of fajr prayer time to a few minutes after sunset. You can find the relevant times in your local masjid prayer timetables.
It is the holistic approach by the Prophet (SAW) that is key.
6. A sprinkling of Sunnah
Adherence to sunnah can be achieved through food which can then be a form of ibadah (worship). The following are some of the foods/ingredients that appear in sunnah and hadith books which, if you add to dishes with the intention of following the sunnah, will bring rewards insha’allah.
Vegetables mentioned in the Quran
- Lentils (2:61)
Fruits mentioned in the Quran
- Grapes (2:266)
- Dates (6:141)
- Olives (16:11)
- Pomegranate (55:68)
- Bananas (56:29)
- Fig (95:1)
Foods loved by the Prophet (SAW)
Gourd, sweet cold water, shoulder meat, Halwa/sweet, Honey
Some food and drink consumed by the Prophet (SAW)
Vinegar, Watermelon, Ghee, Chicken, Swiss Chard/Beetroot, Barley, Milk, Paneer, Nabeedh, Thareed
Quran verses relating to food and drink
‘This day [all] good foods have been made lawful….’
‘And made the night as clothing – And made the day for livelihood.’
The indication from this is that the Prophet (SAW) kept eating times during the day.
‘Allah has created every [living] creature from water….’
This also indicates to us how important water is and that we should keep hydrated throughout the day. It will help control your weight too.
Eat the good foods that Allah has provided
[Allah said], “O messengers, eat from the good foods and work righteousness. Indeed, I, of what you do, am Knowing.’
Ibn Kathir writes: Allah commands His servants and Messengers to eat lawful food and do righteous deeds, which indicates that eating what is lawful helps one to do righteous deeds. The Prophets (AS) did this in the most perfect manner….’
O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is Him that you worship.
In Ibn Kathir’s tafsir it mentions a hadith regarding the above verse which says: Numan bin Bashir (RA) reports the Prophet (SAW) as saying: ‘Both legal and illegal things are evident but in between them there are doubtful (unclear) things, and most of the people have no knowledge about them. So whoever saves himself from these unclear things, he saves his religion and honour….’
‘Then let mankind look at his food.’
This is a call to reflect upon Allah’s favour. It also contains evidence in the vegetations coming to life from the lifeless earth.
So make the whole process of cooking and eating into worship and gain rewards. May Allah reward us all with good.