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  • How to Transform Your Marriage from “Meh” to “Wow!”

    Your marriage
    can be your gateway to paradise or hellfire. If it is a beautiful marriage, it
    can be a means of increasing your energy, productivity and happiness in this
    life. It can also be a means of salvation in the next world. On the flip side,
    a broken marriage is one of the biggest stressors on your life and it’s also
    the destroyer of your happiness and life in both worlds. In this article, I
    share nine qualities that can help you transform your marriage from “meh” (i.e.
    mediocre) to “wow!” (i.e. superb and successful), bi’idnillah!

    When coaching 100s of people around the world,
    I’ve found that people who are enjoying a healthy relationship with their
    spouse are better able to achieve their health and fitness goals. They also
    tend to lead a satisfied life. I think that’s because the satisfaction of their
    marriage motivates them to push beyond their comfort zone and try new things in
    life. Increased motivation along with a supporting partner facilitate them to
    achieve things that are usually seen as “impossible”.

    While a blissful marriage is a blessing for
    everyone around them, a broken marriage is a misery not only for the involved
    couples but also for the children and the people around them. So, a broken
    marriage can cause havoc not only in your relationship but also in every other
    areas of your life.

    Or to be blunter: A happy marriage life is like a ladder that helps you to climb over the
    hurdles you face in your life. A broken marriage is like a big massive wall in
    your way. It’s a hurdle itself for all your happiness, achievement and success
    in both worlds.

    I sincerely hope that the nine qualities I
    share will be of great benefit for anyone who is looking to improve their
    marital life. These qualities I share in this article are based on Islamic
    teachings, the latest scientific research and things that I’ve implemented
    successfully in my own life. They’re advice that I’ve taught to many around me,
    alhamdulillah!

    Ok, before we continue, here is a little disclaimer:
    I’m a nutrition and exercise coach, not a marriage therapist or relationship
    coach. So, please don’t contact me for any of your marital issues. Instead, to
    help you with your marriage, turn to the books and resources I share at the end
    of this article.

    Nine
    qualities to transform your marriage from “meh” to “wow!”:

    1. Start by finding your “why”!

    If you know me
    well, then you know that I always talk about how important having a purpose is.
    If you want to change anything in life, the first step should be finding the
    purpose or the true “why.” Why do you want to transform your marriage in the
    first place? What do you want to achieve with this transformation?

    So, I suggest
    that you start with this question: “Why
    do I want to transform my marriage from “meh” to “wow!”?

    Knowing why you want to transform your marriage from mediocre to great is the first step towards a successful marriage.  To help you understand the process of finding your why, read this. This article explains to you how you can find your real why.

    Once you know
    your true why, it will motivate you to make your marriage a great success.

    I mean, if you
    aren’t willing to save your marriage and you aren’t truly committed to it, then
    nothing in the world is going to help you, right?

    So, start with finding
    your why and that’s pretty much the first step towards progressing to a
    marriage that leaves you saying “wow!”, bi’idnillah!
     

    2. Utilise your best weapon – Du’a

    With the why, you
    know which direction to go. However, this first step is pretty much useless if
    you don’t get the Divine assistance to attain the outcome that you seek.  

    So, it’s time
    that you utilise your best weapon to implore Allah for help. Yep, I’m talking
    about the power of du’a

    Allah subuhanawuta’ala says in the Qur’an:

    “When my servants ask you concerning me,
    (tell them) I am indeed close (to them). I listen to the prayer of every
    suppliant when he calls on me.”
    (Al-Quran, 2:186)

    It’s as if Allah
    is giving you a blank cheque and asking you to ask for anything that you want.
    And, of course, He promises that He’ll attend to it.

    Subhanallah, who else is better to help you than your own
    Creator?!

    If you are truly
    determined, and you are ready to put the work to make your marriage the most
    beautiful one, then Allah’s help isn’t far from you. So, beg to Him, because,
    for Him all matters are easy and all He has to say is “Kun” and it is!

    In Surah Furqan,
    Allah subuhanawuta’ala even teaches
    us how to make du’a for a successful
    marriage life.

    And those who say,
    “Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes
    and make us an example for the righteous.”
    (Al-Quran, 25:74).

    Use this du’a from the Quran
    to help you formulate the right words to ask for what you need. And beg to Him
    with all of your heart believing that He will, indeed, respond.

    3. Provide unconditional love

    How can you happily
    spend a lifetime with a person, if you don’t cherish and love that person
    unconditionally?

    Loving
    unconditionally? Yep, what I’m saying is that you should love your spouse
    regardless of his/her flaws and mistakes. You love that person with all their
    imperfections.

    That may sound
    hard, but think about your own flaws. Don’t you expect that your spouse loves
    you regardless of your mistakes?

    The reality is
    this: except for Prophet Muhammed (SAW), no human being is perfect and each and
    every one of us has our own shortcomings. So, if we were to love a person based
    on a condition, (“he or she should be like this” and “he or she shouldn’t be
    like that”) then you’ll never come across a person whom you can love.

    So, one of the
    most important qualities that helps you to transform your marriage is that you
    love your spouse unconditionally.

    That
    unconditional love should also reflect on your duties towards your spouse. Do
    your duties with ihsan (perfection) and
    don’t be too demanding of your own rights.

    On the Day of
    Judgment, Allah would ask each of you about your rights and obligations towards
    one another. And you want to make sure that you excel in your duties towards
    your spouse and that you are forgiving with the rights that are due to you.
    That’s certainly a safer position for your success in this world and in the Aakhira (Hereafter).

    Here are a few
    ways how you can excel in showing your love in words, emotions and in actions:

    1. Say I love you frequently, even if you had an argument just
      before. As I said, your love should be unconditional.
    2. Kiss your spouse often. Create 100s of opportunities to
      kiss. Has she or he just entered the house? Kiss. See him/her in the kitchen?
      Kiss.

      1. Here
        is a good exercise for you. Brainstorm and write down at least 5 opportunities
        you can use to kiss your spouse daily
    3. Give a lot of compliments. Say things like,“Wow, you look great
      in this dress” and “masha Allah,
      you’ve cooked an excellent dinner”,
    4. Spend a lot of time in very fulfilling
      and beautiful intimacy
      .
      Though this subject is rarely discussed in Islamic circles, lack of intimacy is
      one of the leading causes of marriages falling apart.

      As a married couple, you need to frankly talk about this issue. You need to
      inform your partner about your likes and dislikes in intimacy.

    In the Quran,
    Allah says, “… your wives are your
    garments, and you are their garments”
    (Al-Quran; 2:187). So, part of being
    his/her “garment” is also to protect his/her chastity by giving them the
    ultimate satisfying sex life in your marriage.

    4. Consider your in-laws as your family

    How can you truly
    love your spouse, if you don’t even love and respect the persons who brought
    your spouse to this world? I mean there is a reason why we call them “parents in-law”. They have almost the same
    rights and duties as your biological parents and these rights and duties are
    now given to them by the legal pact of marriage.

    So, part of
    loving your spouse is also loving his/her family.

    Abuse or
    disrespect towards in-laws is one of the biggest reasons for a broken marriage.
    If your relationship with your in-laws is sound, your marriage will be sound; otherwise,
    it may look like sound from outside, but it’s NEVER really sound!

    When you fix your
    relationship with your parents in law, you’ll most probably fix your
    relationship with your spouse. That’s what I call killing two birds with one
    stone!

    5. Connect through unconditional service

    The more
    connected you are towards your spouse, the better your relationship becomes. But
    you might be wondering what I mean by “connecting”.

    Connecting is
    finding ways to help your spouse whenever possible. Every act of service counts.

    And what’s most
    important is, that you don’t categorise the chores at home or the errands
    outside home as “mine” or “his/hers”.

    Being the
    bread-winners of the family, most men have this strong belief that they don’t
    need to help their wives, since their responsibility is to earn money. They
    believe everything else should be taken care of his wife.

    But this is
    totally against the Sunnah.

    When asked what
    did the Prophet (SAW) used to do in his house, Aisha, (RA) replied, “He
    used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for
    prayer he would go for it”
    (Al-Bukhari).

    This sunnah helps
    men to strengthen their romance life too.

    In his book, The Seven Principles for
    Making Marriage Work
    , John Gottman says it beautifully:

     “…romance is strengthened in the supermarket
    aisle when your partner asks, ‘Are we out of butter?’ and you answer, ‘I don’t
    know. Let me go get some just in case,’ instead of shrugging apathetically.”

    6. Showing Gratitude 

    John
    Gottman, the man that I mentioned before, is a psychologist, scientist and an
    expert in marital relations. In the book I mentioned earlier, he says that unless a couple is able to maintain a high
    ratio of positive to negative affect (5:1 or greater),
    it is likely that their marriage will end.

    He
    gives us a simple way to increase this positivity ratio. According to him, the
    best way to boost your positivity ratio is to practice gratitude in your marriage.

    Showing
    gratitude is basically thanking your spouse for every little help and favour
    they do. That’s it.

    In a separate article, I’ve discussed in detail how to practice gratitude towards your spouse. It’s one of the most read articles. So make sure to read it.

    But
    the most important thing to remember is this: Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said, “He
    who does not thank people, does not thank Allah”
    (Ahmad)

    7. Spend a lot of quality time with your spouse

    The greatest gift you can give to your
    spouse is your own mindful presence, i.e. you give your full attention without any
    distractions. Yeah, that means you PUT DOWN YOUR SMARTPHONE and engage with
    your loved ones.

    So, what do you do in your quality time?
    If you have nothing to say or do, at least just hold your spouse hands.
    According to the latest
    research
    from the University of Gothenburg, “long lasting gentle touch decreases stress hormones and decelerate
    heart beat frequency. It also activates brain areas commonly linked to reward

    John Gottman, the
    renowned psychologist from the University of Gothenburg further elaborates in
    his book, how spending time with your spouse will both save your marriage and
    health:

     “I
    often think that if fitness buffs spent just 10 percent of their weekly workout
    time—say, twenty minutes a day—working on their marriage instead of their
    bodies, they would get three times the health benefits they derive from
    exercise class or the treadmill.”

    8. Be the first to say “sorry”

    Happy marriages
    aren’t devoid of problems or arguments, but what makes these marriages
    different from the rest is that couples in these marriages don’t linger on the
    arguments or problems that they have.  

    So, if you have
    an argument with your spouse and regardless of who initiated the argument, be
    the first to say sorry.   

    The simple sorry
    will diffuse the tension and will help you to garner the respect of your
    spouse, insha Allah

    Moreover, the
    forgiving of your spouse is a means for you to receive forgiveness from Allah
    subuhanawuta’la. Allah says “. . . and
    let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you?
    And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
    (Al-Quran, 24:22)

    9. Save your best treatment for your spouse

    “The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character. And the best of you are those who are best to their women.” (At-Tirmidhi and authenticated by Al-Albani)

    “The best of you is the one who is best to his
    family, and I am the best of you to my family.”
    (At-Tirmidhi and authenticated by Al-Albani)

    There is so much wisdom behind these
    narrations. One of the most important aspects to understand is that it’s easy
    to be the best to everyone outside your home. That’s because they are oblivious
    of most of your weaknesses and flaws. All they see is the well-dressed and
    well-mannered person in front of them.

    However, at home the story is different. You
    family knows everything about you and your flaws. For you to be recognised as
    the best to your family by your own family members, despite your imperfections,
    is indeed one of the greatest of achievements.

    So, trying to claim the title “the best to
    your family” is truly an uphill battle. You seriously need to work on many
    fronts to achieve that state. But it’s a struggle that’s really worth it. Not
    only it will grant you joy, happiness and contentment in this world, but it
    will also be very heavy on your scale on the Day of Judgement.

    Here are few ways how you can start
    implementing this aspect into your life:

    • Treat your spouse, as if you would
      treat a noble guest at home.

      Just as you wouldn’t shout at your noble guest and would always present your
      best side, treat your spouse likewise.
    • Dress up beautifully for your spouse. No one deserves to admire your
      beauty more than your spouse does. You should impress your spouse not only
      through your character, but also through your appearance. In this, we have the
      beautiful examples from our salaf.

      It has been narrated, that Ibn Abbas (RA) used to
      beautify himself every time before entering his house. In response to those who
      laughed at him, he replied: “I like to
      embellish myself for my wife, just as I like her to beautify for me”.

    • Choose compliments over criticism. Whenever you find positive
      behaviours of your spouse, compliment them. Never criticise your spouse.
      Criticism never helps to improve your relationship.

    Final
    Words

    No article, book or
    therapists can solve all your marital problems. But by incorporating these nine
    qualities in your marriage, you can change the course of your relationship,
    bi’idnillah! Sometimes a small change can bring huge benefits over time.

    So, here’s what I
    suggest. Among these nine qualities, choose the two easiest ones and try to
    implement in your life for the next two weeks. Remember to be as consistent as
    possible.

    You’ll, insha Allah, notice tiny improvements in
    your relationship. Then choose another quality and practice it for another 2-3
    weeks. Overtime you’ll be able to practice all these nine qualities with ease
    and then you’ll realise how much your relationship has improved.

    If you are
    committed and ready to put the work, you’ll see improvements down the
    road.   

    Resources

    I hope the following resources will be
    of great benefit for you.

  • 10 Scientific Reasons Why Water is Absolutely Essential for Your Well-being

    There’s no doubt that drinking water’s important, but have
    you ever stopped to ask yourself why water’s so essential to your health? This
    article will unravel 10 reasons why you should be drinking water for a fit and
    lean body. Learn why all the fitness experts and skincare gurus tout the
    benefits of water for your health and body.

    We’ve all seen these people; you know, the
    ones that carry a gallon of water with them everywhere they go. But did you
    ever ask yourself why these so-called fitness gurus and skincare experts are
    just so obsessed with this liquid?

    Well… let’s first start with the big
    picture.

    Did you know that water was one of the
    first things that Allah (SWT) created? Allah says in the Quran:

    Have
    those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a
    joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing?
    Then will they not believe?
    (Al-Quran, 21:30)

    After 1400 years,
    science confirms this Quranic ayah (verse), which means that water is essential
    to your being.

    As an adult, your body
    is composed of, close to, 60-70 per cent water. Your brains, lungs, heart,
    liver and kidney contain between 65-85 per cent water.

    What this composition of our bodies suggests is that water is so
    essential to our function that even just a just a 5 per cent drop in our body’s
    fluid levels can lead to a 25 to 35 per cent drop in energy levels.

    But that’s just the
    half of the story. For example, your body has a limit to the percentage of
    dehydration that it can tolerate, and when your body passes this mark, you
    start to even damage your DNA! So, not drinking
    enough water is a big blow to your body.

    And I’m here to tell
    you why. In this article, I give you 10 reasons why water is absolutely crucial
    for your wellbeing—physically and mentally.

    #1: Your entire health
    depends on water

    Your blood
    is over 90 per cent water. You might be thinking, “So what?”

    Your blood
    system is used to transfer oxygen, nutrients and antibodies to each and every
    cell. If there is less water available for your blood system, you are basically
    stripping your system’s ability to do its job well.

    It won’t
    matter how healthy you eat because if you don’t drink enough water, your eating
    won’t help your cells function effectively.

    That’s
    because mitochondria, the energy power plants of your cells, need water to keep
    you energised. Whenever you are dehydrated, your energy plummets
    (#RamadanLethargy).

    Hence, the
    quickest and easiest way to increase your energy is by drinking water!

    #2: Removal of waste
    materials

    Your cells
    produce a lot of waste. Just like you poo and pee to relieve your body’s waste,
    your cells also need to ‘relieve’ this waste, and that’s why there is a
    cellular waste management system in your body to help with this excretion. Like
    the garbage trucks that clear away the streets, your lymphatic fluid is
    responsible for the removal of the waste products from your cells.

    If your
    lymph fluid is too thin because you’re dehydrated, you’re just going to start
    to build up all of these metabolic waste products, aka toxins. When these waste
    products aren’t channelled out of your body properly, you are basically asking
    for a lot of trouble, such as the DNA damage I mentioned previously.

    #3. Your digestion depends
    on water

    Have your
    ever-experienced constipation? Most people get constipated because they aren’t
    drinking enough water.

    Along with
    fibre, water is essential for good digestion. Water helps dissolve waste
    particles and pass them smoothly through your digestive tract.

    If you’re
    dehydrated, your body absorbs all the water, leaving your bowel movements dry
    and more difficult to pass.

    So, the
    simple trick to “push down” the waste products is to drink more water!

    #4: Water regulates your
    body temperature

    Allah (SWT) created a built-in thermostat in
    your body. This does an amazing job of regulating your body temperature by
    warming up or cooling down your body. But in order for this “thermostat” to
    work, you need to drink plenty of water.

    By drinking water, your body naturally
    regulates its own temperature.

    #5: Water helps you to stay
    slim

    Here is the
    thing, even being mildly dehydrated can slow down your metabolism by as much as
    3%! In other words, being hydrated is critical to your ability to burn fat!  

    So,
    just by drinking more water, you’re helping to pump up your metabolism
     — especially
    if your water is cold
     (somewhere 20-220 Celsius). This
    is because your body must work to warm the water up, thereby burning a few
    extra calories in the process.

    #6: Nourish your skin with
    water

    Most women spend hundreds of dollars on beauty cremes to look better. The
    key to great skin? Drink plenty of water because water is nature’s own beauty cream.

    Fine lines and wrinkles are deeper when you’re dehydrated. Drinking water hydrates skin cells
    and plumps them up, making your face look younger.

    It also
    flushes out impurities and improves circulation and blood flow, leaving your
    face clean, clear and glowing.

    #7: Lower your stress with
    water

    85 per cent of your brain tissue is water. If you’re dehydrated, both your body and
    your mind will be stressed. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already a little
    dehydrated.

    To keep
    stress levels down, keep a glass of water at your desk or carry a sports bottle
    and sip regularly.

    #8: Water is your natural
    lubricant

    Just like
    machines need lubricants to work smoothly, your body also needs to be lubricated.
    The best lubricant for your body is water because it allows the smooth movement
    of your joints.

    Not just
    your joints, but water is essential for the proper function of your spinal
    cord, spinal disks, eyes, and brain.

    Did you
    know that about 70 – 80 per cent of your joint cartilage is made of water? So,
    when you’re well-hydrated, your joints work better and you can move easily.
    Conversely, dehydration leads to degeneration of your cartilages and severe
    pain in your joints.

    #9: Water improves your
    workout performance

    Do you
    experience cramps in your muscles when you’re working out? If you do, then you
    might want to see if you’re staying hydrated. Drinking water helps prevent
    muscle cramping and, as I mentioned before, lubricates joints in the body.

    When you’re
    well hydrated, you can exercise longer and stronger without “hitting the
    wall.” In other words, drinking water while working out is a great way of
    improving your performance.

    #10: Water improves your
    focus and cognitive functions

    Another
    benefit of drinking water is that it helps you with the ability to stay focused
    and with your ability to think and remember information.

    In a study, researchers found that being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require memory, focus and other cognitive functions. However, by staying hydrated, researchers found that their subjects were more likely to perform better on work that was mentally strenuous.

    How Much Water Should You
    Drink?

    This is one
    of the most frequently asked questions in health forums, and you certainly have
    heard the reply that one should aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a
    day.

    The fact
    is, there is no consensus among scientist about the average amount of water one
    needs daily
    . Yep,
    this 8-glasses theory is not necessarily science based. This is because the
    amount of water one needs differs on many different factors, like your size, where
    you live, how much exercise you do, what you eat and how much you eat.

    Having
    said that, 8-glasses a day seems to be a reasonable and safe recommendation. So,
    if you can stick to it, you surely can’t go wrong.

    You may
    need less than eight glasses of water if you drink other unsweetened no-calorie
    beverages such as green tea or black tea. And you may need more than eight
    glasses of water if you sweat a lot, exercise and/or do a lot of manual
    labour! 

    In most
    western countries, the water from the tap is much better than the water from
    supermarket bottles. So, save your money and start using the water from the tap.
    If you are in doubt, boil the water before drinking or, even better, buy a water
    filter.

    Here are
    some other great tips:

    • Start your day with two glasses
      of water. This is one of the best things you could do for your health!
    • Drink at least one glass of water
      30 min. before your meal. You’ll not only be less hungry, but you’ll also
      fulfil the Sunnah of eating, which is having your meal consist of 1/3
      water, 1/3 food, and 1/3 air (Saheeh, ibn Maajah).

    Drinking a
    glass of water will not automatically transform your body into a lean and
    healthy one, but it, no doubt, bring you closer to your goal.

  • How to Move More in Less Time

    Moving is the best medicine. Our ancestors moved most of their waking hours, hence were free from the many of the civilizational diseases known to us today. With the onset of industrialisation, we reduced our movements significantly and thus increased our disease rates exponentially. With robust scientific studies, I want to help you move more in less time so that you can live an abundant life.

    Allah subuhanawuta’ala designed our body to be active and not to be sedentary. The biomechanics of our body is a proof for that. Our ancestors used to move around 450 minutes a day, that was roughly 7 hours a day. And we? We move less than 300 minutes a week (yes, a week, this is not a typo)! That’s less than what our ancestors did in a day!

    Most of us spend most of our waking hours sitting. We sit while working at a desk, we sit while driving our cars and finish off the day sitting on the sofa watching TV!

    And the repercussions of this kind of lifestyle are pretty clear! Tons of studies show that the more we sit, the greater our chances of dying of heart disease, stroke, cancer, or diabetes.

    In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, the scientist calculated the cost of habitual inactivity. They say the lack of physical activity accounts for 22% of coronary heart disease, 22% of colon cancer, 18% of osteoporotic fractures, 12% of diabetes and hypertension, and 5% of breast cancer.

    This inactivity accounts for about 2.4% of U.S. healthcare expenditures or approximately $24 billion a year. On a global scale, this can be trillions of dollars!

    But that’s not all. Our physical inactivity increases the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese. We tend to get back and joint pain. And more importantly, sitting for an extended time saps our energy, decreases our productivity and makes us more tired than ever.

    So, spending most of our waking hours sitting or being sedentary is a disservice we do to ourselves, to our families and to the society we live in.

    Now, you may ask, what’s the solution? The solution is simple: move more. And I understand if you say you don’t have time to move more. My goal with this article is to help you do precisely that.

    Now, before we discuss how to move more in less time, let’s quickly define what movement is.

    Movement Defined

    For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I’ll define the movement like this:

    Movement is moving your whole body or part of your body in order to avoid being sedentary.

    So, according to this definition, a movement can be anything like walking, running, exercising, dancing, jumping, hanging, standing, cleaning your house, washing your dishes, playing with your children, stretching, tapping your legs, waving your hands, etc.

    In short, movement is anything but sitting or lying down.

    Moving is the Best Medicine

    Vilcabambans of Ecuador are some of the longest living folks in the world. And their secret? Walking! Listen to their mantra:

    “I have two doctors— my left leg and my right leg.”

    So, the first thing they do when they don’t feel well is to walk to see a friend.

    Moving is the best medicine, and I can list at least 100 reasons for it, but out of all of them, the following is the most profound reasons I know of: Your cell’s well-being is tied to movement! The more you move, the better they do. And if you wonder why you should take care of your cells, then you must know that you are a product of 15-70 trillion cells.

    In her absolutely fascinating book, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, Joan Vernikos, Former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences (who was responsible for understanding how to improve the health and well-being of the NASA astronauts) describe this fact succinctly:

    “Telomeres, those little caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your DNA and allow healthy cell division, become shorter with age. They have therefore become a useful indicator of your state of health. Short telomeres have been linked to illness, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, shorter lifespan, and early death.

    The bad news is that research is now showing that people with a sedentary lifestyle also have shorter telomeres. As you might have guessed, physical activity helps you keep those telomeres longer, but only if it is moderate. More exercise is not better (i.e. exercising without recovering properly). People with high levels of physical activity had, in fact, shorter telomeres, just like those who sat too much. The message is clear: Be active, but don’t overdo it if you want to see those grandkids grow up.”

    Avoid Being “Active AND Sedentary”

    Most people I know can be divided into two groups:

    1. Group 1: No exercise at all. Spend most of the time sitting.
    2. Group 2: Do exercise 3-4 times a week (roughly 4-5 hours a week) and spend most of the remaining time sitting.

    Group 1 is clearly defined as sedentary. But how do you define group 2, who exercise a couple of times a week but spend an almost same number of hours sitting like the group 1?

    They are called active AND sedentary.

    And being active AND sedentary doesn’t serve you well over a long time. Research shows that exercising at the gym once a day does not counteract the effects of sitting for a significant part of the rest of the day.

    So, here is the takeaway lesson. While I encourage you to exercise at least four days a week, don’t just think that it’s enough. Hitting the gym once a day does not substitute for all-day spontaneous moving. And research shows that the body needs to be doing something all day long for a lean and healthy life.

    How to Incorporate More Movements

    Now, before you read further, can you think of a few ways through which you can incorporate a few more movements into your daily life?

    If you need help, here are a few ideas and how I implement them into my daily life:

    Use a height-adjustable standing desk 

    Height adjustable standing desks allow you to switch your position between standing and sitting. If you are desk worker, it’s a life-transformative piece of furniture. I’ve talked about its benefits in more detail in this article.

    I stand for 20 minutes and then sit for around 10 minutes.

    Setting the alarm to move every 30 minutes

    I usually set the alarm to move every 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, I do one of these things:

    • 20-30 pushups
    • 10-12 burpees
    • Skip rope for a minute
    • 20 squats
    • 20 jumping jacks

    All it takes me is less than 1.5 minutes, but I’m super energised for another 30 minutes.

    If you can’t do any of these things, at least get up and walk a few meters from your desk, do some stretching and then sit back. It’s the prolonged sitting that is bad for you. You can avoid it by changing your posture every 30 minutes for a minute or two.

    Take the stairs

    Make walking up the stairs a fun game. I live on the fourth floor and I hardly ever take the lift. I make it a fun game to run on the stairs with my kids.

    Walking down the stairs is equally beneficial.

    Take a short walk

    Walking has a lot of benefits, but you don’t always need to walk for hours to reap those benefits. Even short, frequent walks count.

    Recent research shows that there are more benefits in walking a mile 3 times a day than walking all three miles at a time and then be sedentary for the rest of the day.

    Find OTMs

    OTMs? Yep, Opportunities to Move (Thanks, Michelle Seager, No Sweat).

    Regardless of your profession or life circumstances, you can always find new opportunities to move more.

    Here are few OTMs I’ve been practising lately:

    • While the kids play outside on the playground, I have the option to sit and watch or play with them. Doing some hanging, jumping and some pull-ups with kids is a new opportunity for me to move and get connected with my kids.
    • Shopping: Using a basket vs trolley. If I go shopping, I always like to carry a basket, rather than pushing the trolley. Carrying is again another OTM for me.

    Now, it’s your turn. I guess, now is the best time to brainstorm and define some of your new OTMs. Write them down and put them into action!

    Do the Chores

    Instead of watching TV, help your spouse/family with the house chores. You are not only getting rewards, you are also getting some quality movements to improve your health.

    Knowledge is Potential Power

    Knowledge isn’t power; it’s just potential power, i.e. the knowledge is only beneficial when it’s put into action.

    These ideas I’ve provided can transform the way you move from now onwards, as long as you put these things into practice.

    You’ll not only move more than ever, you’ll also feel more energetic and productive without spending significant time on your part.

  • How The Food You Eat Affects Your Spirituality

    Your spiritual life has different dynamics. The ups and downs of your spiritual life depend a great deal on many things in life. In this article, we’ll explore how even the food you eat can affect your spirituality and what you can do about it.

    How often you had the best intention to pray with khushoo (humility in prayer), yet only noticed at the end of Salah that you weren’t focused at all?

    How often were you determined not to glare at the opposite gender and did end up doing precisely that?

    As you may have noticed, your conscious connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala, (your spirituality) rises and falls. Many factors affect the ups and downs of your spirituality, such as your sins, lack of ‘ibadah, bad companions etc.

    In this article, I want to make my case that even the food you eat affects your overall spirituality. As a nutrition and exercise coach, I know this to be true because I coach Muslim clients in over 30 countries around the world to improve their health and to get into the best shape of their lives.

    Whenever my clients improve their food choices, they report to me how even their connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala improves dramatically.

    Now, to understand how food affects your spirituality, you first need to know how the rest of your body interconnects with your spirituality.

    Come, let’s jump in!

    Holistic View of Health

    If I were to meet you in person and inquire you about your health, you might say that you are healthy, because your body is currently free from any diseases. That’s great, Alhamdulillah, but it’s a very narrow definition of health.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This statement is true. However, our religion takes a much broader and a more holistic approach to defining health.

    The Islamic definition of health isn’t just related to our physical, mental and social well-being; instead, it also includes our emotional and spiritual well-being too. And these two factors tend to be neglected in discussions and definitions of health. However, our real long-term health heavily depends on such a holistic view, because the synergy of these elements of health helps us to create an optimal life, bi’idnillah!

    Now, here is what you need to know. You are a highly sophisticated creation of Allah subuhanawuta’ala. Your body, mind, emotions and spirituality are all interconnected. Anything that affects your mind affects your body too.

    For instance, when you neglect the health of your body and get sick, it takes a toll on your spirituality too. Don’t you notice, how even a slight headache makes it challenging to focus in your ‘ibadah?

    Protecting Your Intellect

    One of the aims and purposes of our Sharia is to protect our intellect. Whatever negatively affects the mind is thus prohibited in Islam.

    That’s why Quran and Sunnah prohibit specific food and drink for us, such as alcohol, drugs, blood, the flesh of swine etc., because these foods not only harm our body, they harm our mind also and thus our spirituality too.

    While the list of prohibited (haram) foods is very clear to us, there are also foods that are in fact allowed (halal) but not necessarily good for our body, mind or spirituality.

    As Muslims, we always look for foods that are halal, but sometimes we forget to ask whether or not it’s good for us. However, the commandment of Allah subuhanawuta’ala is explicit:

    “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Shaytān. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.”  (Al-Quran 2:168)

    Lawful and Good Foods

    So, note the emphasis on “lawful and good”. Whatever you eat should be not only halal but also good. Islam encourages us to eat foods that are rich with the ‘good stuff’; vitamins, nutrients, etc. And it discourages us to eat food that has elements of harm to our body and mind.

    Generally speaking, foods that are least processed and closest to its natural state are good foods. I call them “green foods”. These are so-called whole foods or real foods, such as

    • vegetables,
    • fruits,
    • meat, fish
    • grains and legumes
    • nuts and seeds etc.

    So strive as much as you can to include “green foods” in your diet.

    Also, work to reduce the consumption of highly processed and refined foods that come from factories and labs. I call them “red foods”.

    Most of these foods are pretty easy to identify. Here are few guidelines to remember:

    • They come in fancy packages
    • Most of these foods come with glorious health claims on the package (“good for your heart”, “low-fat”, “high in fibre”, “100% natural”)
    • These foods are in fact produced in factories and labs, not in farms
    • They have a long list of ingredients

    In my 7-day free course, I talk about these foods in more detail. If you are interested, you can sign up here for free.

    How These Foods Affect Your Spirituality

    Though there are many mechanisms how the food you eat can affect your body, mind and spirituality, I regard the following three as the most crucial ones:

    #1. Energy

    Your spirituality can be significantly affected by the level of your energy. In fact, the lack of energy is one of the reasons for you to abandon good deeds or to engage in any beneficial things.

    When you are tired and have low energy, try doing anything meaningful. You’ll soon notice how difficult it is to focus on anything meaningful.

    That’s because your brain needs glucose (a form of energy) to think and focus. When you run low on energy, focusing is the last thing your brain wants to do.

    Maintaining a constant level of energy provides you with the focus you need. Here comes the role of those “green foods”. Not only do they give the endless energy you need but they provide nutrients to improve your overall health.

    A chocolate bar or a sugar-laden beverage does give you much-needed energy, but it’s only for a short period. Such an energy spike is promptly followed by a crash that leaves you feeling more depleted of energy, so it’s not a good long-term strategy to maintain your energy level.

    #2. Optimism

    You wonder what has optimism to do with your spirituality? A lot.

    First and foremost, being optimistic is, indeed, a prophetic Sunnah. Abu Hurayrah (RA) said that the Messenger of Allah liked optimism and detested pessimism. (Musnad Ahmad).

    There are so many other examples from the Quran and Sunnah that stresses the importance of being optimistic. I think the following two are indeed relevant to our topic.

    The Prophet (PBUH) told us that Allah says: ‘I am as My servant thinks of Me…’ (Sahih al-Bukhari). In another hadith, ‘None of [us] should die except while assuming the best about Allah’ (Sahih Muslim).

    Al-Hasan al-Basri rahimahullah explained this hadith in a very succinct manner; he said: “The believer assumes the best about his Lord, so he does the best deeds. The sinner assumes the worst about his Lord, so he does evil deeds.”

    So positive thoughts about your Lord leads you to positive actions and thus impacts your spirituality positively. And negative thoughts about your Lord leads you towards negative actions and that in turn affects your spirituality negatively.

    And here comes the role of foods again. For you to keep your thoughts positive, your diet does play a humongous role.

    Among many research studies, the study that was published in the American Journal of Psychology really caught my attention. The researchers wanted to find out whether depression and anxiety have any association with the food people eat. So they compared the traditional diet with the western diet, which is a diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products etc. (a diet that consists mostly of those “red foods”).

    The result was astounding. A “traditional” dietary pattern characterised by vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains (a diet that consists mostly of “green foods”) was associated with lower odds for major depression or dysthymia and anxiety disorders.

    So the food you eat affects your thoughts and in turn, affects your spirituality.

    #3. Sleep

    In the past, whenever I was pressed for time, the very first thing I used to do was cut my sleep. I thought it was the most logical thing to do to increase my productivity.

    But I was wrong! Every time I cut my sleeping hours, I felt more irritated and had a hard time focusing on anything meaningful. So while I had more hours to work, I got less useful things done. I was feeling miserable and least productive.

    You see, getting not enough sleep is not only a bad idea, but it is also a sure-fire way to increase your risk of many serious health problems, including jeopardising your mental and spiritual health.

    Research studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep impacts our memory and learning ability negatively. Those who had less than 7 hours of sleep recalled more negative things than positive ones during the day.  And that’s scary because this is correlated with depression. Depressed people remember negative things more frequently.

    So getting adequate sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy, meaningful and productive life. The Quran and the Sunnah highlight the importance of sufficient sleep in many places:

    “And we made your sleep as a thing for rest” (Al-Quran, 78.9)

    The Prophet (PBUH) told one of his companions who was praying the whole night “Offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body has a right on you” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

    The food we eat plays a vital role in determining the quality and quantity of our sleep. Here are few food-related things you can do to improve your sleep:

    • Eat at least 2 hours before your bedtime. A small snack before bed is ok, but not a large meal.
    • Avoid fatty, fried, or spicy foods just before your bedtime. They are known to disrupt your sleep
    • Avoid caffeine (that is found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate etc.) after 2 PM.
    • Quit smoking. Research studies link nicotine with insomnia.

    So the takeaway message is this: Getting adequate sleep at night helps you to improve your mood, productivity, health and overall well-being. And maintaining that balance is crucial to enhancing your connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

    How Much You Eat Trumps What You Eat

    Listen, here is a little secret :-). Overindulging in good foods isn’t a good strategy to improving your relationship with Allah. The quantity of food is as important as the quality of food.

    In a hadith, narrated in At-Tirmidhi, Prophet (PBUH) said, “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls to keep him going, but if he must (fill his stomach), then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for air.”

    In Zaad Al-Maad, Imam ibn al-Qayyim gave a beautiful commentary on this hadith. He said:

    “This is one of the most beneficial practices in both physical and spiritual terms because if the stomach is filled with food, there is no room for a drink. Then if that food is followed by a drink, there will be no room for air, and he will become tired like one who carries a heavy load.

    This is in addition to what results from that of spiritual damage, as it will make one too lazy to do acts of worship, and it will stir up physical desires as a result of eating one’s fill. Therefore filling the stomach with food is harmful in both spiritual and physical terms.”

    Healthy Eating Enhances Your Spirituality

    For you to improve your connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala, you want to make it really easy to do the good things and really hard to do the bad things. That’s easier said than done, but from my experience and the experience of many of my clients, this is what I know:

    When you eat healthily and eat only until you are slightly full, your mood, your energy, your thinking pattern and even your sleep improves. And all these improvements help you to enhance your spirituality.

    So here is what I ask you to do. Try to eat as healthily as possible for next two weeks and see whether or not you notice these changes in your life.

    If you need help to eat healthily, I’ve created a free 7-day course for you. Even if you don’t have any weight to lose, this course will help you to improve your health and overall well-being.

    Want to be on board?

    (This is a guest post I’ve written for https://quranacademy.io and reposting it for my readers)

  • 6 Healthy Alternatives to Table Sugar

    It’s no surprise that sugar isn’t good for you. But this doesn’t stop you from succumbing to sugar’s charm and losing your willpower. In this article, I provide you with six healthy alternatives to sugar so that you can still satisfy your sweet tooth. Get all the benefits while avoiding table sugar.

    “Coffee without sugar?!” A few years back, I scorned the idea that one can drink coffee without sugar or milk.

    Fast forward to today, I really can’t understand how people can drink coffee with sugar :-).

    You see, when your habits change, so does your perspectives!

    In my previous article, I discussed the dangers of table sugar and asked you to minimise your intake of this substance. Today, I want to present you with some healthy alternatives to sugar. Yep, it’s not always about saying “no.” Here’s when you can say “yes!”

    Raw Honey

    Raw honey is perhaps one of the most accessible sugar alternatives out there.

    It’s is one of the oldest sweeteners in the world and packed with enzymes, antioxidants, minerals and many other essential vitamins.

    Raw honey has been used as a healing agent in natural medicine. It’s also used as in the Islamic tradition. Both the Quran and the Sunnah refer to honey as a healer of disease.

    In Surah Nahl (the Bees), Allah subuhanawuta’la refers to honey as a “healer.” He says, “…There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colours, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (Al-Quran 16:69

    And our beloved Prophet (SAW) referred it as a remedy for “every illness”.

    “Honey is a remedy for every illness, and the Qur’an is a remedy for all illness of the mind. Therefore I recommend to you both remedies, the Qur’an and honey.” (Sahih Bukhari)

    Now, it’s important to note that all these benefits of honey are from raw honey, not from the heated and filtered honey you get from your supermarket. So, if you really want to use honey as a “healer”, you need to look for honey that is unheated and unpasteurized.

    Here is a little caveat: 1 tablespoon of honey has roughly the same amount of calories as one tablespoon of sugar. While honey offers some health benefits, it’s still sugar and should be used sparingly. So as usual, moderation is key!

    How to Substitute Honey With Sugar
    • Honey is sweeter than sugar. So for every spoon of sugar, substitute half a spoon of honey.
    • Want to substitute sugar in your baked goods? Swap a cup of sugar with a half a cup of honey.
    • Here is a great article that details how to swap honey for sugar in baked goods.

    Dates

    When it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, dates are a great substitute for refined sugar. They are versatile and can be used to replace table sugar in many ways.

    The Quran mentions about dates in around 22 verses. And in most verses, the dates are described as worldly blessings. For example, Allah says, “Therein is fruit and date palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates),” (Al-Quran, 55:11).

    Now this “blessing” is one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world. They are full of fibre, potassium, iron and many other essential minerals and vitamins.

    How to Substitute Dates With Sugar
    • If you are into baking, you can substitute one cup of regular sugar with two-thirds of a cup of date paste.
    • You can quickly make dates paste by blending 1 cup of seedless dates with ½ cup hot water in a food processor.
    • You can use dates paste for muffins, cakes and even for your pancakes.

    Just like honey, dates are also high in calories. So if you want to lose weight, it may be wise to reduce your consumption of dates.

    Cinnamon

    I love cinnamon. I frequently add a few dashes of cinnamon to my coffee, tea or even my morning shake.

    It does indeed give you a lovely flavour. Trust me on this; the taste of cinnamon is enough for you to replace the sugar or any other artificial sweeteners in your tea or coffee.

    Here is how to do it: Add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder to your tea or coffee. Though it’s virtually calorie free, too much of it can be toxic. Stick to no more than a teaspoon a day.

    There are two types of cinnamon in the market. The true cinnamon, also known as Ceylon Cinnamon (from Sri Lanka) seems to be better and less toxic. So whenever possible, choose the cinnamon powder that comes from Sri Lanka.

    Stevia

    Stevia is a zero calorie natural sweetener that is extracted from the leaves of stevia, a plant widely found in South America.

    Native South Americans have been using this calorie-free sweetener for more than 1500 years.

    Due to its zero calories and zero sugar appeal, it has gained immense popularity among health and fitness enthusiasts.

    Unlike many artificial sweeteners you find in the market, stevia is safe to consume, and there have been many recent studies claiming its safety 1 2.

    How to Substitute Stevia With Sugar
    • You can use stevia powder or liquid both for your coffee and tea.
    • Stevia is excellent for baking goods too.
    • Since stevia is sweeter than sugar, you need less of it to sweeten your drink or food than sugar. Use it according to what the packet instructs.
    • Here are few of my recommendations: Organic Stevia Powder, SweetLeaf Stevia

    Banana Puree

    Puree from overripe bananas is an excellent substitute for refined sugar in baking recipes. For most recipes, you can use 1 cup of pureed banana for every cup of sugar.

    You get 1 cup of puree from three bananas by blending them with 1-2 tablespoon of water in a food processor.

    Banana is also excellent to sweeten your smoothies or shakes. The bonus of adding a banana to your smoothie is that it also gives a nice texture to your smoothie.

    Applesauce

    Applesauce is another excellent sugar substitute for many baking goods.

    Instead of a cup of white sugar in bread, muffins, and brownies, swap in an equal amount of applesauce!

    Purchase the no-sugar-added kind, or make some at home.

    Take Away Message

    As I’ve mentioned in my previous article, eating too much sugar has been linked to several diseases and health issues.

    So, swapping any of these alternatives with sugar is undoubtedly a wise move. However, these substitutes aren’t to be indulged without limits. As with most things in life, you’ve got to apply moderation when enjoying them.

    I think moderation is perhaps one of the most neglected Sunnahs of our beloved Prophet (SAW). And it’s time we revive it.

  • How to Get Rid of Pesticides from Your Food

    Colourful, healthy, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables are the first choice of food for many healthy living enthusiasts. While that’s certainly a great start towards healthy living, the pesticides that are found in these foods is a great concern for many. In today’s article, I discuss how to get rid of these dangerous pesticides from your food to enhance your health.

    What Are Pesticides?

    A pesticide is a substance that kills, repels or mitigates insects or other organisms harmful to cultivating plants or animals. Pesticides also include disinfectants, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.

    Pesticides are widely used in conventional agricultural production to prevent or reduce losses by pests. This, in turn, improves yield as well as the quality of the produce. Its use is also important for the plant’s cosmetic appeal, which is often a decisive factor for the consumers to buy these foods. That’s right. The way that produce looks matters to some.

    Another important point to keep in mind is that the use of pesticides also safeguards food-security for billions of people around the world.

    With all its glory, there is a major downside to the use of pesticides. The most pressing issues are their negative impact on our health as well as our environment.

    Pesticides Impact on Our Health

    When we consume conventionally produced food, we’re exposed to pesticides. To be fair though, in the transition time from the farm to the fork, the levels of pesticides do shrink thereby making it unclear how this reduced level of pesticide residue affects our health.

    This is because the risk assessment of the impact of pesticides either on human health or on the environment is not an easy and particularly accurate process. From weather to soil to the toxicity or dosage of pesticides, there are way too many factors that influence this process.

    Nevertheless, we do have research studies that analyse the health of farmers who are frequently exposed to pesticides. These farmers are subjected to many diseases, including insomnia, headaches and many neurological symptoms. Among these farmers, there is also a 70% increase in Parkinson’s disease and up to 200% increased risk of developing diabetes.

    While it’s unclear how each and every type and levels of pesticide affects our health, we know based on this study from the Punjab Agricultural University of India that excessive pesticide residues “may cause blindness, cancer, diseases of liver and nervous system etc. The long term effects could result in reduction of live sperm and fertility, increase in cholesterol levels, high infant mortality rates and several metabolic and genetic disorders.”

    And other studies do confirm that exposure to many chemicals, including pesticides, increases our risk of many chronic diseases. From cancer to Parkinson’s disease to type-2 diabetes, the list really is too long. In most countries, the exposure to pesticide has been ranked among the top three environmental cancer risks.

    So, given this and other studies, it’s indeed wise to reduce the intake of chemicals and pesticides through our diet. The less we are exposed to it, the better it is. That’s something we know for sure from the research!

    Enjoying a Pesticide-free Diet

    Ok, this sub-heading is a bit misleading and a typical “internet sensationalism title” :-). Now, why do I say, it’s a misleading sub-heading? Because you may not be able to eat a diet that is 100% free from pesticides. Even organically grown foods have pesticides, but most of them are very low and the pesticides used in organic produce are less harmful.

    Given these facts (and you know that I love facts as a health coach), let’s see how we can reduce exposure to pesticides whenever we choose to eat fruits and vegetables. Here are three particular ways to do reduce the pesticides residue in your food.

    #1. Wash and peel all fruits and vegetables

    Yep, it’s an easy, simple and effective way to reduce pesticides residue in your produce.

    Here are two scientific reasons why they are so effective:

    1. A lot of the pesticides that are used on the produce are water-soluble and will come off with water. Research show just a minute washing of okra removed the pesticides residue to the extent that only traces were detected on washed okra. Another study showed that cold water washing removed 96% malathion – an insecticide residue from beans.
    2. Most of the pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables are retained on the peel. In fact, very little quantity of systemic pesticides may be absorbed into the flesh of these produces.

    So, here is a two-step process to do it:

    1. Wash and scrub the produce (organic or conventional) for at least 30-40 seconds with running water. The longer you wash, the better. It’s not recommended to soak or dunk the produce in the water.
    2. In conventionally grown produce, peel off the skin in fruits and discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce.

    Just following this simple process helps you to reduce the level of pesticides residue tremendously.

    Other than the wash and peel method, there are few more methods such as washing the fruit and vegetables with salt water solution, using vinegar, baking soda or even ready made sprays on the market to reduce the residue. However, the process I’ve shown you is the most scientific, cost-effective, time efficient and simple way out there.

    On top of washing and peeling, cooking also helps to reduce the residue level. A study on cauliflower shows that washing alone reduced the levels of pesticide residue by approximately 25–80%, whereas the washing and cooking of cauliflower curds reduced the level of residues by 52–91%.

    #2. Choose organically grown fresh foods

    Organically grown, local, seasonal fresh foods are the best type of foods to eat for an optimal health. However, it may be not always possible or affordable for most people.

    Environmental Working Group, a US based NGO has created a list of a dozen fruits and vegetables that are consistently found to have the highest pesticide residues. So, whenever possible, buy an organic variety of these produces:

    Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes.

    For an updated list and for more details, you can check the “Dirty Dozen” list here.

    #3. Grow your own garden

    This may be not an option for everyone, but if you have the space to do, it’s certainly a worthwhile goal to pursue. This is the sure-fire way to know that what you eat is almost 100% pesticide free.

    There is an important part to gardening that no one talks about. That is, gardening also help you to establish a healthy relationship with the food you eat.

    How to Reduce Pesticides Exposure in Other Foods

    1. Meat and poultry: Pesticides, chemicals and other toxins are mainly concentrated in the fat component. So, when eating meat or poultry of any sort, trim the fat off.
    2. Fish: Buy wild-caught fish. Avoid fish that are farmed in aquaculture. Studies show that accumulation of pesticides in farmed fish in aquaculture may be 10 to 10,000 times greater than their original concentrations in water.
    3. Dairy products: Pesticides residue may be found in greater concentration in milk products such as butter, cheese, and ghee than milk. So it’s better to look for organic products when buying dairy products.

    Final Thoughts

    Now here is an important message to keep in mind. The health benefits of healthy eating that include eating fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy and meat outweigh the possible presence of pesticides in these foods. So, even if you can’t afford the organic variety, make sure to eat a healthy diet and implement the simple strategies I’ve shown when preparing your food.

    As a Nutrition and Exercise coach, I’m very particular about what I eat. And my case for eating pesticide free food isn’t just health related; it has an element of spirituality too. That’s because of the following Quranic Ayah:

    “O you People! Eat of what is on earth, Halal and pure, and do not follow the footsteps of the Satan; Indeed for he is to you an open enemy” (2:168)

    And by committing to eat healthy food that are also pesticide free, I’m not only eating halal, but also pure food that boosts my health. I follow the commandment of my Creator and hope to get rewarded for that.

    So eating pesticide free food is certainly a triple win, a win for your health, a win for your spirituality and a win for the environment!

  • Everything You Need to Know About Belly Fat and Its Dangers

    If you’ve ever tried to get rid of belly fat, you know how difficult it can be! This article will help you understand why you should be concerned about belly fat and how you can get rid of it.

    We’ve all heard of a “muffin-top”–the fat around your midsection that makes up the dreaded love handles. This fat, along with other fat found in the midsection stands in the way of your dreams to get the chiselled and toned abs that you’ve always wanted.

    But fat around your midsection is not only aesthetically unappealing, but it’s also something that can cause you major health issues. In order to understand belly fat, we’ve first got to understand the role of the two type types of fat we have.

    All Body Fat Isn’t Created Equal

    You’ve got 2 types of fat:

    1. Subcutaneous fat, and
    2. Visceral fat

    Illustration 1.1, Source: Google images

    Subcutaneous Fat

    This type of body fat can be found directly under the skin throughout your body. It’s particularly common in the breast, stomach, hips, thighs and buttocks areas. Now the good news is that subcutaneous fat isn’t necessarily hazardous to your health.

    In contrast, subcutaneous fat in the lower body (such as in the thighs and buttocks) seems to put you at a lower risk for various illnesses. A study mentioned in the Journals of Gerontology compared two groups with the same body weight and found that people with more subcutaneous fat in their lower bodies are actually healthier than people with less subcutaneous lower body fat.

    Subcutaneous fat does not cover our internal organs and thereby leaves these organs unaffected. This type of fat is also easily available for the muscles to use as energy; hence, this is the fat that melts away first when you start to exercise and incorporate a healthy diet.

    Visceral Fat

    Go back to the illustration 1.1 and you’ll see that visceral fat (also known as belly fat or abdominal fat) is hidden and gathers around your vital internal organs such as liver, heart, lungs and intestines.

    This type of fat is also called belly fat because visceral fat’s primarily located in the midsection.

    Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is also harder to manage as it can be hidden underneath the muscles. To complicate matters, unlike subcutaneous fat, which is easily burned, this type of fat remains untouched when your body needs energy except as a last resort. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense because if you were to experience a long famine, your body would need to use this fat to survive the period since you have no access to food. But in the current world where the food is ubiquitous and obesity is common, we don’t have any need for storing this type of fat.

    Now, this storage of fat also explains why it’s so hard to lose those last few inches off your midsection. If you have ever tried to lose weight, you’ll know that you’ll lose fat quite fast in all areas of your body except your midsection.

    The Dangers of Belly Fat

    You may have heard of the apple versus pear shaped body. People with apple shaped bodies have a higher amount of visceral fat. However, people who suffer from excessive amounts of subcutaneous fat have a pear-shaped body, meaning most of their fat is stored below the waist.

    Illustration 1.2, Source: Google images

    People with apple shaped bodies are more prone to cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes and blood pressure than people with pear shaped bodies because the former group carry around a lot of visceral fat in their bellies.

    People with apple shaped bodies may have a higher rate of these type of diseases because a high amount of belly fat produces high levels of inflammation in your body and this inflammation, in turn, can trigger a wide range of diseases. Additionally, this fat also prevents healthy blood flow and the detoxification of toxins in the body.

    And remember since this visceral fat is present near your major internal organs, the accumulation of this fat increases many health risks. Here are some diseases associated with visceral fat:

    • type-2 diabetes, as was mentioned before,
    • blood pressure,
    • cholesterol,
    • insulin sensitivity,
    • metabolic syndrome,
    • obesity,
    • arthritis,
    • hormonal dysfunctions, and even
    • certain types of cancers!

    Looking at these dangers of belly fat, I understand, why Umar (RA) described a big belly as a punishment (adaab) of Allah! It’s indeed a major discomfort to lead a life with a bulging belly!

    Measure Your Visceral Fat

    Now that you know the dangers of belly fat (aka visceral fat), you may be curious to find out the amount of this fat in your body.

    There are a couple of ways to easily measure your visceral fat.

    Waist circumference:

    You can use a simple cloth measuring tape to measure your waist circumference. Measuring your waist size is one of the easiest ways to measure your visceral fat.

    Here is how to measure your waist: Measure at the navel. Stand upright and breathe normally with the abdomen relaxed.

    If you are shooting for a healthy waist circumference, here is a general guide to follow.

    Men: A waist circumference below 94 centimetres (or 37 inches) is healthy

    Women: A waist circumference of below 80 centimetres (or 31.5 inches) is healthy.

    Waist-hip ratio:

    You can find out the waist-hip ratio by measuring the circumference of your hips at the widest point, across your buttocks. Then measure your waist as described above. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get the ratio.

    Men: A ratio anything below 0.90 is good

    Women: A ratio anything below 0.85 is good

    Body fat percentage

    Your body fat percentage indicates the status of your current health. Hence, measuring it regularly gives you an idea of whether or not you are in the healthy range of body fat percentage.

    That being said, it’s not easy to measure your accurate body fat percentage. Many digital devices that are available on the market aren’t that accurate.

    One of the easiest and most accurate ways of measuring your body fat is by using skinfold caliper. But to use this caliper correctly, you need some practice to get an accurate reading.

    Here is a general guide to follow.

    Men: Anything above 20% or below 6% is considered unhealthy.

    Women: Anything above 30% or below 16% is considered unhealthy.

    How to Get Rid of Your Visceral Fat

    If you want to get rid of visceral fat and lower your risk for diseases mentioned above, I would advise you to initially focus on these four areas:

    1. Incorporate healthy eating – Focus on eating real food that is full of vegetables, protein, complex carbs and healthy fat at every meal. And minimize foods that are highly processed food, have lots of sugar, simple carbs and trans fat.
    2. Exercise intelligently – Follow an exercise plan that includes strength workouts at least 3 times a week, cardio 3 times a week and 2 high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises. Studies show that HIIT exercises burn more fat than traditional cardio.
    3. Get a regular 7 hours sleep – Sleep deprivation even for a single night can decrease calories burned by 5-20%. Now, imagine the long-term effects of low quality and fewer hours of sleep!
    4. Manage your stress levels – Just like stress can create havoc in your life, it can do the same for your weight loss. So, managing your stress is vital for a long-term lean & healthy life.

    When you incorporate these suggestions, your visceral fat (aka belly fat) will disappear twice as fast as subcutaneous fat.

    Here are four effective exercises to target your abdominal fat:

    1. Crunches
    2. Medicine ball twist
    3. Plank
    4. Cat vomit

    In order to make these abdominal exercises more effective, please do follow these suggestions:

    • Keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout the exercise. You can do this by pulling your navel in.
    • Empty out all the air by breathing out when you engage in abdominal exercises.
    • Train your abs on an empty stomach. Or wait at least after few hours after a meal.
    • Do your cardio after your abdominal exercises. This routine is better for “fat flushing” or losing the fat at a rapid rate.

    Remember Your Intention and Be Patient

    Losing your visceral fat isn’t just about aesthetics or lowering your risk for certain diseases, rather the reduction of belly fat helps you to strengthen your core muscles. As you probably know, strengthening your muscles is essential to having good posture and for your everyday movements.

    So getting rid of visceral fat really means that you are also transforming the way you live your life.

    So, don’t forget to implement the strategies that I’ve provided. Remember to also lose the fat for the Sake of Allah (SWT) since the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) cautions us by telling us:

    “A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach” (Ibn Majah).

    And I would like to end this article with a beautiful Arabian quotation for you to ponder over: The stomach is the home of disease and restraint is the basis of the remedy.

  • 6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Counting Your Calories

    Counting your calories seems easy and effective, right? Wrong. In this article, I give you 6 reasons why counting calories is bad for your health and weight loss goals. Learn how you can take control of not only what you eat, but your life.

    If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, then chances are you’ve come across the idea of counting calories. Tons of weight loss programmes have an underlining strategy that’s based on counting calories (think of Weight Watchers).

    These diets promote calorie counting because of how weight loss works: when the calories you take in are lower than what you expend, you lose weight. Counting calories, in addition to other methods, is perhaps one of the most prevalent ways to achieve this “negative energy balance.”

    However, many weight loss newbies (or even some advanced weight loss “experts”) assume that counting calories is an exact science. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not.

    Knowing the pitfalls of counting calories and how calorie-counting is detrimental to your mind and body will help you to create a healthy relationship with your food. And yes, you’ll still lose weight while not counting your calories.

    Now, let’s look at some of these pitfalls. You’ll understand why counting calories isn’t a sustainable solution for your weight loss goals.

    #1. Not All the Calories That You’re Having Are Equal

    At Lean & Healthy, we coach Muslims around the world to become lean and healthy for life. We also teach our clients why the quality of a certain food is more important than the quantity. As part of this method, we teach our clients that not all calories are equal.

    When counting calories, people usually don’t take the quality of their food into consideration. They just want to make sure that they don’t exceed their pre-calculated “2000 calories a day.

    But that’s totally dangerous. Just think about it. If you had the choice of eating a 200 calories banana or 200 calories candy bar, which do you think is better for your health? You know the correct answer.

    Though both are equal in calories, the banana has all the beneficial nutrients that your body needs, whereas a candy bar has almost zero nutritional value.

    So, you need to be aware of the fact that not all calories are equal.

    #2. You Look at Life through a Restrictive Lens

    Research is clear about this: counting calories creates a mindset programmed to think only of restrictions.

    It puts your brain into counting mode and, therefore, restricts you to numbers. As soon as your brain perceives deprivation, it’ll start to rebel and want more of what it is being deprived of. So, that’s when you’ll start to notice issues such as binge eating!

    In this case, you achieve exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve. Yep, it’s totally counterproductive.

    #3. You Start to Obsess About Food

    Research shows that people who count calories think more often about food than those who aren’t counting.

    We surely have more things to do than always be thinking about food, agreed?

    Of course, obsessing about food also leads to a bad relationship with your food. You start to demarcate the food that you eat into “good” and “bad” foods. And all of these issues are destructive to your mind and body.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t foods that you should avoid (e.g. candy bars), but eliminating entire food groups or depriving yourself of certain foods is very risky to your health. Variety was created by Allah (SWT) for a reason.

    #4. The Way You’re Calorie Counting Is Largely Inaccurate

    The calorie counts on food labels can differ wildly from the calories you actually extract, which means that counting calories is very inaccurate. What do I mean by this?

    Well, researchers estimate that even meticulously counting your calories can lead your count being up to 25% off. This means, that while you’re trying to maintain a designed 2000 calories diet, you may be eating anywhere between 1500 and 2500 calories. That’s a whopping 500 calories that haven’t been accounted for!

    To give you few examples:

    • A calorie content of a medium-sized apple can be anywhere from 80 – 115 calories
    • A calorie content of a cup of carrot can be anywhere from 40 – 60 calories
    • A calorie content of a serving of steak (around 225g) can be anywhere from 350 – 500 calories

    This is due to the simple reason that foods in nature exhibit variations in composition, size and other factors. These differences show the wide gaps in caloric content.

    #5. How You Prepare Your Food Impacts its Caloric Load

    Let’s say for the argument sake, that you know exactly how many calories this piece of steak has. You used a scale and you know that it’s exactly 225g and has 400 calories.

    You certainly don’t eat the steak raw, right? I assume you most probably barbeque it. This simple way of cooking impacts the calorie load of your steak. Yep, your 400 calorie steak is now 500 calories (its calories has increased by 25%) just because you’ve cooked it. This is before you’ve even added anything else.

    So, here is what you need to know: cooking, blending or even chopping your food generally makes more of the calories available for absorption.

    Which leads to my next point…

    #6. How You Absorb Your Food Matters

    Ok, let’s say you’ve somehow created a super complex excel sheet and found out exactly how many calories your cooked steak has. You think the problem is solved, right? Nope!

    Here’s the problem, up to 10% of what you eat doesn’t get absorbed in your body. And just for the record, carbs are better absorbed than protein.

    So, if you want to figure out how many calories of this steak is absorbed to your body, then you need to know that your body and your digestive process are far too chaotic to accurately churn out neat calorific numbers. Even if two people eat the same steak, cooked the same way, they will not get the same number of calories out of it.

    Depending on what type of bacteria your gut has, you could absorb up to 150 more calories than your own sibling.

    Now, go and calculate that 🙂

    Habits-Based Coaching: The Solution to Your Problem

    I can see you scratching your head. You’re thinking, “but Rushdhi, how do I then lose weight and maintain it for a lifetime?”

    To maintain a life-long lean and healthy body, don’t search for shortcuts such as calorie counting. Focus on building healthy habits. Results don’t come from how much you know, they come from how much you do consistently!

    And if you are wondering how to change your habits, join Lean and Healthy’s Premium Coaching Programme. This Programme will help you:

    • Learn the tried and well-researched methods to losing weight
    • Create and sustain healthy habits, and the most important…
    • Lose weight and stay healthy for life without counting calories!

    Don’t let your life be controlled by weight-loss methods that don’t work. Sign up for our Pre-Sale list and join the countless people who’ve lost weight and seen major transformations in their lives.

  • How to Hack Your Metabolism and Burn More Fat

    Metabolism has become a misunderstood catchphrase. While it’s true that your metabolism can impact your weight-loss goals, there’s more to it that needs to be addressed. In this article, you’ll discover the truth about metabolism and how you can hack it to burn more fat!

    If you were to ask people for some of the reasons why they can’t lose weight, some people would say it’s because they have a “slow metabolism.” They’d also tell you that increasing the “speed” of their metabolism would help them burn more calories and lose weight faster.

    But before I address these concerns, you need to know what metabolism is and how you can increase your metabolism so that you can burn more fat.

    What is Metabolism?

    Metabolism refers to the sum total of hundreds of biochemical reactions that are going on in your body. Put in simple terms, this means that metabolism is a collection of these diverse reactions.

    Based on this definition, any of the following scenarios can be referred as metabolic processes:

    • Your body converts food into energy
    • Your body releases hormones to regulate the body
    • You are moving your muscles to strengthen or tone your body

    In short, your metabolism is designed to keep you alive. So, it’s in the best interest of your metabolism to regulate the things that occur inside your body based on external information. Think of it as a thermostat: when it’s cold outside, the temperature rises inside your house and helps keep you warm. And your metabolism functions in a similar way.

    Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

    To hack your metabolism, you’ve got to first understand what your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is.

    RMR refers to the number of calories your body burns during a 24-hour period in order to maintain your vital functions such as breathing, circulating blood, growing and repairing cells. Around 70% of the energy your body expends goes towards this! Yep, keeping us alive is hard work!

    But, it’s important to note that the percentage of RMR can differ from person to person. Some people’s bodies use up more calories to perform these basic metabolic processes compared to other people.

    Here are some factors that impact your metabolic rate:

    Age: If you don’t continue to workout, you’ll lose muscles as you age. As your muscle mass decreases, your body fat percentage increases. This then decreases your metabolic rate.

    Body size and composition: The more lean body mass you have, the higher the metabolic rate. So a muscular, lean person who is 90kg has a higher metabolic rate than a soft 90kg obese person.

    Gender: By default, men have more muscle mass than women. Hence, men have a higher metabolic rate than women.

    Extreme dieting: When you cut down your calories drastically to lose weight, your metabolic rate goes down. From the evolutionary perspective, your body presumes that you are going through a famine and it tries to do the same metabolic activities with fewer calories in order to keep you alive. So cutting calories drastically decreases your metabolic rate.

    Increasing Your Metabolic Efficiency

    Although we just went over the different factors that affect one’s metabolic rate, we see the recurring idea that muscle mass plays an important role in all these factors. The higher muscle mass you have, the higher the metabolic rate.

    So, if you want to burn more body fat by hacking your metabolic rate, then you need to seriously consider building more muscle mass, regardless of your age, gender and body size.

    And here are the three most important things you need to consider if you want to build more muscle mass that you’re lean and healthy:

    1. Eat more protein: Proteins are building blocks of your body. They build and repair your muscle tissues. So, there’s no way you can increase your lean muscle mass without sufficient protein.
    2. Lift weights: Make sure that you lift weights or do body weight exercises at least 3 times a week. Strength training should always be part of your workout routine.
    3. Ditch your chair and move around: Incorporate a lot of daily activities to your routine. Sit less and move more. Try walking up the stairs instead of taking an elevator, going for walk when you’d rather sit and watch a show on Netflix, or playing your kids (if you’re a parent).

    Strengthening Your Body = A Leaner, Healthier Body

    The key takeaway then is that yes, your weight loss goals are impacted by your metabolism. But you have the power to change your metabolism and thereby, change your life.

    If you’d like to discover the strategies that will help you get the body that you’ve always wanted, then sign up for my Online Coaching Program. I’ll not only help you get a fabulous and healthy body, but I’ll also use the Quran and Sunnah, science, and psychology to help you transform your life. It’s not just about your body; it’s about you!