• 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.


    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.


    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 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 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!

  • Why Health is NOT Wealth

    We often hear that “Health is wealth” without really reflecting on what this means. While money comes and goes, health is something that’s valuable and a lifelong investment. This article will show you how you can improve your health before it’s too late, inshaAllah.

    Like me, you’ve probably heard this statement countless of times in your life: “Health is wealth!”.

    But, I beg to differ.

    • From the hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), we know that health is the best thing you can have after imaan!
      The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once mounted the pulpit, then wept and said, “Ask Allah for forgiveness and health, for after being granted certainty, one is given nothing better than health.” (Related in Tirmidhi)
    • Health isn’t wealth because it’s much more valuable than anything else you’ll ever possess
    • Wealth can be earned once it’s lost, but you can hardly regain your health once you start to neglect it for long (e.g. cancer, diabetes and heart-related issues, etc.)

    So, are you taking care of your health as you should? Is your health helping you to live a productive life? Is your health helping you to leave a legacy when you leave this world?

    Most importantly your health could be a pillar in answering these questions on the Day of Judgment:

    It was narrated from Ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (PBUH) said: The son of Adam will not be dismissed from before his Lord on the Day of Resurrection until he has been questioned about five things:

    1. his life and how he spent it,
    2. his youth and how he used it,
    3. his wealth and how he earned it, and
    4. how he disposed of it, and
    5. how he acted upon what he acquired of knowledge.”

    (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2422; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, 1969)

    Take a moment to really reflect on this hadith. The way you spend your life, youth, wealth and knowledge are linked to your overall health.

    To give you an example, one of my relatives was very wealthy. But he never cared about his health. He would always say, “we’re all going to die one day, so I’m going to enjoy food and life as long as I live.”

    When he got sick, his family spent all of his money on trying to cure him. However, everything they spent was in vain, and he died without leaving a cent for his family. So much so that his family had to even sell the house for his hospital expenses!

    May Allah (SWT) protect us from such a test. Ameen.

    So, don’t wait for an ideal time in your life to reclaim your health. Now’s the time to take care of your health as you would take care of your imaan. Take care of it, as you would take care of your family.

    If you don’t prioritise your health, you’ll inevitably end up prioritising your sickness. And that’s certainly not a pleasant thing to prioritise, right?

    Invest in your health, before you are required to invest in curing for your sickness. The first one is cheaper and better for you the than the second option. Being sick is costly and preventable.

    Regain Your Health The Right Way

    Well, are you ready to make a move that will change your life forever? Join Lean and Healthy’s 6-month Premium Online Coaching Program. This Program will help you

    • improve your health
    • lose weight
    • live an energetic and productive life
    • learn strategies that will remain with you for life

    And of course, all in the framework of simplicity, Islam, and research! Take advantage of the time you have to reserve your spot before the Program begins, inshaAllah.

  • 5 Scientifically Awesome Ways to Fight Your Winter Lethargy

    Hot chocolate over a book. The landscape covered with snow. These moments remind us of why winter is beautiful. But… gloomy skies and the cold weather can knock out even the most resolute and productive person. If you’re living in the northern hemisphere and are experiencing the typical lethargy that’s associated with this season, you know what I’m talking about. In this article, I discuss five scientifically awesome ways to kiss good-bye to winter lethargy.

    I just love winter. I love going for a walk in the woods while it’s covered by inches of snow. And I also find it easier to devote myself to reading and i’badah since I spend most of my time indoors.  These are also a few reasons why winter is one of my favourite seasons.

    But let’s be real.  Winter has its negative side too. The gloomy sky and cold weather can make it very difficult to be motivated and productive. Although it’s discouraged in the Deen, it’s very easy to find excuses to be lazy during this season.

    That’s why different scholars over time have repeatedly told us to take advantage of this season. Hassan Al-Basri (rahimahullah) used to say: “The best season to a believer is the winter; its nights are long for those who wish to pray and its days are short for those who wish to fast.” (There is a similar hadith, but many scholars differ about its authenticity)

    So, winter is the time for us Muslims to be more productive in our i’badah. The increased productivity in our i’badah will certainly motivate us to achieve more in our Dunya-related pursuits as well.

    To make this winter the most productive one for you, I’ve decided to share the 5 strategies I personally use to combat the winter lethargy. Believe me; they work like wonders, Alhamdulillah!

    #1. Optimise Your Vitamin D Intake

    If you’re living in the northern hemisphere, you know that sunny winter days are rare. And that’s what makes those days special. Have you ever noticed how being out on a sunny day changes your mood?

    This is because your body produces vitamin D when you are exposed to the sun.  Vitamin D is excellent in boosting your mood.

    I highly recommend you get your daily dose of vitamin D either by sunlight exposure or by taking a high-quality vitamin D supplement. Read more about this topic in my previous article.

    #2. Get Indoor Blue Light

    Getting enough blue light exposure is essential for fighting your winter lethargy. Studies have shown that blue light exposure improves alertness, elevates mood and even improves mental performance.

    Now getting this blue light is quite easy. All you need to do is to step outside your home/office and expose yourself to the sun. Sunlight is the primary source of blue lights.

    The fact that the sun is the primary source doesn’t make getting blue light in the winter easy for two reasons:

    1. Most winter days lack sunlight
    2. During the winter, a majority of people spend most of their time indoors

    To fix this and to fight winter lethargy, research shows that replacing your ordinary light bulbs with blue-enriched white light bulbs are a practical solution. Blue-enriched light bulbs are bulbs like LED and Fluorescent light bulbs.

    The participants in this study who were exposed to artificial blue lights demonstrated improvement in the following areas:

    • Increased alertness,
    • Better performance,
    • Positive mood, and
    • Ability to concentrate better.

    If you need a short-cut to get your blue light during the winter, go for this beautiful portable device: Philips goLITE BLU.

    Exposure to this device for 30 minutes first thing in the morning helps combat lethargy.

    #3. Engage in Physical Activities

    Yeah, you read that right. This one doesn’t need any investment smiley.

    Hundreds of research studies clearly show that physical activity improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negativity. Exercise can also improve your self-esteem, attitude and even your cognitive function.

    If you want to fight lethargy, go for a jog or the hit your gym for at least 30 minutes! Nothing beats exercise when it comes to boosting your mood and motivation.

    #4. Eat the Right Food

    You are what you eat! This means, the food you eat has an immense impact on your body and mind. Eat the types of whole foods I’ve described in my free course. Also avoid processed foods as much as possible. These two aspects will boost both your physical and mental health.

    Because it’s cold, it might be tempting to indulge in a warm pizza, a sugar-laden doughnut, and a super creamy coffee on a cold winter day. But the sugar in these foods increases lethargy and can negatively affect your mood (e.g. feeling guilt after eating what you shouldn’t have).

    Sugar, including the high fructose corn syrup in your soda or ketchup, has a harmful impact on your mood and brain functions.

    #5. Refresh Yourself by Going for A Walk

    Go for a walk. Whenever you feel tired and drowsy, just go for a short walk. Even a 10-minute walk in the cold weather can be refreshing.

    Use This Season to Your Advantage

    By following these tips, you can surely combat all the negatives associated with this season, bi’idnillah!