I’m sure many people are like me in choosing foods that are delicious rather than nutritious. We should not feel too guilty for this common sin, but if we feel so we can choose the holy Islamic month of Ramazan and commit to eating healthy food every day during this month. I did just that last year, and while this practice has not totally altered my unhealthy eating behaviors, it has reduced them. I know it’s not easy for most of us, but believe me it’s worth the effort. It helps when we are following a healthy diet routine for 30 days while having iftari (breaking fast) and sehri (pre-sun rise meal prior to commencing the fast). In fact, it helps in that we are making a concerted effort to check ourselves every day. We are imposing discipline on ourselves in the process. We may initially feel that we are more restricted and less happy at some level. However, over time our effort demands lesser and lesser executive control, and we just naturally come to a point where we don’t crave unhealthy food any more. That’s the kind of self-discipline and control that we need to work towards. And we can easily develop that when we inculcate these habits during this whole holy month of Ramazan. The key is to stop us from making bad eating decisions based on self-gratification, while motivating ourselves to make the smarter choice. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible. The simplest way to get better at anything is to practice. And I find that Ramazan is a good time to practice positive behaviors in a way that makes us better and more self-confident. I personally feel that if we can make healthy choices during this month, that’s often enough time to actually change our attitude toward negative food choices, and by the time we get to the end of that month we may not want to revert to our bad habits at all. The other point is that most people I know are always making excuses for avoiding positive and disciplined behavior. Usually the most common excuses are that they don’t have time, they are stressed out, they’re too lazy to cook healthy, or that planning the meals takes too much time. Particularly in Ramazan the normal excuses people make are that they are feeling tired and drained, as result of which they do not stick with healthy diets but want ‘comfort food’ instead. For me, this is not making the right choice. Some categories of food ingredients that add taste and texture need to be avoided. We need to keep it in mind that most oils including corn, soybean, canola, and sunflower are not good for health because they can cause high cholesterol and clogged arteries, leading to a heart disease. Same goes for sugar, as it increases the risk of diabetes and obesity, and may be a contributing factor to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Our wrong eating choices are naturally not good for our health. We need to change them before these are becoming strong ingrained habits. I think the best way to change them is if we will take ownership of our behavior and become mindful about it. For instance, we need to closely monitor what ingredients we use. We should focus on low-fat, healthy carbs, and less sugar. We can easily prepare healthy and balanced diets if we use nutritious ingredients and smart cooking techniques. For example, we can avoid deep fried food if we can use a nonstick frying-pan in order to fry anything. That way we use less oil. Alternatively, we can simply bake instead of frying. The point is eating right. That can prime our body and brain to be in a focused, happy state, while eating processed unhealthy food will leave us sluggish and prone to a chronic disease. There are a number of ways to develop healthy eating habits. The best way of choosing to eat healthy is to replace unhealthy ingredients with hearty healthy ones. For example, we can choose a wide variety of healthy food like dates, pistachios, nuts, fresh seasonal vegetables, seasonal fruits, sesame seeds, honey, soups, or lean meat, chicken and grilled fish, but the key is how we prepare them. Last year, I ‘created’ a recipe of a nutritious soup that I prepared in Ramazan called ‘Harriera’ which I would like to share. This is a hearty lamb and vegetable soup from Morocco that is traditionally eaten during the month of Ramazan, after sundown to break the day’s fast. Ingredients: 1 cup of dried boil chickpeas 500 grams of boned shoulder of lamb or chicken 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 large fresh onion (finely chopped) 1 teaspoon fresh ground ginger and garlic paste 1 teaspoon ground cumin ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon ground red chili powder ½ teaspoon ground coriander powder ½ teaspoon turmeric powder ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley 6 medium fresh tomatoes pureed ½ cup whole brown lentils 1 teaspoon salt 5 cups of water ½ cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves – Place chickpeas in small bowl, cover with water; soak overnight, drain – Trim lamb or chicken of excess fat; cut into 2 cm cubes – Heat oil in large saucepan; cook onion, garlic ginger paste, turmeric powder, red chili, ground coriander powder, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, salt, stirring, until soft. Add lamb or chicken and parsley; cook, stirring about two minutes or until lamb is coated in spice moisture. Add tomato puree; cook, stirring, about 10 minutes. – Stir in the water and add chickpeas and lentils; bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, about 1 hour or until lamb, chick piece and lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. – Just before serving, stir fresh coriander into soup. It is healthy and delicious; we can serve with lemon wedges. This is nutritious soup and the best part of this soup is that it’s a quick, hot filling meal that offers plenty of health benefits. The herb parsley that I have in my soup’s recipe is originally from the Mediterranean region. It is a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and rich in many antioxidant vitamins that is great for the eyes, is an immunity booster, prevents menstruation disorders, and aids in digestion. Finally, I would recommend getting the maximum benefit while following the diet for the whole month with devotion and practice. The goal is to relearn how to make smarter choice over negative ones. We should remember that the unpleasant part of the diet is temporary, and I feel we can easily tolerate it as we’re fasting most of the day. The best part is that the benefits of this new behavior will continue long after the month is over. I would suggest that we all experience it like I have; I predict that it will help to a healthy life and longevity. Shaziah Zuberi is a fashion designer and mom of teenage twins. She is passionate about blogging about a variety of contemporary subjects inspired by her thoughts and passions. She is based in Washington DC. Her twitter handle is @ShaziahZ.