Me, Weight Watchers and Ramadan—a Perfect Storm

Carrots

When my Pakistani friend Ghazala invited me over for Ramadan (the dinner part) some years ago, I was hesitant. Sure it sounded like a possible off-the-beaten path adventure right here in NJ, but as a non-Muslim (Internet quizzes say I’m a NeoPaganBuddhistQuaker), I wasn’t sure how it would go.

Also and perhaps more importantly, I was on Weight Watchers.

Day 31 of 365 - Don't sleep on  Weight Watchers!

Would it be awkward or difficult? Would there be a lot of religious chat I might not relate to? What about the food? Everyone there would have fasted all day and I would have been counting points. We couldn’t exactly compare notes, now could we?

But then again, Weight Watchers and the Ramadan fast aren’t all that different (excluding religion), are they? (If you don’t follow the rules, that is.) And I liked Ghazala’s family—and her cooking (generally light). Also, I was/am open-minded–truly curious about my friend’s tradition, religion and culture.

I decided to throw caution to the wind…I went.

Preparation

All day long, while my friend and her friends were fasting, I was, too…sort of. I followed WW religiously, eating two bags of carrot sticks and various boring in-season fruits—to save my “points” (= to the amount of food one can eat during one day). I also drank a lot of water to self-induce that pseudo fullness that most dieters are familiar with.

Carrots

I also wore elastic waist-band pants…just in case. And I was glad I did; when I showed up, I saw that my friend’s guests were also wearing loose-fitting clothing. Unlike mine, though, theirs were were beautiful and flowing; a couple of the women wore gorgeous headscarves and coordinated jewelry.

While the sun began to set, I mingled and got to know the guests. Although I enjoyed the conversation, I was secretly and eagerly anticipating the meal. Perhaps they were, too. I knew I’d saved my points, so I would be able to indulge. A little bit, anyway.

But then, to my surprise, the food was not what Ghazala normally served. There were batter-friend shrimp pakoras and other yummy, but oily delicacies. The sun set, people dug in and I panicked.

I now had to make a fast decision—one that was lose-lose (or is it, gain-gain), a catch 22 and every other cliche you can think of.

Don’t eat the food and it’s a cultural faux pa. Eat it and you blow it.

pakistan

So what did I do?

I blew the diet, of course. Didn’t want to upset Ghazala. :) I dug in to that fried shrimp and all the other great stuff on the platters and enjoyed every gram of fat I ingested. And I felt justified. I’d saved my points. It was OK. WW allows for that sort of thing, after all.

Also, I was dressed right for the occasion; my loose-fitting pants helped feed my dietary delusions. I half believed that I was actually losing weight from all that mingling I had done. Perhaps it counted as “light cardio”?

And then, my worst nightmare.

Someone said, “So where’s the food?”

Ghazala replied: “It’s coming any minute now.”

Food? Wasn’t that what we’d just had?

Then, the epiphany came. That was just the first course—the hors d’ oeuvres.

Soon, huge platters of shish kebobs, rice, more fried food, heavy pastries with yogurt were brought out and the real eating began.

“Come on—try it….eat!” people said and the peer pressured overwhelmed me. I was now in a roomful of Italian grandmas in disguise.

Time to Pray

After we stuffed ourselves, things turned serous for a moment. It was time for the religious side of things.

“We’re going downstairs to pray now,” Ghazala said. She had a handful of scarves and was choosing one. “Would you like to sit in on it?”

Now I’m pretty open minded and interested in other religions despite not having my own, so I said, “Sure—I’d love to.” Of course, I wasn’t exactly clear re: what “sitting in” actually meant.

Two women, Ghazala’s friends, came up to me and like Pakistani magicians, fitted me with a scarf. The three of us made our way down to the basement to where the prayer rugs had been set up.

I walked into the mixed-gender room confidently as if I’d done this sort of thing—”sitting in on” a prayer—before. No one even glanced in my direction.

A prayer space in a Muslim house includes a traditional prayer rug, the Qur'an (holy book), and prayer beads.

I then realized that I wasn’t just going to be watching, but actually participating. “You can be over here,” one of the women said as she pointed to my prayer rug. I then realized I needed to follow along. I knelt, put my face down, etc. and copied what the others did. And things were good for a while.

Until the GI distress—gas, that is—kicked in.

And this was not good because of the various positions we put ourselves in to pray. What if I temporarily, um, lost control…and let it rip? I hoped and nearly prayed that I wouldn’t. I decided to focus my energy…I breathed deeply and carefully and did my own form of pseudo meditation and yoga.

Prayers Answered

And then, nothing short of a miracle. The moment of potential gas had passed. All was well. The scarf came off and we went back upstairs to have dessert.

Now, after sharing in all aspects of the tradition, I felt more part of the family. People smiled at me as they filled their plates with dessert. I smiled back while I used my remaining points. (OK—confession time. I dipped into the next day’s points. A girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do, right?).

The conversation was great, by the way. At times, it was silly but meaningful, like when they broke me of the habit of calling chai….chai tea.

“It’s redundant,” they said. “Chai is tea.”

“You mean that if I say ‘chai tea,’ it’s like saying ‘tea tea’?” I asked.

“Yes,” they said. “Don’t say it. It’s wrong.” The entire group laughed and so did I.

Chai Tea Latte and London Fog

We also talked about world politics—some of it serious and some of it not. One of the men mentioned President George Bush (43) and some of his grammatical boo boos—and we all chuckled—and there were even jokes about Saddam Hussein.

And I felt right at home—with my Pakistani friends in Bergen County, NJ. Not a million miles away in their country, but off the beaten path nevertheless.

The night came to an end and I was satisfied with my first Ramadan experience. Would I do it again? Certainly. Do I recommend it to you? Absolutely.

But make sure you’re not on WW (the stress of counting points when breaking a fast is NOT mentioned in the guidebook) and make sure that you wear lose pants—whether you’re on a diet or not. The food is that good!

Your Thoughts/Opinions/Experiences?

Have you ever attended a Ramadan dinner (fast breaking)? If so, where was it and what was it like? Were you on a diet at the time? What sort of yummy foods did you get to eat? :)

Also (for those of you who aren’t full-time travelers), do you have friends at home from a variety of cultures? Do you find ways to keep the travel vibe alive by stepping into their world from time to time? If so, how?

Photo Credits/Disclaimers

1. For this post, I borrowed photos from Flickr and want to thank each of those folks for using Creative Commons, which makes this possible. Each photo (just click on it) links back to their account/profile.

2. Note: None of the photos, of course, are an endorsement of my silliness/opinions here—which are by the way, all part of a true story (which I’m sure you knew anyway). :)

3. I think Weight Watchers is a great diet—one of the best out there. In fact, I highly recommend it. Just not during any sort of food fest (unless you’re super disciplined). :)

35 Responses to Me, Weight Watchers and Ramadan—a Perfect Storm
  1. Iain Mallory
    August 14, 2011 | 1:07 pm

    Great story told as usual in your engaging style Lisa, sounds like a really interesting experience and glad yo managed to keep your GI system in check.

    I can actually identify with one part of your story. When I was an instructor at Sandhurst on Rowallen Company attending the first ‘pass’off’ party.

    It was initially held in the trophy room in the Old College a large and very grand room. I had not eaten all day and was very hungry ad very glad when they brought out tray after tray of light bites to tuck into whilst chatting to successful students and their parents. I really tucked in incidentally wanting to quell my hunger.

    After an hour or so, when I had more than satisfied myself the ‘call for dinner’ was announced. Yes you guessed it these were just appetisers.
    Iain Mallory recently posted..Cultural Aveyron; Enchanting Villages and Mystical CastlesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 14, 2011 | 10:30 pm

      Hi, Iain…thanks so much….glad it was engaging! Yes–I’m glad I, um, kept things under control–LOL. So funny that you went through something similar. Crazy, isn’t it, when you’ve eaten a lot (maybe more than you wanted to), figuring ‘that’s it.’ And then, it isn’t. Thanks for sharing your food misadventure! :)

  2. Dyanne@TravelnLass
    August 14, 2011 | 1:47 pm

    Great story Lisa – and just goes to prove that yes, one doesn’t have to flit off to some g-forsaken corner of the globe to have an authentic cultural experience. Personally, I’ve experienced similar cultural exchanges through hosting couchsurfers from all over the world here at home.

    And about those “points”: Uh, no doubt those extra weekly WW “flex” points came in handy that night, yes? 😉
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..Cheapo Passport PhotosMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 14, 2011 | 10:33 pm

      Hey, Dyanne–thanks for reading! Happy you enjoyed it! So true….these types of adventures can happy anywhere. Where I live, in NJ, there are plenty of ethnic neighborhoods, immigrants, etc. that you can interact with lots of people from around the world.

      You host couch surfers? Awesome! I wish I had the space to do it. If I did, I probably would host, too.

      Re: the points…LOL…yeah, the good old “flex” points. Definitely tapped into them. I’m not sure if the newest WW system works the same way. Right now (well, not today), I’m sort of trying out the Sonoma Diet. Like it so far…

  3. Terri
    August 14, 2011 | 1:48 pm

    Last year I thought I would participate in Ramadan for a day. I put out the announcement on my Black Chick in Saudi blog, and people were congratulating me on my effort to go a whole day without eating. I thought it would be a big deal. One of my muslim friends even arranged for a group of us to get together for the Iftar buffet (the meal the breaks the fast) to see how I did. It was pretty much a non event. It was easy for me to not eat, drink, all day. And, the buffet was fun. It was at Le Meridian in Al-Khobar. They had so much food, and there was even a raffle. I didn’t win anything. :(

    Since one day was such a non event that I thought that the next time I would do it for longer. But, since then I’ve done a 7 day water fast (I had nothing but water for 7 days) in May of this year. So, I’m unimpressed with the not eating or drinking all day. :)

    When Eid hits at the end of the month, this place will be festive and lively. During Ramadan, the streets of Saudi Arabia are like a ghost town.
    Terri recently posted..Travel Collections – What Do You Collect?My Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 14, 2011 | 10:36 pm

      Hi, Terri! Cool that you tried it out….and glad it was so easy (for a day). You then did a 1-week fast (minus water)? Wow…I’m impressed. That’s definitely harder than fasting and then eating at sunset. Must be interesting to feel the ghost-town-like vibe there in Saudi….and then the fun of Eid after it…

      • Terri
        August 15, 2011 | 12:52 am

        Actually it was a 7-day water fast. Meaning, I only had water for 7 days. It was an interesting experience. What I learned is that we eat way too much food. I’m a total munchaholic, but during this fast, I wasn’t really hungry at all. I drank about 4 – 5 16 oz glasses of water. My stomach didn’t growl until the 4th day into it. It was amazing, but I will not do it again.
        Terri recently posted..Travel Collections – What Do You Collect?My Profile

        • CB Driver
          August 15, 2011 | 9:50 am

          7 days with just water–wow! It does sound amazing in some way (I’m sure it affects a person on various levels), but I hear you…it sounds like one of those “no-need-to-repeat” experiences. Impressive (to me) nevertheless…

  4. Maria
    August 14, 2011 | 5:38 pm

    I have two rommates, one from Pakistan the other from Bangladesh. This is the month of Ramadan for 2011 so my questions are getting answered as quickly as I can ask them.

    I have not yet attended the traditional rituals at the mosque – I’ll be required to cover-up quite a bit = the local mosque will want more than just a head scarf and it’s well over 100 degrees here, even after sunset.

    • CB Driver
      August 14, 2011 | 10:37 pm

      Hi, Maria. Cool that your roommates are Muslim and can answer your questions…are you considering going to the mosque? That does sound pretty hot, though. Hmmm….

      • Maria
        August 15, 2011 | 12:27 am

        I’m hoping for a cold front before the end of the month.
        Maria recently posted..Wheels Down – Part IIIMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          August 15, 2011 | 12:36 am

          Where are you right now? In Texas? If so, I get it…must be hot in August!

  5. Gray
    August 14, 2011 | 5:57 pm

    What a fantastic experience, I would really enjoy that. It’s interesting how many of us don’t really think about the intercultural experiences we can have right in our own backyards. We don’t always need to travel to another country to get them. And I have to bow down at your storytelling prowess. Good stuff.
    Gray recently posted..10 Tips for Solo CruisesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 14, 2011 | 10:40 pm

      Hi, Gray–thanks! Yes, it’s true–we can have these experiences right here in our country, depending on where you live and who you meet. In NJ (where I live, anyway), there are many opportunities. Years ago, I used to go dancing with small groups of Latino students of mine (the ESL program was free and non-academic) and sometimes I ended up at parties where no one spoke much English. My Spanish was really good back then!

      Thanks for the positive feedback on my storytelling–I really appreciate it!

  6. Lisa
    August 14, 2011 | 9:00 pm

    What a great story, you must have been a bit stunned when you ate all the appetizers thinking they were the unusual main course…too funny! It sounds like a great cultural experience.
    Lisa recently posted..Expat Living; Taking the Plunge for a Third TimeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 14, 2011 | 10:43 pm

      Thanks, Lisa…happy you liked it! I was stunned when I saw that the main course was next. I was also full at that point, which wasn’t a good thing. I really had to keep on eating. Fortunately, the loose pants helped!

      It was a cool cultural experience–definitely. I’ve lost contact with the family, unfortunately. Today, though, after publishing the post, I tried to reach them by leaving a message on the last number I had. I hope they call back!

  7. Charu
    August 15, 2011 | 1:32 am

    Love this story, Lisa. I’ve never done a fast myself but the closest I came to was drinking this three day Blue Print Cleanse but it about killed me after the first day. Also completely agree about the cultural appetizers –Matt made the same mistake once in Italy when he ate the entire tray of appetizers, fearing he would be starved for the rest of the meal. Turns out that was the PRE appetizers. There were 3 more courses after that! Glad you enjoyed yourself and the WW points are cracking me up!
    Charu recently posted..Top Summer Cultural Activities To Do in Vail, ColoradoMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 15, 2011 | 9:53 am

      Hi, Charu…thank you…glad you laughed! That sounds like an intense sort of fast you did…sometimes purging those toxins, etc.is not pleasant. That’s hilarious about Matt–same thing, huh? I suppose the solution to this would be to ask questions, but…it might seem rude to say, “So…is this it?” The hosts might think you think it’s not enough–when you’re really just trying to gauge the situation in order to pace yourself.

  8. michelle
    August 15, 2011 | 2:49 am

    Lisa,wonderful story. Almost wished you had passed gas, hahaha, would loved to see the expressions.

    I observe Navratri, a hindu celebration of women, fruitility, in fall. I dress in a lengha, and dance and eat all night. The elder females always pull me aside and fix my scarf so it stays on during dancing :-) I don’t think I want to learn how, they (and me) have such a good time!

    • CB Driver
      August 15, 2011 | 9:55 am

      Hi, Michelle. Could you imagine if gas had been passed? OMG. Would it have been ignored maybe? LOL

      Navratri sounds really interesting. I had no idea you did that. Dancing and eating all night sounds quite good… And I know what you mean about the scarf…there’s something about other women putting it on for you that’s special somehow.

  9. Neal
    August 16, 2011 | 1:34 pm

    LOL no one even during Ramadan would have tolerated my farts. I like the elastic pants, italtian grandmas
    and what an honoured experience.
    Another great Chickybus anecdote!

    Neal

    • CB Driver
      August 17, 2011 | 8:49 am

      HI, Neal….that bad, huh? :) Glad you liked the Italian grandmas and the story. It was fun–and I hope I see those folks again. It’s been many Ramadans since the last time!

  10. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    August 17, 2011 | 9:01 am

    What a cool experience! It’s totally worth blowing the diet for one day.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The Cruella Conclusion: Lawyers, Lies, and TaxesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 17, 2011 | 9:23 pm

      Thank you, Stephanie…I agree. It was worth it–and fun!

  11. Liv
    August 17, 2011 | 11:15 pm

    How brave of you to admit to elastic-waisted trousers (but I bet it was totally worth it!) I laughed at the GI moment of prayer. That would have been mortifying! It must happen sometimes though, right?! eek!
    Liv recently posted..Magical Mont St MichelMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 18, 2011 | 12:37 am

      Hi, Liv. Thank you–and yes, it would have been mortifying… :) And imagine someone letting it go…LOL.

  12. Kirk
    August 18, 2011 | 8:45 am

    Here I was thinking you might just be okay if you are able to stick to the carrots and water for most of the day and eat a okay meal. But when I read now bring out the food I knew you were going to be in trouble. At the least you enjoyed yourself!

    • CB Driver
      August 19, 2011 | 6:25 pm

      Hi, Kirk. Yeah, I was hoping a small meal after the day of “points hoarding” would work, but the surprise (real food) changed the game plan. I did enjoy myself–thanks!

  13. Steve
    August 19, 2011 | 7:35 pm

    It’s interesting how an experience like this can be so close to home. This is something I wouldn’t want to miss. I know that it would be hard since you don’t know what is expected of you. I think figuring out what I should do would be hard for me too. But the experience would be too interesting to pass up on. I think you made a good decision in going even if that meant going off your weight watchers a little. I’ve never attended a Ramadan meal like this before. I now know that if I get to attend one to make sure and not fill up on the hors d’ oeuvres before the main course.
    Steve recently posted..My 7 Links – A Look BackMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 20, 2011 | 4:37 am

      Hi, Steve. Yes–it was nice that it was local. I love when I stumble on to that type of thing right here. It was tricky (but fun) since I didn’t know what to expect. And yes–if you go to one of these dinners, you’d should definitely save your appetite. There will be tons of (yummy) food to eat, I’m sure!

  14. Naomi Dunlap
    December 4, 2011 | 6:35 pm

    I suppose the solution to this would be to ask questions, but…it might seem rude to say, “So…is this it?” The hosts might think you think it’s not enough–when you’re really just trying to gauge the situation in order to pace yourself.

  15. Laila
    July 26, 2012 | 12:41 am

    This is such a well written post! My (Pakistani) husband and I just died of laughter. It’s Ramadan now and I’m doing WW and struggling hard. Your post came up when I searched Ramadan and weightwatchers and it’s a comfort to know that I’m not the only one who thinks the two cannot coexist.

    • CB Driver
      July 26, 2012 | 3:58 am

      Hi, Laila. Thanks for reading and glad you laughed! That’s wild that your hubby is Pakistani. That must have made it even more hilarious. I can still remember being on the diet and messing up. I say it’s best to take off a day for that final feast! :)

  16. Victoria Ellen Lee
    July 13, 2013 | 7:08 pm

    What a great post and such a cool thing to experience! I would totally have ditched the diet too if I had been in your shoes- that’s not the kind of thing you get to witness everyday after all!
    Victoria Ellen Lee recently posted..Homecooking… How to cook Spaghetti Carbonara like an ItalianMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 14, 2013 | 7:51 pm

      Thanks, Victoria–it was quite an experience! You also would have given in and enjoyed all that food? Cool! :)

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