Muslims Who Fast: Fitness trainer Nazia talks eating disorders, depression, and post-iftar workouts

Nazia, a fitness trainer, eating her healthy iftar, the meal Muslims break their fast with

Welcome back to Muslims Who Fast – our annual mini-series looking into the lives of those who fast during Ramadan and the food they eat at iftar.

Last year, we spoke to a vegan Muslim, an imam, a medical student, and a family who very cleverly play Come Ramadine With Me.

We kick off this year with Nazia Khatun, an award-winning fitness specialist who uses neuroscience and exercise to help women, mostly from minority backgrounds, enjoy their bodies.

Nazia has also had some mental health issues in the past such as depression and eating disorders, things that make Ramadan particularly difficult.

But exercise has allowed her to take ownership of her body. She even manages to keep it up while she fasts.

Let’s find out more about Nazia.

Nazia preparing a healthy meal to break her fast with
Nazia has struggled with eating disorders in the past and says getting strong, not thin eventually became her goal (Picture: Jerry Syder)

Tell us about yourself

I started my business Fitness Reborn UK as a result of struggling with an eating disorder when I was young. As an amateur boxer, I also had to overcome cultural barriers (being an Asian, Muslim woman).

Depression was something I experienced in my early 30s and due to these things combined I created a fitness program that championed people to take control of their lives.

Exercise for me is like breathing so during Ramadan I keep up with my fitness. The routine is totally different but it feels amazing and hard at the same time.

So what are you having for iftar?

Today I have prepared roast chicken with loads of vegetables and potatoes.

I usually break my fast with a date, high-quality protein shake and some fruits before eating the main dish.

An roast chicken iftar washed down with a protein shake
A roast chicken iftar washed down with a protein shake (Picture: Jerry Syder)

Do you crave certain foods during Ramadan?

Yes, I crave everything. I mostly crave desserts but to curb that I recommend people eat very well at suhoor (pre-dawn meal) with high fibre, good fats and protein such as porridge with banana and cashew nuts or eggs with avocado on rye bread.

A good happy fast truly depends on the food you eat and how well you keep yourself hydrated after iftar.

Roast potatos
A wee bit of potato (Picture: Jerry Syder)

What rituals or traditions do you have?

After iftar, it is a must that one person makes the tea for the family whilst the desserts are made and handed around.

Broccoli and green beans in a colander
Nazia said she hopes no one will make fun of her healthy dinner (Picture: Jerry Syder)

Do you work out during Ramadan?

During the hours of fasting, I don’t train due to dehydration and lack of energy, but after iftar, I get into my gym kit straight after prayers and go for a run at 12 am.

Luckily the 24-hour gyms have been a saviour to get resistance training done. I also ensure that I keep myself mobile by doing 15 minutes of stretching during the day.

I also run an online fitness group for people who want to stay fit during Ramadan so this also keeps me accountable for my own training and ensures I don’t slack.

Dates, strawberries, and a banana
Nazia eats plenty of fruits (but eats cakes and desserts later) (Picture: Jerry Syder)

What issues do you face during Ramadan?

During Ramadan, my eating disorder triggers are the things that I have to be mindful of. I’ve had mental breakdowns halfway through the month in the past.

Every negative emotion I have experienced in the past also heightens in a way that cannot be explained.

With an ED, it’s all about control and the fact that Ramadan is obligatory leaves me with no control.

But thankfully, we’ve reached a new level of understanding in my household and have been open about it which helps me deal with it.

Dates are a major Ramadan staple
Nazia preparing dates, a major staple during Ramadan (Picture: Jerry Syder)

And lastly, what does Ramadan mean to you?

It means a fresh start as I cleanse away and discipline myself. It means surrendering to god, It is the ultimate training camp mentally, physically and spiritually.

For me it allows me to reconnect with the lost parts of my soul and align myself with my thoughts and body and understand what I need to do for the future.

Ramadan also is a great time of reflection to appreciate everything that we have.

Nazia tucking into some dates
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