Last week we discussed the early stages of our relationship with food that should blossom into something healthy and balanced, however, more often than not, we are left with something rotten.
The biggest player in this food and mental health game is the relationship we have with food itself. As mentioned previously, there are all sorts of connections one may have with food. It may substitute people and enhance feelings, but is any of it actually healthy? We’re not just talking about the actual food itself (that’s for next week). We’re talking about that bond. The perceptions that we have and the expectations that we hold of food. As hard as it may be to digest, it’s time we updated the relationship status. It’s time to identify where things have gone wrong, what worked well and come to a grown up decision to part ways.
It came as a surprise to learn that a lot of Muslim countries were in the top 10 of the world’s fattest countries including Kuwait leading a bad example, followed by Qatar, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On the other hand, Yemen, Bangladesh, and India were on the opposite end of the scale for having the most underweight citizens. It came as a surprise because how can this be when the majority of the population of these countries follow a religion that has so many methods and guidelines in place to protect us from such travesty? Whilst the poverty stricken cannot do much for their malnutrition and starvation, and food related disorders/diseases rife in the West, what is the rest of the Muslim doing wrong?
We are told to eat from the halal and pure, and not to follow the footsteps of Satan [2:168], we emphasise the pure because with the fast food industry taking over our daily life, PFC may be halal but it certainly is not pure. We emphasise the discouragement to follow the footsteps of Satan further because over eating, and more so, eating the wrong things for the body and mind most often leads to, what? Laziness, and laziness leads to slacking or distraction in worship. That is, in a nutshell, what our relationship with food should be, moderate and purposeful. No we are not talking for the purpose of comfort or socialising, but for the purpose of gaining energy for our daily worship (a Red Bull may give you wings for Ishaa Salah, but so can some fruit or a wholesome meal).
Ibnul Qayyim defined 3 levels of eating, 1) Necessary for maintenance, 2) Sufficient, more than necessary and satisfies the psychological needs, 3) Excess which is more than what the body needs. Which level do you find yourself on a daily? Imam Shafi once said:
“I have not filled myself in 16 years, as filling oneself makes the body heavy, removes clear understanding, induces sleep and makes one weak for worship”.
So we can see that overeating, and eating the wrong type of foods can have a negative impact on us in a number of ways. Over eating can perhaps be linked closely to the amount of waste and excess we participate in, not forgetting that food for 1 is always enough for 2, and food for 2 is enough for 4, and food for 4 is enough for 8 [Muslim]. After all, filling ourselves to the brim is a waste, right?
“… Eat and drink, but be not in excess. Indeed He likes not those who commit excess” [7:31]
So, what can we actually take away from the Sunnah to refresh our relationship with food?
- Always say Bismillah, and if you forget:
“When any one of you eats, let him mention the name of Allah. If he forgets to mention the name of Allah at the beginning, let him say Bismillaahi fi awwalihi wa aakhirihi (in the name of Allah at its beginning and at its end)” [Tirmidhi]
- Always eat and drink with your right hand, as Satan eats and drinks with his left hand [Muslim]
- Never criticise your food, if you don’t want to eat it, you leave it or you say you do not feel like having this food [Bukhari]
- Eat from what is in front of you [Bukhari] or what is on your dish before you refill.
- When you eat with others, do not leave them before making dua for them, The prophet made dua in the house of Abd-Allah ibn Bisr, and said:
“O Allah, bless for them that which You have provided for them, forgive them and have mercy on them.” [Muslim]
- If you are among those that never feel full, do not eat alone but with others around you. Say Bismillah over the food so that that He may bless it for you [Abu Dawud]
- The prophet never used to eat reclining, he used to eat using the first 3 fingers of his right hand which is the best way to eat, and he always used to know exactly what he was eating [Bukhari[
- Finally, eating what is necessary and the rule of thirds:
“The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” [Tirmidhi]
Perhaps the last Sunnah is vital. It is what our relationship with food should be in a just a few sentences. Although it may be difficult to cut out our bad habits and not give into our impulsive desires, just keep in the back of your mind the bigger picture here. Imagine the liberation of defying your need of immediate satisfaction, imagine the wonders you are doing for your own mental health as well as the rewards you are reaping in for your struggle, being grateful and remembering the less fortunate around the world. With Ramadan around the corner, it’s important now more than ever to start implanting these simple sunnan.
“Al-hamdu Lillaahi hamdan katheeran tayyiban mubaarakan fihi ghayri makfiyyin wa laa muwadda’ wa laa mustaghni ‘anhu Rabbanaa ‘azza wa jall”
Allah be praised with an abundant, beautiful, blessed praise. He is the One Who is Sufficient, Who feeds and is never fed, The One Who is longed for, along with that which is with Him, and the One Who is needed. He is Our Lord, may He be glorified.