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
- 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:
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.
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.
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)
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