fast food burger in front of mirror

AssalaaMOOOO Alaikum: Why are Muslims so fat?

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Fat Muslims

by Lenna

Why are we so fat? Obesity is a global problem for humanity and Muslims are no exception.

In fact, many Muslims-majority countries have the highest rates of obesity in the world! The Top 10 spots are occupied by small Pacific Islands.

But the next 10? Check out this graph depicting countries ranked from 11-20:

Obesity by Country Graph

All of the spots are taken by Muslim-majority countries except one! Kuwaitis have fattened themselves up even more than Americans.

A bit further down the list we find Iraq and Bahrain. I find that shocking though maybe I shouldn’t.

Global obesity rates have tripled worldwide since 1975. Still, why does it seem that Muslims are disproportionately impacted?

Theories abound.

American Fast Food

Some people blame the proliferation of American fast food joints. The last time I took count, Saudi Arabia had 75 McDonald’s stores.

Upside down McDonald's sign

It seems fast food is an insidious weapon of mass destruction! But I don’t think we can explain what’s happening based on any one factor.

After all there fast food joints all over the world. Spain has a higher saturation than the KSA yet has far less of an obesity problem.

Fast food does not help, that’s for sure. America should keep it’s entire toxic culture, including fast food, within its own borders.

But fast food can’t be the sole reason we’re becoming people of girth all over the region.

It’s Complicated

I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or anthropologist. I’m not even sure who is best equipped to unravel the mystery of the world’s obesity epidemic.

But everyone seems to have a theory, so I’ll weight in with mine.

Some say a sedentary lifestyle is a big part of the problem. Especially with people living in suburbs and driving everywhere instead of walking.

Maybe. But personally I’ve never found exercise to make that much difference. Not when I was a competition ballroom dancer and not even when I was training for a marathon!

If I just stayed in bed all the time and at a handful of nuts everyday, I wouldn’t be fat. It’s not even possible. So being sedentary does’t cause weight gain obviously.

Eating and drinking calories causes weight gain, period. Not burning off more through activity aggravates the problem of eating to much but it’s better not to focus on exercise.

Most people who try to exercise for weight loss will be frustrated.

The body is too efficient with calories. A trainer once told me focus on what you eat for weight loss and exercise for fitness, but never mix the two and I found the helpful.

I think it’s easier just not to put food in my mouth to begin with. Rather than eating and then trying to burn it off later.

One thing most of us don’t want to hear is really the biggest factor: we eat too much.

I don’t feel like I should really need to state the obvious but there are articles all over the Internet with headlines such as, “If You Want to Lose Weight, You Have to Start Eating!” and “Diet Myth News Flash: Eating Less Does Not Cause Fat Loss.

Lying to people like this is borderline criminal, I think.

The Simple Answer No One Likes

Food is a highly available pleasure these days and we’re surrounded by it. Lots of foods are enticing because they taste great, but they’re also calorie dense.

Can you imagine Satan tempting a modern-day Eve with an apple? 🙂

There are all kinds of theories that skirt around the “eat too much” idea. Like the problem is sugar or we need to eat nothing but grapefruit on Thursday or whatever.

But this guy explains in the clearest way possible with evidence (and lots of cussing) why eating too much really is the problem: You’re Not Losing Fat Because You’re Eating Too D@%&* Much.

Let’s go with that. People eat too much and it doesn’t help that we’re sitting around too much too. Now we can talk about what I find even more interesting.

Why Do We Eat Too Much?

As I already mentioned, food is abundant and delicious. A highly available pleasure and so we partake. Not too complicated.

That’s the physical reason but the complexity comes in when you start looking at other dimensions. Emotional, psychological, social, environmental, and so forth.

People are fat for many different reasons. I think we should also include spiritual reasons. Materialism leaves a spiritual void in people’s lives.

I was watching a YouTube video about Hoarders when I saw an email regarding how fat the Ummah is these days. Is there a link?

I’ve noticed that many hoarders are also fat, and a fair number also have tons of animals. They hoard everything—food, animals, stuff.

Why? I’m more of a minimalist than a hoarder yet I find this phenomenon endlessly fascinating.

I know that “stuff” is intimately tied to emotions because just like my mother, I feel like purging everything when I’m upset rather than hoarding. It seems to be the same impulse but at the opposite end of the pole.

Some people theorize that hoarding (like gaining weight) makes some people feel safe. As if it’s a holdover from early swaddling gone horribly wrong.

Anyway, I was watching this video, glanced at the email, and then soon after the woman who was hoarding said, “I don’t even know why I’m here.” The woman helping her asked if she meant in the house but what she actually meant was here on this earth!

She lacked a sense of purpose. I wonder how that may be related.

Notice how we always emphasize the physical changes in society that led to this crisis. But notice how people also lost faith in Allah during that same period.

We should not ignore the spiritual aspect of this and the void so many of us feel. I believe spiritual emptiness is more of an issue than a hamburger joint on every corner.

We Know Better

One of the problems with blaming fast food is that most people know it’s bad for them. That’s not a secret and therefore it is a choice.

Of course it’s not helpful to constantly be tempted. I confess to sometimes heading to McDonald’s for a fish sandwich even though it’s never as good in real life as it was in my imagination.

Not only is the information out there for all to see, but Muslims in particular are the heirs to right guidance when it comes to eating.

What our Prophet told us and set as our example 1400 years ago still holds today. Following the letter and spirit of Islamic doctrine alone could solve the obesity problem for Muslims.

What Islam Says

One of the first things Muslims taught me when I converted to Islam was not to overeat. They said the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ told us we don’t need that much food.

At most, we should fill our stomach with 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, and leave 1/3 empty. Islamic doctrine also prescribes fasting the most outstanding example being Ramadan where we fast from dawn to sunset for 30 days.

Our Prophet ﷺ set an example with what we now call “intermittent fasting.” I was taught it’s Sunnah to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. There are other times when we fast, or at least when it’s recommended, throughout the year.

None of this is obscure. I asked random Muslims are everyone so far is familiar with these teachings from both the Qur’an and Sunnah.

We understand why we shouldn’t be stuffing ourselves to the bursting point with pizza and ice cream. But we do it sometimes because we love pizza and ice cream.

Environmental Factors

The Sahaba didn’t have to deal with a custard shop and a fast food join on every corner. Refined sugar wasn’t even prevalent back then.

Fast Food Ad
Image: My view the other day while filling my car at a gas station.

The Arabs didn’t discover the “reed that makes honey without bees” until they invaded Persia in 642 CE. Sugar didn’t make it to Europe until centuries later.

So the temptations were not the same. Nevertheless if we follow what Allah told us and the example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, we’re not likely to be fat.

Some people today say suggesting people should eat less is “fat shaming.” But even in Christianity, gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.

I don’t agree with the idea that no one should ever be ashamed of anything. You can only believe that if you have no values and standards to uphold.

Islam prescribes a way of life and it doesn’t include extreme self indulgence and selfishness but rather moderation and self discipline.

This is one of the reasons societies that abandon religion run into trouble.

Allah doesn’t give us rules to follow for no reason. He provides a guide to a healthy, happy, sustainable society and we ignore what He’s revealed at our own peril.

No to Abuse

I don’t think we should ever abandon the truth or values and standards just to appease people.

That said I’m completely 100% against ridiculing, harassing, or in any way putting down a fat person in public. This behavior is wrong.

People will go so far as to argue we can’t tell the truth about obesity because that gives people the green light to be mean. But we have to tell the truth and regardless there’s no excuse for humiliating a person in public.

The fact some people are abusive doesn’t mean we have to deny reality about why we’re fat or advocate “fat acceptance.” Obesity is not beautiful and it is something we need to work together to reduce.

Politeness and compassion are also Islamic values so we should never find Muslims out “fat shaming” people.

American Fast Food Joints

Muslim-majority countries should bar entry to fast food restaurants and not allow local copycats to spring up either. We need a responsible public policy.

I really hate seeing places like KFC and McDonald’s in Saudi Arabia. I also noticed someone has created a competitor to Coke and Pepsi called Mecca Cola. Sigh.

We don’t need this. Drinking calories is probably worse than eating them because sugary drinks go down so fast and easy.

You can take in all kinds of sugar and calories and not even notice. We don’t need McMecca.

Aside from the proliferation of fast food joints, I don’t know why Muslim-majority countries are so high on the chart. Western countries have fast food too and the only one we see is America in the rankings above.

I plan to investigate this more. But for now, I’ll just say it would be really nice if Muslims decided they aren’t going to allow American corporations to infiltrate to kill them off, along with all the bombs!

MooMADS

Lately a lot of people are switching to one meal a day (OMAD) and finding they are thinner and healthier. Some consider this to be “extreme fasting” but I’ve read that the Romans only ate one meal per day—and considered more than that gluttonous.

one meal a day
This is a typical meal for me on OMAD usually with a small desert of dates, figs, and apricots. Or an outright brownie or ice cream bar…a little of anything halal is okay. The idea of “breakfast food” is obsolete with OMAD.

Some of us Muslims are now also only eating one meal a day. This isn’t specifically prescribed in Islam but as far as I know it’s not prohibited either.

It’s a clear-cut way to navigate a world filled with high calorie, tasty foods that seem to be everywhere. It’s not easy to navigate two or three meals per day and still keep overall calories low.

With OMAD, you can plan out your meals carefully and really savor them. You can still go out for dinner with friends and family too.

Usually people find they aren’t that hungry throughout the day. And don’t usually eat that much during the one meal as you might expect.

But you can indulge if you want and therefore are not at war with ice cream bars or cheeseburgers. They’re all okay now and then…in the moderation that’s enforced by your small eating window.

You just can’t eat that much in one sitting. If you stick to OMAD and keep your eating window down to 1-2 hours, you’ll feel fantastic and you absolutely will lose weight.

A Lifestyle Change

OMAD or any other eating plan you choose should be a lifestyle. Not just something you do on a “diet.”

If you can’t live that way, then it’s better to try something else, like maybe two meals per day. It seems doubtful most people these days really need three.

And please, please never believe that nonsense about how if you cut calories your body will defy physics and keep you fat anyway. That’s a ridiculous lie that was probably spread by the greedy food industry.

You should never listen and “graze all day.”

We’re not cows! And anyway cows eat grass, not Big Macs. 🙂

I find OMAD to be very pleasant and I love the simplicity. So you might want try it if you haven’t already. It’s not that hard if you give yourself a week or two to grow accustomed to the plan.

Conclusion

Obesity is a global problem but many Muslim-majority countries rank shockingly high.

The Gulf States seem to be completely corrupt in every conceivable way. But this problem goes beyond their borders.

Most of the traditional foods in Muslim-majority lands are healthy. The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the best and yet we see countries like Lebanon and Egypt in the ranks.

I don’t know exactly why this is happening. It’s just really sad.

We have right guidance in Islam which prescribes for us the ways to stay thin and healthy. I think we should work harder to follow it.

***

I found this video interesting because he is advocating in for fat people in a way that’s rational and compelling…

WHY do people HATE fat people?

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Tasneem
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Tasneem

Narrated `Imran bin Husain: “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, ‘The best of my followers are those living in my generation (i.e. my contemporaries). and then those who will follow the latter” `Imran added, “I do not remember whether he mentioned two or three generations after his generation, then the Prophet (ﷺ) added, ‘There will come after you, people who will bear witness without being asked to do so, and will be treacherous and untrustworthy, and they will vow and never fulfill their vows, and fatness will appear among them.” Sahih al-Bukhari 3650 In another version, in Sunan at-Tirmidhi 2221, we read:… Read more »

Lenna
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Lenna

Salaam Tasneem. Thank you for adding this…excellent points. 🙂

Gul Ghutai
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Gul Ghutai

This post is beautiful, Lenna.
Salaam!
I have noticed many chubby people around me, I may or may not be chubby as well. 😀
I found this post VERY encouraging, soothing and beautiful.
Jazak Allah.
P.S; I’ll definitely try this NOMAD plan.

Lenna
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Lenna

Thank you!

Wasalaam,

You know I find it easy to overeat these days. There’s so much yummy food around and fancy coffee drinks.

It’s easy for me to eat out of boredom or to comfort myself when I feel down.

I really don’t need much of an excuse. Who doesn’t like food??

But eating one meal a day works really well for me. I just don’t think about food most of the time and when I do have that one meal, I really savor and enjoy it.

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