By Zainab Habib
I have struggled with weight all my conscious life. It seems to be the easiest thing to pile on and the most difficult thing to shed… and of course, to keep off.
Yes, I love to eat. In fact, I am obsessed with food. I am constantly thinking of what I am going to eat next and thinking about food brings a light to my eyes, the way nothing else does. It’s my best friend, always inviting me to visit. It’s my mood enhancer when I am happy, my reward when I succeed at something, my consolation when I am sad, my comfort when I am depressed and when I am anxious, it calms me down. It keeps me company when I am alone, it’s my entertainment when I am bored and looking forward to it keeps me going when I am amongst unstimulating people. And I can never get enough of it! I eat often, prefer my own company when eating and once I start eating I just keep on going and don’t know when to stop.
The long and short of it is: food gives me indescribable pleasure in a way nothing else does. And, the best part of it is that it does not talk back to me!
Till of course, I get on the weighing scale. Then it becomes the enemy that irks me no end!
Makes you want to suggest that I belong in a doctor’s office or on the psychologist’s couch, right? Well, you’re wrong! After many, many, years I finally figured out what the problem is. No, it is not a defect in my hypothalamus which controls my appetite or the breakdown of the internal communication system between my stomach and my brain that transmits the message that “I’ve had enough.” It’s much simpler than that, much, much simpler.
As a child, I was never trained to say Bismillah or ask for barakah before eating. I was not reminded to sit down and eat or drink or for that matter, eat only with the right hand. And the result? No satiation! Even now that I have become conscious of the need to start everything in the name of Allah, somehow old habits die hard, and most of the time I forget, especially before eating or drinking, or only remember to do so after I’ve had my fill.
So this is a reminder to me and all those Muslims out there who are struggling with the same issues and for whom observing the Islamic etiquettes of eating and drinking could provide a solution to their obsessive eating habits. So here goes..
Find a way to remind yourself to say “Bismillah” before eating or drinking:
(Put up stickers in your dining area, a tent card on your dining table or tell family members to remind each other, but do find a way!) This is the most important starting point. Remember that Satan shares in the food and drink we consume before which we do not pronounce Allah’s name. It also deprives it of barakah i.e. blessings and abundance. (No wonder I am never satiated!)
Our Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“If a person mentions the Name of Allah upon entering his house or eating, Satan says, addressing his followers: `You will find nowhere to spend the night and no dinner.’ But if he enters without mentioning the Name of Allah, Satan says (to his followers); `You have found (a place) to spend the night in,’ and if he does not mention the Name of Allah at the time of eating, Satan says: `You have found (a place) to spend the night in as well as food.”
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was eating with his six Companions when a desert Arab came and ate up the food in two mouthfuls. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,
“Had he mentioned the Name of Allah, it would have sufficed for all of you.”
If you forget to do it before you start, then say it when you remember
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was sitting while a man was eating food. That man did not mention the name of Allah (before commencing to eat) till only a morsel of food was left. When he raised it to his mouth, he said: “Bismillah awwalahu wa akhirahu” (With the Name of Allah, in the beginning and in the end).” The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) smiled at this and said,
“Satan had been eating with him but when he mentioned the Name of Allah, Satan vomited all that was in his stomach.”
[Abu Dawud and An-Nasa’i hadith].
Eat and drink with your right hand
The Prophet (ﷺ), said
“Mention Allah’s Name (i.e., say Bismillah before starting eating), eat with your right hand, and eat from what is near you.”
[Bukhari and Muslim hadith]
Ibn ‘Umar (r.a) reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
When any one of you intends to eat (meal), he should eat with his right hand. and when he (intends) to drink he should drink with his right hand, for the Satan eats with his left hand and drinks with his left hand.”
Eat or drink sitting down
“But those who disbelieve, enjoy themselves and eat as grazing livestock eat, and the Fire will be a residence for them.”
Anas (ra) reported that Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) forbade that a person should drink while standing. Qatada reported: “We said to him: What about eating?” Thereupon he (Anas) said: “That is even worse and more detestable (abominable).” [Muslim hadith]
Eating slowly is recommended for good health as it ensures that the food is thoroughly chewed and hence easier to digest. It also provides greater satiation.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,
“Calmness and patient deliberation is from Allah and haste is from Satan.”
This will help to eliminate your “closet” eating habits and the benefits of enjoying meals together will apply.
The Prophet (ﷺ) emphasized the importance of this when he said,
“Eat together and not separately, for the blessing is associated with the company.”
[Ibn Majah hadith]
The Companions of the Messenger (r.a) complained: ‘O Messenger of Allah, we eat but are not satiated.’ The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
‘Perhaps you eat separately?’ They replied that they did. He(ﷺ) said: “Eat your food together and say Bismillah before you start. That will bring blessings into your food.”
[Abu Dawud hadith]
Take small portions
You can always take more food if you feel you are still hungry. If you take a large portion but are satiated half way through, not wanting to waste it may make you eat it all.
Finish (clean) the plate without leftovers
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) commanded the licking of fingers and the gleaning of the dish, saying, “You do not know in which portion the blessing lies.” [Muslim hadith].
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,
“Satan appears at everything done by you; he appears even at one’s dinner. When a morsel of any of you falls, he should pick it up and remove any dirt on it, and then eat it. He should not leave it for Satan, nor should he wipe his hand with the towel until he has licked his fingers, for he does not know in what portion of the food the blessing lies.”
Be grateful to Allah during and after food or drink
“O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah, if it is Him that you worship.” [Quran-2:172]
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Verily, Allah is pleased with His servant when he eats a morsel and praises Him, and when he takes a drink and then praises him (Al-Hamdulillah).”
[Abu Dawud hadith]
Eat only what is permissible
People whose weakness is food may be tempted to turn a blind eye in matters such as the source of the food they are eating, what is in it or whether the meat is even zabiha or not, whereas Allah tells us in the Quran:
“O you People! Eat of what is on earth, Halal and pure, and do not follow the footsteps of the Satan; Indeed for he is to you an open enemy.”
“Eat not (O believers) of that meat on which Allah’s Name has not been pronounced (at the time of slaughtering) for sure it is disobedience of Allah (a sinful conduct).“
This is the most difficult thing for people who are obsessed with food or who love to eat, but it is the best training in self-discipline.
We need to keep reminding ourselves constantly that eating and drinking is not the sole purpose of a Muslim’s life. Yes, it is a form of worship if done in the right manner and with the intention of maintaining a healthy body in order to worship Allah properly, but if excessive consumption results in bad health, we need to heed Allah’s warnings in the Quran:
“Do not cause your own destruction”
“Do not kill yourself, for verily God is ever Merciful towards you”
“And eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.”
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said
“Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: one-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.”
[Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Hakim hadith]
Allaahumma laa sahlan illaa ma ja‘altahu sahlan wa anta taj‘alal hazna idha shi’ta sahla
Oh Allah! Nothing is easy except what You have made easy. If You wish, You can make the difficult easy.