Ep. 19: Doha Salem & James Anunciacion - A Ramadan Special

Doha Salem
Clinical Dietitian, North Memorial Medical Ctr.

James Anunciacion
Husband, Father, Fitness Role Model

This episode is a very special, timely, and quite unique one as rather than talking about the consumption of food, we’ll do a full 180 and talk about the abstinence from it! Many of you might be aware that we are nearing the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.  I’m fortunate enough to be observing it this year for a second time and this episode really came out of a few thoughts.  One, whenever I hear conversations about Ramadan - from my time growing up in Saudi Arabia till I was in my late teens and up until now - they always seem to fall into either/or scenarios: the cultural or the nutritional, for Muslims by faith or Muslims by habit, for those part of a large, supportive community/extended family or those living as the rare Muslim in the workplace.  Conversations never seemed to overlap or explore the intersections of the dialog and so I wanted to try to get some other perspectives on the show.  Personally, I’ve found Ramadan - its fasts and what it stands for - to be an extremely powerful, meaningful, and beautiful experience that I think anyone regardless of faith should at least attempt to understand, if not try participating in, especially during these times when solidarity, compassion, and willful restraint are sorely needed.  Being a part of the pre-dawn or more commonly the sunset meals with friends, family, and strangers alike literally brings our motto of “Breaking Bread and Breaking Boundaries” to life. 

This episode is also special because we’re not only featuring one but TWO guests who’ll be talking about Ramadan from 2 very different perspectives in one episode.  First up we have Doha Salem, a clinical dietitian currently with North Memorial Medical Center, MN.  She’ll cover some of the oft-overlooked parts of Ramadan specifically around the nutritional components of fasting:

- The physiology during a fast
- The benefits and risks
- Preparing, observing, and exiting a fast safely
- Mental preparation

If you are very familiar with Ramadan but never thought about its effects on your health or perhaps you’re thinking of going into a similar type fast, give this deeper dive a go.  

Following her we have a friend and Brother of ours, James Anunciacion, a husband, father, currently working in the field of Planning/Logistics for General Mills, and who actually began observing Ramadan well into his adult years.  James also accomplished the amazing feat of getting himself through a lifestyle transformation program a few years back, losing over 50 lbs. in just 6 months.  We talked about:

- Ramadan's cultural, mental, and spiritual meaning for him
- Balancing it with the demands of a job and a growing family
- Physical fitness
- Ramadan as a teachable moment

For those who think that Ramadan is a time to be lazy and eat a ton of greasy food when the sun sets, definitely give his talk a listen.  Listening to both Doha and James’s stories will give you a unique and varied perspective on Ramadan.  Ramadan Mubarak!


*Disclaimer: views expressed here are entirely mine and the guests'.  They do not constitute medical advice.  Please consult your doctor or a medical professional before starting a fast, exercise regimen, diet, testing, or participating in any of the topics covered in this podcast.  



5:30 - What is Dietetics and what does a Dietitian do?
7:15 - What is Ramadan?  // Basics, Dishes, Exemptions
12:00 - Benefits of fasting
14:20 - Physiological effects of fasting // Hormonal changes, meal sizing and timing, the “Rollercoaster Effect" 
18:00 - What is malnutrition?  Can fasting lead to malnutrition?
20:15 - Intermittent Fasting and its Variations // When “Extreme Restricted Caloric Intake" goes wrong
22:15 - Signs of "overfasting"
25:00 - More on Dietetics: Problems a clinical dietitian fixes through food    
27:15 - Things to track: Weight, % change in weight, cholesterol
29:10 - Preparing for a fast
31:05 - Factoring in physical activity // Superhuman Muslim athletes
34:30 - Optimal macronutrient breakdowns
35:15 - Exiting a fast
36:40 - A dietitian’s perception of Ramadan
39:00 - Mentally focusing through Ramadan // “Why” are you fasting?


48:20 - What Ramadan means to James // Transitioning into Ramadan
51:15 - Suhur, Iftar, and Meal Prepping
56:35 - Ramadan "Test Runs” and Prepwork
1:00:15 - James’s first Ramadan experience: What was easy?  What was challenging?
1:03:25 - How Ramadan has changed through the years for James
1:06:00 - James’s fitness routines, diet, and lifestyle changes // Losing 50+ lbs./50% fat over 6 months
1:12:05 - Pre-Ramadan adjustments around exercise and diet // “Pumping the brakes"
1:16:35 - Navigating perceptions around Ramadan // Meal time “teachable moments"
1:19:00 - Ramadan in the work environment
1:22:45 - Conversations and observations of Ramadan with James’s children

Rapid Fire with Doha:
Most Influential Person: Doha's dad + Prof. Malki Miller, one of the first female dietitians to work with premature babies
Most Useful Tool(s): Pair of workout sneakers
3 Ingredients That Describe Doha: Coffee, High Fat Creamer, Cinnamon
If Doha's Life Story was written in one sentence: "Eat Real Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants"
Resource for the Common Person: Anything by Michael Pollan (ex: "The Omnivore's Dilemma")

Rapid Fire with James:
Most Influential Person: James's wife
Most Useful Tool(s): Gym membership + Beats by Dre headphones
3 Ingredients That Describe James: Sriracha, Chocolate, Soy Sauce
If James's Life Story was written in one sentence: "Leave the world a better place than when you entered it"
Resource for the Common Person: "What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims" by Susan Hanif
Follow James at: @jamestotheizzay (IG), SoniaSahar.com (James's wife's blog)

Vocab & Other Links:
Suhur & Iftar - the pre-dawn and sunset meals respectively.  The fast occurs in between them.
Insulin & Glucagon: Hormones affected during fasting
Macronutrients & Micronutrients
Tube feeds - method of supplying the body with nutrition when it has trouble eating by inserting a tube into the stomach through the abdomen
BMI - "Body Mass Index", a measure of health calculated by dividing body mass by the square of body height
Subcutaneous Fat - fat that's stored directly under the skin; not necessarily hazardous to health compared to unseen "visceral" fat
Intermittent Fasting Variations: 5:2, Alternate Day, Modified Fasting Time, etc.
Glycogen - form of energy storage usually kept in the liver and muscles
MyFitnessPal - Calorie/Diet/Exercise Tracking Tool
NICU: "Neonatal Intensive Care Unit", part of the hospital for newborns with extra medical needs
    Renal Panel
    Metabolic Profile
    Body Composition Testing (of these, I have tried and repeated tests via the Air Displacement Plethysmography method commonly known as the BodPod)
    Cholesterol Testing
Complex Carbohydrate
Article: “Exercising Vigorously Before Iftar a Health Risk UAE Experts Say"
Knafeh - Middle Eastern pastry consisting of soft white cheese topped with crispy vermicelli, semolina dough, and a thick syrup scented with rosewater
Eid al-Fitr - Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan
Dallah or Rakwa pots for Kahwa (Arabic coffee)
Fajr - one of the five daily obligatory Islamic prayers recited at dawn
Dates (fruit)
Shahada - Islamic Creed or profession of faith recited when one reverts to Islam
Lent - Christian religious observance extending from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday (about six weeks) marked by prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the repentance of sins
Fitness terms:
    Strength Training
    HIIT ("High Intensity Interval Training")
    Steady State Cardio
Glutamine - most abundant amino acid (building block of protein) found in muscle and blood
Podcast: "See Something, Say Something by Buzzfeed, Ep. 26: The Fast and the Furious"

Photo credit: Rizvi Arts