For an entire month, Nadia Ahmad is abstaining from gossip and senseless anger. She's also passing on food and water from dawn to sunset.
Ahmad is a 26-year-old follower of Islam and is observing Ramadan. The holiday is the "most sacred month of the year for Muslims," according to Vox; it's a time of "spiritual discipline" where observers examine their relationship with God and focus on being more generous.
Ramadan falls at a different time every year, as Islam follows a moon calendar. This year, dinner typically starts around 9 p.m. Eastern in the United States, because Ramadan takes place during the long summer days. Many people wake up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning to eat their breakfast.
Fasting might just be the most well-known aspect of Ramadan. Those who observe the month — which runs from June 5 to July 5 in 2016 — eat only two times a day. The first meal, called iftar, is consumed after the sun sets. The second meal, suhur, is eaten before dawn.
Mic spoke to a number of people across the country who are fasting this year. Ramadan observers go to work and school and live their daily lives without eating.
For those who've never fasted, especially in our food-obsessed culture, the situation is nearly unimaginable. The eight interviewees below spoke to Mic spoke to opened up about a number of challenges they face during Ramadan, from getting enough sleep to raising kids to finding new ways to hang with friends that don't involve brunch.
(The following interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Nadia Ahmad, 26, New York City
Program assistant for Asian American Writers' Workshop
Years fasting: 16
On getting work done:
During Ramadan, I largely go through my day as I normally would, but I feel my body moving more slowly. Attention and energy both slack and sharpen at different times. Trying to get any work, writing or reading done during this time sounds great in theory because I'm not spending any time eating, but that isn't quite the case. In practice, it's much more difficult to get work done. I have to be aware of how much my body and mind are able to handle, and while a bit of a tolerance may develop as the days pass, it's hard to concentrate during work.
On breaking the fast:
Contrary to popular belief, I find that it's really hard to eat ravenously during iftar because the digestive system loses practice over the course of the day. It's tradition to break fast at sundown by eating dates and having a few sips of water.
On eating chocolate chip cookies for breakfast:
We try to stick to maintaining a wholesome and nourishing diet, but you know, all things in moderation, so I do reach for some of the yummy fried snacks that are common at South Asian iftars, such as a battered eggplant dish called beguni and meaty kebabs. In the morning before dawn, I try to eat oatmeal (because it sticks to your ribs!), sometimes with fruit — or chocolate chip cookies.
Nadeem Ahmad, 23, New York City
Financial services professional
Years fasting: 12 to 15
On mental strains:
On day one of fasting, I always alternate between, "This isn't so bad!" and, "How much longer?" I also come to the realization that eating and drinking consumes a great deal of time that would be better spent working (or napping). Usually by day 10, I manage to stop falling asleep at the office and have settled into a rhythm.
On the temptation to quit:
Around day 13, just as the rhythm settles, I begin to ask myself if I could skip a day of fasting here or there — I'm not that religious anyways. The thoughts last me until the day's iftar, and then it's too late to break the fast and commit a sin anyways.
Jordan Alam, 24, Seattle
Writer and domestic violence shelter advocate
Years fasting: 10
On the differences between fasting as a child and as an adult:
Iftar in our home growing up was pretty uneventful; we did not have big parties as others do. It was only in college when I was fasting on my own that things shifted. Iftar became a big occasion to see friends and community groups, while suhur became curiously lonely and much, much harder to wake up for.
On the importance of eating healthy:
I try to make myself balanced meals at home during Ramadan (even more balanced than the rest of the year). Typically I'll eat the leftovers from the previous night for suhur — curried chicken and rice, mashed potatoes and pumpkin oatmeal — and make something new for iftar. Bengalis often break the fast with fruit and fried foods, but I don't make that each night. Instead, I'll eat a lot of soluble fiber.
Mecca Islam, 23, Chicago
Years fasting: 19
On how Ramadan can be relaxing:
Ramadan and a day of fasting is actually a relaxing time for me. I focus on myself and try to make myself better. I do things like practice yoga right after suhur. Fasting allows me to actually focus on work. I find that I am calmer and less stressed. I also try to be more appreciative of all of what I have.
On the challenges of meal time:
While I was sick for the first week of fasting this year, the rest of the month has been fine. My biggest challenge is making sure I don't eat anything too heavy. For suhur I eat things like fresh fruit, yogurt and homemade muffins, and for iftar I try to eat something protein-packed as well as leafy greens.
Chaumtoli Huq, 44, and Marvin Cabrera, 45, New York City
Years fasting: Around 20
On social life changes:
For most of Ramadan, I try to maintain our normal schedule and spend time with friends. Instead of meeting up for lunch, I offer to meet up and sit down or, now that it's warm, go for a walk since I can't eat.
On fasting when prone to migraines:
Fasting has always been a challenge for me because I suffer from severe migraines, which are triggered by heat and lack of water — two things that are abundant in the summertime. My anemia also makes me quite tired. But I've learned about some foods to eat during suhur, like smoothies made from things like kale and blueberries, to help me hydrate. Feeding myself during Ramadan with these challenges has made me more aware of foods and their impacts on my body.
Years fasting: 3
On fasting as a non-Muslim:
I am not a Muslim, but my wife Chaumtoli is, so I have started fasting during Ramadan. Fasting has helped me develop more focus and make the most of my time because I tend to get tired more quickly, especially during the first few days. One major adjustment has been my exercise schedule. In order to forget about my hunger, I sometimes run close to iftar.
On sleeping patterns:
I wake up at 3:30 in the morning with my wife, and we eat food that was thoughtfully prepared by her mother the night before. As the day progresses, and now that I'm in my third year fasting, I rarely think of food. However, after finishing work and en route to picking up the children, hunger begins to creep into my thoughts. By the time sunset occurs, I am ready to eat everything in sight, but with experience and patience, I have slowed myself and become more deliberate in how I approach eating and food.
Hira Rizvi, 28, New York City
Stay-at-home mom and public health masters student
Years fasting: 19
On sleeping patterns:
During Ramadan I wake up at 3:30 in the morning to have suhur, which is a cup of coffee (I'm addicted) and a smoothie. Then I usually wait about 30 minutes before getting in bed and pray just so the food has time to digest before sleeping again until my daughter wakes up. This Ramadan has been the hardest for me. It is very long (thanks to the summer days) and having a toddler is exhausting. My major challenge is a lack of sleep.
On how fasting "shrinks" the stomach:
We eat things like spring rolls that I make with coleslaw and chicken and samosas I bake in the oven for iftar. I also make things like chickpea salads and fruit salads as well as fish tacos and lentil soups. We usually take 10-minute breaks when eating because our stomachs have shrunk so much during fasting that it's easy to get full fast.
Sara Mir, 26, Washington, D.C.
Pharmaceutical territory manager
Years fasting: 13
On becoming more conscious about food:
There are times during Ramadan that I can't participate in all the things I want to do because I am fasting. But it is during this time that I also realize how little food is actually needed to survive, and after Ramadan I become more conscious about excessive eating and also wasting food that I realize would be cherished by so many around the world.
On staying energized:
Over the years I've found that eggs are a good meal for suhur that keeps me energized during the day. I usually have two eggs with toast and yogurt. I also try to drink lots of water to keep myself from being dehydrated during the day.