Two years ago, I had an operation that changed my life. The result was a stomach that was 30 per cent of its original size, the loss of 145lb, and a more normal life for a guy in his early 20s. I have never seriously regretted taking that drastic step. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. But one thing I hadn't thought much about was the impact that drastically different eating habits would have on my fasting.
I had the operation in August 2008, only a few weeks before Ramadan began. Food was the last thing on my mind. I spent the first two weeks drinking liquids and eating yoghurt, and I could really do without it. But come Ramadan, my doctor said, depriving my body of what little nutrients it received was not a good idea. I shouldn't fast, he said. There was no way I was going to follow that to the letter. Missing out on Ramadan was out of the question. So I opted for a compromise - I would try to fast at least half of the holy month.
The days were pretty easy. It wasn't that I never wanted food. The craving for meat or any type of solid nourishment was sometimes maddening, but it was a craving for something I hadn't physically been able to taste for weeks. Meat, biscuits and pizza topped that list. I wasn't starving. When it was time for iftar, I didn't feel as if I had accomplished anything special. The thirst and hunger of Ramadans past was a distant memory.
Sure I felt faint at times, weakened by the drastic decline in food consumption. But I realised what I had lost the first time I almost threw up when I took a large bite of the iftar meal or swallowed my food too quickly. Not chewing my food properly, or eating a little more than squashed, moist rice lumps would cause racking pains as my stomach started getting used to human-sized portions of food.
Iftar was suddenly transformed. I confess, I was one of those who liked to overeat after the fast, and was amenable to gaining a pound or two during the month. Nothing like the milk and date treats, the sambousek, the Egyptian stuffed rolls or "mahshy", all the types of meat and chicken and quail, and the intricate sweets like qatayef and konafa. I couldn't have any of this. I sometimes got up a couple of minutes into the meal, lying in bed and wondering what I had done to myself. This wasn't the normal life I sought. Had I broken something in my attempt to fix things? I was miserable.
Two years later and many of those concerns in the immediate aftermath have evaporated. I've slowly become used to the smaller food portions. I've come to like my 185-pound body a lot more than the 330-pound one. I look forward to iftar, but mostly because I get to sit down with family that I previously saw once a week or once a month. I still eat like a mouse, a little date here, a spoon of rice there, and maybe a chicken drumstick. The rest of the time I sit back, cutlery unused in my plate, surveying the table and the big meal on hand. Then I listen to everyone talk.