PARIS A new French book is advising Muslims how to stay slim and fit during Ramadan, a difficult task for many believers although they fast from dawn to dusk for the whole of the holy month.
Ramadan, which began on Thursday in France, is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. Practicing Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex during daylight hours, a discipline intended to better their souls.
But clerics and medics say the iftar meal to break the fast after sunset has become ever more lavish in recent times, encouraged by the Arab cultural emphasis on big family meals.
Alain Delabos, a doctor who has written several books on dieting, said some Muslims turned the iftar meal into "a nocturnal orgy of sugary food from sunset to sunrise".
"That leads some to end Ramadan with more weight than they had before and others ... to see signs of diabetes or an excess in cholesterol emerge," Delabos writes in his book "Chrono-nutrition - Ramadan special" which came out last month.
Providing recipes ranging from roasted figs to red mullet with fennel or lentil soup, Delabos advises Muslims to eat one sugary dish at the end of the day's fast, another light, savory dish before going to bed and a savory meal before sunrise.
In France, where Europe's largest Muslim minority lives, some Muslims agreed weight gain had become a growing concern for women who struggled to maintain their waistlines while enjoying iftar meal after iftar meal with family and friends.
Aiming to cater to all family tastes, iftar meals usually involve traditional sugary drinks, at least one starchy dish, a meat-based dish and a vegetable dish. The dinner is rounded off with tasty desserts dripping in syrup and nuts.
"You have to be very careful what you eat in the evenings because that's when you put on the weight," said Sonia Boyer, a nurse in Paris, adding she had already tried to shed some weight before Ramadan started.
Studies by health experts have shown that many Muslims gain weight during the month of fasting and that average consumption of food soars during the period in some Arab countries.
"I pay attention to what I eat," said Boyer, a 40-year-old of Moroccan origin, but added that people should not get obsessed with their body.
"It's the holy month. It's not a dieting month," she said.
Malika Sabah, a 48-year-old Muslim woman shopping on a busy street in northern Paris, said waistlines were not such an issue during the holy month years ago.
"Our mothers didn't worry about that," Sabah said. "But the concept of beauty has changed. When I look at my nieces -- they watch these television series and they all want to be like the actors. They all want to be thin."