My Wellness Wins: Dr Saleyha Ahsan

BBC2’s ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’ expert, journalist and broadcaster, 49, shares her Ramadan wellbeing tips – and her hubby’s delicious soup recipe!

My morning ritual… During Ramadan [a month of deep prayer, blessing and reflection, when observant Muslims fast during sunlight hours], my body clock is all over the place. I pray five times a day, starting when I wake. Disconnecting from the world for five minutes each time is lovely, like a form of meditation. If I rise before dawn, I’ll have a cup of decaf coffee – caffeine is a diuretic, so best avoided when you’re fasting – a banana and some dates. If I get up after sunrise, I’m [not allowed to] eat or drink anything. Yes, it’s tough, but Ramadan is a time to exercise self-restraint and my body quickly adjusts.

My bedtime routine… Dinner is eaten as late as 9pm, after sunset and before evening prayer at the mosque. Before bed, I watch TV or do emails for half an hour, while sipping a cup of mint tea, maybe with a slice of toast or cake – just in case I can’t wake for the pre-dawn breakfast!

I always tell my loved ones to… Make the most of Ramadan. The month is prescribed for us to take some time out, slow down and reconnect with God. When I finish Ramadan there’s always a sense of achievement and gratitude for family togetherness. This will be the first time we’ve done it without my mum [Fauzia, 75], who died in October. Ramadan teaches you to not take things for granted.

I love to cook… Whatever I’ve craved during the day! And eating my husband’s hearty, delicious harira soup – lamb, onions, garlic, vermicelli, coriander and gorgeous north-African mixed spices. It’s important to get a good, balanced diet of protein, fruits and vegetables during the short time food is allowed. During Ramadan, I cut back on salt so I’m not thirsty the next day when I can’t drink. When I can, I aim to drink two litres of water daily.

My favourite mantra is Be grateful for what you’ve got. I did Bear Grylls Celebrity Island [in 2018] and although we were deprived of food, at least we could drink water! My claim to fame is I found water with Martin Kemp. Not many people can say that.

My favourite way of relaxing is… Listening to recitals of our holy book, the Qur’an, on YouTube. I’m not a great one for reading spiritual texts – if I’ve made it to the third chapter by the end of Ramadan, I’m chuffed. Sleep is important for energy conservation, so if I’ve got holiday to take, I’ll book time off during Ramadan.

Exercise to me involves… Walking! During Ramadan, strenuous exercise isn’t recommended, so I’ll walk to the mosque instead of jumping in the car. Praying is also very physical and involves standing, bending, kneeling and prostrating. In many ways it’s like yoga.

My biggest turn on… I get excited by getting a scoop. I was a journalist before I was a doctor. I started out in BBC local radio in my twenties and now split my time between medicine and journalism. When I get a good bit of access to a news story that nobody else can get, I do a dance around the room!

The bad habit I’m glad I’ve kicked… Chocolate. I don’t like it. I was in the British army [as a former captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps] for four years and part of our rations were bars of chocolate, and it really put me off. At 3am I’d be starving, cold and only had a frozen Mars bar to eat. It was disgusting. Now I associate chocolate with being tired, freezing and on a military exercise in the middle of nowhere!

I inject positivity into my life by… Reading. I recently got a book called Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, which is all about having control and positivity in your life. It’s a fantastic read.

No.1 on my gratitude list is… The NHS. Seeing what is being done on a daily basis gives me goosebumps. I’m also grateful for the opportunities afforded to me because of what my parents went through – their journey to the UK, their struggles and the racism they endured. But also the opportunities they found. Their example has led to me serving the community and my country – first as an army officer and now as a doctor. Caring for people never ceases to be a privilege.