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Help for the Heavy at Ramadan

Mehdi Saadati, 24, holds a photo of himself a year ago, when he was 350 pounds. Ramadan, his father said, was difficult for the family because of his son's gorging.
Mehdi Saadati, 24, holds a photo of himself a year ago, when he was 350 pounds. Ramadan, his father said, was difficult for the family because of his son's gorging. (Bu Newsha Tavakolian -- Polaris)

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Ramadan was on everyone's mind. Unlike most Sunni Muslims in Arab countries, some Shiite Iranians aren't very committed fasters and often will use one of numerous religiously permitted excuses to avoid participating in the Ramadan rituals. Those who travel more than 14 miles outside the city limits are exempted, as are menstruating women and those who physically are unable to go without food during the day.

But eating or drinking in public during Ramadan is considered a state offense, and violators can be fined and even jailed. So people on diets sometimes worry that they won't be able to maintain them.

Hosseinzadeh's mother proposed skipping her diet this month, but one of the clinic's doctors brushed aside her concerns.

"That is nonsense," said Faranak Zekri. "Haven't you visited our special Ramadan diet seminar?

"After sunset, drink a glass of warm milk, eat three dates and maybe some walnuts," Zekri said, looking strict and serious in a white lab coat. An hour and a half later, she advised, eat a normal meal. "Don't eat all your food at once; control yourself and wait. Losing weight is all about willpower."

At the Saadati home, Mehdi's mother showed her pride in her son, who has received several weight-loss awards from the clinic. "Mehdi, bring out your old suit for weddings," she told him. He returned with a voluminous black garment and matching belt, eight feet long.

As a special Ramadan television comedy series started and the family gathered around to watch, Mehdi, in a whisper, told a visitor why he decided to lose weight: "A girl promised she would marry me if I became thin."

But the marriage never came to pass. "Who cares about the girl?" his father said. "Think of us -- finally we are having a normal Ramadan, thank God."


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