It's so common that it even has a phrase - the Dubai stone - coined in its dubious honour. The propensity to pile on kilos after moving to the UAE is one that is familiar to the overwhelming majority of the UAE's many expats.
With a generally sedentary lifestyle that sees most of us drive to the office, spend our working days sitting at a desk then return home to end up on the couch watching TV, it's easy to get little or no exercise at all.
Add to this a social scene largely centred on eating out, with ‘American sized portions' and the almost legendary Friday brunches being two of the main culprits, and it's little wonder so many of us find that our entire wardrobe has mysteriously shrunk after a year here.
But rather than lay the blame squarely at the feet of car-driven, fast-food-laden living and resign ourselves to our tubby fates, how about making a resolution to shed all the unnecessary kilos this year and kick-start that healthy new life we've been promising ourselves?
Apart from improving your health it can also be a life-changing experience. Friday met three UAE residents who lost an amazing 45kg in total in just eight weeks to become the UAE's biggest shrinkers...
Greg Brewer, 40, fire-fighter and paramedic nurse
Total weight loss: 15kg
I’d put on weight since moving to Abu Dhabi from the US in September 2010. It’s so easy to eat a high-calorie diet here – there are the popular Friday brunches and bakeries and ice-cream shops on almost every street corner.
My wife Janet and I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Sam, who has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, [a congenital heart disease in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped], and over the last two years she has had two open heart surgeries. So I spent a lot of time shuttling to and from the hospital, grabbing convenience food on the go, which contributed to my substantial weight gain, until I ended up tipping the scales at 91kg. I also took time out from working as a fire-fighter and paramedic nurse to look after Sam full-time, so the transition to a stay-at-home dad was another factor.
After a year none of my clothes fitted any more and I didn’t like the way I looked. When a neighbour said she’d joined the Biggest Shrinker competition my wife turned to me and said: ‘I dare you to join, you’re so stubborn I bet you’ll win!’
My target was to lose the 15kg I’d put on and to fit into the trousers I was wearing the year before. During the competition, I drastically transformed my diet and lifestyle. I’m American, from the South, and we like our fried food, but I cut that out along with sugar and sodas.
It was tough: I craved all the foods I couldn’t have and didn’t lose any weight the first week. But after that, my weight loss was pretty steady, about 1-1.5kg a week.
I wanted to change my lifestyle so I could set a good example for my daughter. She only has half a heart and really has no choice but to maintain a healthy diet in the future. I started going to the gym, and at first would do about 20 minutes on the treadmill, hoping to burn 100-200 calories.
I gradually upped the amount and level of exercise I was doing until, by the end of the competition, I was doing three hours on the cross-country ski machine and burning 1600-1700 calories. I had to make a conscious effort to fit exercise into my schedule. I’d go the gym from nine to 11 every evening so I could put my little girl to bed first.
It soon became something I looked forward to and I felt much better afterwards. I’ve lost enough weight now and am 76kg, so my new aim is to build muscle. I plan to maintain my weight loss by continuing to be active and sticking to moderate indulgences. It’s all about changing your habits.
Breakfast: A big burger from McDonald’s, fries, soda.
Lunch: Fried chicken or a fast-food meal.
Dinner: Fried chicken or meat, soda or a fizzy drink.
Snacks: Chocolate croissants, crisps.
Diet during and after
Breakfast: Coffee with low-fat milk and a banana.
Lunch: Green salad with a palm-sized portion of chicken, meat or fish.
Dinner: A portion of grilled chicken, salad and fruits.
Snacks: A handful of almonds or one fruit.
Vera Invanova, 46, painter
Total weight loss: 16.8kg
I put on weight because I was eating badly and didn’t do any exercise. It crept on but suddenly I began to feel uncomfortable and hated going clothes shopping as nothing looked nice any more. I didn’t look good in any of the things I tried on. I had to stick to the cuts and shapes that made me look a little thinner and it even limited the colours I could wear. I kept wanting to do something about my size, but never did – until I saw a flyer about the Biggest Shrinker competition.
At 82.5kg, I knew I needed to lose weight, but nothing I’d tried had really worked so I thought why not? In a sense, I had nothing to lose (except some excess weight)! I persuaded my daughter, Laila, 26, to join me so we could egg each other on.
When I entered the competition, a nutritionist briefed us on the importance of sticking to a healthy diet. ‘Eat sensibly’ was one of the most important things she told me. I also found the motivational talks helpful. Every week an expert such as a nutritionist or a dietician would give us tips on good food habits.
One of the speakers, nutritional therapist Laura Holland, was a great tutor and helped me see that what I should be doing is to permanently restructure my eating habits to correspond with my body’s needs, rather than go on short-term diets. I’d never been able to stick to a diet before, as I tended to lose interest and motivation very quickly, but this time turned out to be different.
The first week I lost around 3kg. When I was hungry, or tempted to eat something that I shouldn’t, I’d talk to Laila and her support helped me through. We also printed our weight on a piece of paper and stuck it on the fridge after the group weigh-in every Saturday. It helped us remain focused and to walk away from the fridge. For the first three weeks I really missed sweets; I did my best to stay away from them but if I really felt the need for something sugary, I would give myself just a small piece of cake once in a while, to help me keep going. I also had a ‘cheat meal’ every Saturday after the weigh-in, when I allowed myself to satisfy some of my sweetie cravings.
As I lost weight I started feeling more energetic and began going to the gym four times a week, for two hours at a time. I started with cardio and aerobics, which was unpleasant at first! Every single part of my body ached. The target weight I had in mind when I first entered the competition was 65kg and when I reached it I was so excited!
I lost around 20 per cent of my body mass, which I’m very proud of, and when I was announced as having won second place at the award ceremony, I was just overwhelmed. I am now 65.7kg. These days, I enjoy being more active. If I sit still for too long I become restless and feel the need to do something, which wasn’t the case before. I can walk for miles and feel perfectly fine now. I’m more energetic and sports have become an important part of my life, so I’m constantly moving. I rarely have cravings for sweets and I never drinks sodas, which I used to have all the time before − I feel healthier, stronger and younger.
Breakfast: A cup of coffee.
Lunch: Rice, vegetables, bread, a few slices of cake.
Dinner: Bread and rice, grilled meat, soda.
Snack: A packet of crisps or a slice of cake.
Diet during and after
Breakfast: A cup of coffee with low-fat milk.
Lunch: Salad and grilled seafood.
Dinner: A large serving of cut fresh fruit and yogurt.
Snack: Vegetable sticks.
Deniz Jamal, 36, senior architect
Total weight loss: 13.4kg
I had gained 30kg since moving here from Iraq in 2003, partly because I was eating more and doing less, and also because my job requires me to sit in front of a computer for at least nine hours a day. I weighed 91.9kg. After work I didn’t have the energy or the time to exercise, nor the time to cook, so I would just end up eating junk food. I tried different diets after I first started gaining weight, but nothing really worked.
This time it worked because the competition, and the encouragement and support it gave me, helped me to stay motivated and remain focused on working out and eating well. I didn’t follow a strict diet as such – I think there’s always a risk that you’ll get bored with diets and not see them through – so it was more a case of switching to healthier eating habits in general.
My eating habits used to be very irregular. I didn’t have breakfast and I would often eat my main meal late at night. But during the competition I changed that and I’m much more organised now. The new eating and exercise plan could be difficult to stick to but there were things that kept me going. One was the spirit of the competition, and another was the ‘cheat meal’ I had every Saturday.
The latter psychologically kept me going when the diet got tough, knowing that Saturday was my ‘happy day’.
During the competition, I started going to the gym five or six times a week and these days I feel like there’s something wrong if I don’t go to the gym even for a day. I now weigh 78.5kg and I’m not quite as strict as I give myself two ‘cheat days’. I still eat a lot of salads however and I remain diligent about portion control and go to the gym five or six times a week. Entering this competition is the best thing I’ve ever done, after marrying my husband!
Breakfast: A cup of instant coffee with low-fat milk.
Lunch: Two small Arabic breads, rice and a plate of vegetables with meat or chicken. Or a Burger King meal, with extra-large fries!
Dinner: Two big Arabic breads, cheese, labneh, mortadella and salad.
Snacks: Lots of chips and/or nuts.
Diet during and after
Breakfast: Eggs with spinach, fruit, coffee.
Lunch: Fruit, large salad, water.
Dinner: Salad, grilled meat, water.
Snacks: Yogurt, a bowl of fruit.