ABU DHABI // As the full-time mother of six, Afra al Rumeithi is a busy woman. And yet she has made the time to lose 21kg in five months, and acquire curves in all the right places.
She is just one of the success stories of Mona al Hijazi, a fitness guru and natural body sculpting specialist. The technique is gaining converts rapidly and Ms al Hijazi, the only specialist in the region, has established a remarkable reputation.
A Gulf-based trainer, Ms al Hijai began teaching royalty and VIPs in 2005. She now runs courses at the General Women's Union (GWU).
Her holistic methods have touched the lives of many women and inspired others to follow in their footsteps.
"It's not just an aesthetic approach," Ms al Hijazi said. "I go to the core of the problem - even if that problem is psychological. You cannot truly treat someone unless you truly understand the root of the issue."
Body sculpting is said to allow clients to enhance or reduce body areas without invasive procedures, medication or extreme diets. Ms al Hijazi's clients usually commit an hour and 45 minutes a day to the programme, three to five times a week. Each programme is individualised, but courses generally consist of a diet consultation and an exercise session that involves yoga, aerobics, stretching and cardio.
"There are certain unused fats that are stored in the body," Ms al Hijazi said. "The right diet, exercise and muscle movements can help the body use those stored fats."
The methods and techniques that Ms al Hijazi teaches worked for herself, she said. In 2000, she was overweight, weighing 125kg. She managed to lose 30kg in 18 months but then wanted to lose more weight in a healthier way, and to tone her body in particular areas. In 2003, she took courses in weight loss, nutrition and body sculpting at a health academy in Lebanon. What she learnt there, she says, helped her shed another 30kg more easily.
"I wanted to share my life-changing experience with others," she said. "There is a lack of awareness in our culture when it comes to taking care of oneself and I wanted to change that."
Ms al Rumeithi, 39, recently was crowned Princess of Fitness and Beauty of Abu Dhabi in a competition that involved 80 women who have participated in Ms al Hijazi's programme.
"I always used to feel pain in my knees and had difficulty breathing," said Ms al Rumeithi, an Emirati. "My haemoglobin levels were also extremely low. It reached a point where I decided it was time to change my life."
After enrolling in the body sculpting programme, Ms al Rumeithi dropped 21kg in five months. And her physical ailments were relieved, she said.
"I was enrolled in seven different programmes; each programme tackled a different issue," she said. "My family noticed a change to my outlook on life. My own sons say they don't look at me as a mother anymore, but as a sister."
Diet experts say that using a combination of a balanced diet and exercise is the best approach to losing weight.
"The diet should consist of three main meals, two healthy snacks and contain good carbs," said Hala Abu Taha, a dietician specialist at Right-Bite, a nutrition and catering company. "Excercise is also recommended no more than an hour a day and four or five times a week."
Ms Taha said that the ideal pace of weight loss is 4kg a month. Losing more than 6kg a month is very harmful, she said.
"A person should ideally lose 1kg a week. It's been scientifically proven that a body cannot burn fat at a rate more than 5kg a month. If this happens, it means the body is losing water and muscle mass. Water weight can easily return, and a loss of muscle mass can slow down the metabolic rate. This can result in quick relapse."
However, Ms Taha said body sculpting can be an effective programme with an appealing name, but sometimes it can be misleading.
"I have clients that come in asking me what foods they can eat to increase their breast size, or asking me if apple juice will help them lose the fat in their stomach. These are all myths," she said. "While exercise can help control the muscles and lose fat and tone particular areas, food and beverages cannot control the way fat is distributed."
And that is precisely why when students ask al Ms Hijazi for the "secret ingredient" that might increase their bust size, she responds: "There's no such thing. You can't pinpoint one item and say that this will do the trick. You must take into consideration every individual's body type, and diet and exercise must work together to see results."
Ms al Hijazi's vision of ingraining a sense of health and "me time" in women is slowly coming true for her clients.
"I used to neglect my appearance; everything else always came first and I didn't dedicate time to myself," Ms Rumeithi said. "Now, I can't go on without it."