DUBAI// Ramadan: a time for self-reflection, a month of devotion and worship. When Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset. These days however, it has also become a month of feasting from sunset to sunrise.
Though many might think that people generally should lose weight during Ramadan, it is quite the opposite. It is the busiest time of the year in the kitchen as each household tries to outdo its neighbour in preparing the best spread of traditional dishes as well as showing off new recipes.
And here I am with my bowl of salad. All I can do is let out a quiet whimper as rice, pasta, curries and sauces pass me by, not to mention a plethora of golden-fried yummies that are somehow always within my reach no matter where I sit.
It all started as a dare from an old friend a few weeks ago. I was at the Dubai Municipality press conference announcing their Your Weight in Gold community weight loss initiative. The civic body was offering every participant a gram of gold for every kilogram they could sweat off. And on the panel happened to be Ahmad bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC), which was sponsoring the initiative.
Just as they opened the floor to question, Mr bin Sulayem had some of his own to ask, and they were directed at me. It was no secret that I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. In fact, I was at the centre of a very public weight loss campaign a couple of years ago. His questions were about that very campaign.
Though I did not hit my target, I found success nonetheless. I had lost almost 20kg in six months and another 10kg in the following months. I had a strict diet and a high-impact exercise plan, which included cage fighting, wrestling, boxing and strength and conditioning training.
I have never had a serious injury doing activities that usually result in serious injury. So it should not have been a surprise that I would survive my combat training unscathed only to injure my back gardening.
I had three compressed discs in my lower back and was unable to move much for many weeks. Doctors told me to stop all physical activities and sports. The only exercise I was allowed to do was swimming. Though I did not need surgery right away, any impact could cause the discs to slip.
The doctors will reassess my exercise options once I lose 50kg.
It was a serious warning. But to be honest, I have been using that warning as a crutch, an excuse to be lazy.
Mr bin Sulayem dared me to join the initiative, so I did. I weighed in at 149.5kg - surprisingly I found I had already lost 6kg since the beginning of Ramadan. That is six grams of gold I am not going to get. Just for the sake of support, I managed to reel a few friends and family members into the programme as well.
I have my Iftar and Suhoor at the family majlis where we entertain guests throughout the month. Needless to say, the selection of food is ample and varied, save for the fact that there is a distinct lack of anything remotely lean or healthy. The closest we get to a salad is a plate of pickled and spiced onions and radish leaves. Not to mention the over-flowing dessert table which is on display so long as the sun is not.
For the past two weeks I have been walking into the majlis with my Tupperware container, getting bemused and curious stares. I would eat my salad and stare at their plates. I would eat my celery and breathe in the sweet aroma wafting from the dishes just out of my reach. I would stuff myself on the fibrous flesh of the tropical almonds that I am so thankful are in season right now.
My old coach, Tam Khan, has a new gym which is now even closer to the majlis. Glory MMA & Fitness is packed with all the equipment and space one could want to get back into training, and I have been tempted every day to just ignore those quacks and get back to training. Procrastination is my biggest flaw; somehow I seem to always find an excuse for myself.
Now, the municipality has extended the initiative till the end of August. I have another month to test the limits of my will. I do intend to continue with this, though. I am not in it for the gold, although it is an interesting incentive. I will probably end up giving it away. But I intend to keep the weight off this time.
It is going to get tougher before it gets easier. Eid is on the way and turning the other cheek at every offer of cake and sweets I get will be a challenge. But no one said it was going to be easy. It never has been easy, especially at the beginning. So as they say, just take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and one bite of disgusting celery at a time.