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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

From fat to fit: Cutting out animal products is one thing, eating healthily is another

A life and diet free of animal products was never going to be as simple as it sounds

Tidjoori Biorganic Vegan Cafe, one of a variety of eateries in the UAE that serves meat-free dishes. Courtesy Tidjoori
Tidjoori Biorganic Vegan Cafe, one of a variety of eateries in the UAE that serves meat-free dishes. Courtesy Tidjoori

Few decisions in my life have roused as much curiosity among friends, family and colleagues as my resolve to give up animal products. It’s practically the only thing people want to talk to me about, with reactions ranging from laughter and derision to genuine questioning and even outright sympathy. And yet I haven’t gone full v**** (I still cannot bring myself to use the v-word). I haven’t cut up my wool suits, I still possess my collection of silk ties and my shoes remain leather, as do the seats and steering wheel in my car. I simply decided to stop eating meat and, wherever possible, avoid dairy.

My coach at Iconic Fitness, Hannes Loubser, who’s helping me sort my back maladies and increase my fitness levels, had warned me that a wholesale shift in diet, from mainly eating “healthy” fat and protein to foods high in carbohydrate, would upset my system for a while. He’s always right, which can be mildly annoying to a committed couch potato like me – it’s almost like having two wives at times.

I jest, of course. But Loubser, as understanding and non-judgemental as he is about my decision to cut out animal products, remains genuinely concerned that I’m not getting the right nutrients and suggests there’s a danger that, bizarrely for me, I won’t be consuming sufficient calories, which could derail my progress. To reassure him (and myself), I’ve begun following a few like-minded athletes and bodybuilders on Instagram, reasoning that if they can perform so well on eating plants, then so can I.

A few weeks in and I’m enjoying being meat and dairy free. For all of my life, I have viewed those items as dietary staples and, especially when I was following a “keto” diet, I had little else to keep me going. And now the opposite is true, my conscience is not the only thing that’s clear – I really do feel better for it physically and I’ve not noticed any drop in my energy levels when working out. The food we’re eating at home is tasty, light and almost entirely plant based, although I haven’t yet managed to drink black tea and still need a small splash of white stuff.

To help in my quest I have downloaded an app to my smartphone called Happy Cow, which uses geo-positioning to identify vegan and vegetarian restaurants and cafes, and it works anywhere in the world. And it’s when I use it that I realise that, despite the dramatic upswing in the number of plant munchers in recent months, this region still has a long way to go when it comes to catering for them. Many establishments seem to pay lip service with menus that might have one suitable dish among dozens that feature meat and fish, and even a five-star Dubai hotel I stayed in recently could only come up with a feeble pasta-and-tomato-sauce dish when asked if there were options.

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Read more from Kevin:

Find the right coach to reach your goals

Results after a month of hurt

Staying the course when one is sick

Sorting out the diet one week at a time

Getting started with the first workout

Facing the hard truths

Sedentary with sciatica, it’s time for a fitness fix

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The result can often be unhealthy choices made out of desperation, resulting in the cobbling together of a few options like fries and other things that would have Loubser choking on his chickpeas if he knew. So, begrudgingly, I have decided that eating out is a pastime that’s had its day. But even grabbing food on the go is a problem, with plenty of junk food for sale wherever I turn but precious little else. Yes, I’m aware that there are places out there where I’ll be able to order the kinds of dishes that I want. I just need to do some more research.

Next week I’ll be getting weighed and measured again, which is something that’s irking me slightly because, while my body adjusts to this entirely new way of eating, it is bound to affect the results.

Having said that, it’s a blip in my progress and I’m sure things will settle down. In the meantime, I’m enjoying sampling foods that, until now, I wouldn’t have dreamt of having. Mrs H, keen to join me in my efforts for at least a month, has made some delicious meals. Who’d have thought “meat” crafted from walnut paste would make such a fantastic beef substitute? I’ve also discovered a restaurant in Dubai Marina called Habibi Burger, whose beetroot and quinoa burger is quite magnificent. I just need to go easy on those fries – not all plant-based foods are good for you, after all.