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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

From fat to fit: Throwing my trainer a dietary curve ball

Our features writer has news for his fitness coach after a healthy crisis of conscience

Carbohydrates are back on the menu for Kevin Hackett. Getty
Carbohydrates are back on the menu for Kevin Hackett. Getty

For once in my life I have a degree of clarity. I’m taking a life-changing stand about a moral issue after seeing something I cannot, no matter how much I want to, unsee.

During my research for a recent feature on veganism, I felt morally obliged to do what one of my interviewees had done. I decided to “peek behind the curtain” as he referred to it. I took a deep breath and watched a ­documentary called Earthlings. What I saw will haunt me until the moment I take my dying breath and I knew, as soon as it was over, that I was a changed man.

My long-standing, negative personal opinions regarding veganism have, rightly or wrongly, been formed by vegans themselves, many of whom I’ve found to be judgemental, preachy and downright militant. So don’t expect me to refer to myself as a “v-word”, get a neck tattoo or some facial piercings, or loudly tut while you’re tucking into a juicy burger. This is my personal decision, not a crusade of any kind.

So why, you might rightly ask, am I mentioning it here, in my journal about getting into shape in middle age and sorting out various ailments such as lower back pain? Because diet is by far the most important factor in my health overhaul, and my decision to remove animal products from it is going to have a very tangible effect on my body, as well as my mind.

Over the past five weeks, I’ve been enrolled in the Lower Back Fix programme at Iconic Fitness in Dubai Marina, and part of the deal is a meal plan put together by my coach, Hannes Loubser. I’ve not been totally strict in sticking to it, but I’ve definitely been eating “in line” with his recommendations, following a low carb, relatively high (healthy) fat diet with plenty of greens and no sugar. So lots of meat, cheese, nuts and salads, but skipping the grains and starchy foodstuffs like pasta, bread and potatoes. And now I’m about to tell him that is all changing and there’s to be absolutely no compromise. In the process of removing meat and dairy, I will invariably end up incorporating more grains and carbs into my diet.

When I ’fess up, he looks at me with what I interpret as scepticism. “Can I ask why you’re doing this?” he quizzes with a raised eyebrow. So I explain, without the gory details, and his demeanour relaxes. “OK. I understand. Just so long as you’re not jumping on the bandwagon because others are doing it.”

He’s referring to Veganuary, which got some serious traction last month when an unquantifiable number of people around the world “tried it out” for the entire month of January. For many, it’s a way of undoing some of the damage caused by certain festivities in December, for others a genuine dipping of the toe in the water, to see if they really can adjust to a no meat or dairy lifestyle. For me, though, this isn’t a temporary measure and I need to find a way of eating the right things in order to keep seeing the kind of results that my first month of training had brought about.

The health benefits of a plant-based diet are well documented, so I’m not worried about damaging my body with it. But one thing that cynics point to with this way of eating is a lack of protein. “You need meat for protein. What about vitamin B12?”

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Read more of Kevin's experiences:

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

From fat to fit: Sedentary with sciatica, it’s time for a fitness fix

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I’ve done my homework. Plenty of plants are packed with protein (which is how animals get it, right?) and B12 isn’t something animals produce – it’s found in the soil that’s digested by them while feeding, but we’re not keen on unwashed veg, so all that B12 ends up being rinsed away. I’m not about to chomp away at soil-covered lettuce or the roots of a tomato plant, so I take care of that aspect daily with a supplement that tastes a bit like raspberries. It’s really no hardship.

Loubser warns me that my system will be a bit upset for a few weeks, which will probably affect my results next time I’m measured. I can live with that. “Right,” says the bearded sadist (sorry, coach), “let’s get warmed up with the rowing machine, shall we?”