x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Men of their own food regimes

Alice Haine tracked down four men who are either on diets or have recently finished to find out why they decided to lose weight and how they did it.

Chris Harris after he lost 7kg following a strict primal diet plan and exercising.
Chris Harris after he lost 7kg following a strict primal diet plan and exercising.

When Abid Adil graduated from university in 2001 as an energetic 21-year-old, he was fit and healthy from three years of playing cricket, squash and football. But as he embarked on a career as a chartered accountant, he had no idea the impact his profession would have on his waistline.

Nine years of commuting, sitting at a desk for long hours and eating corporate lunches left little time to exercise or monitor his diet. And when he came home after work, his wife, Darakhshan, 31, loved to dish out huge portions of his favourite Italian cuisine and desserts. Within six years his weight had ballooned from 75kg - a healthy mass for his 1.88m frame - to a whopping 122kg, leaving his wife, his family and his doctor deeply concerned.

"I was suffering from sleep apnoea and pain in my joints and felt lethargic and sleepy all the time," recalls Abid, 30, who moved to the UAE from Britain in 2007. "I got myself into a false sense that I was still young enough to lose the weight by going out and playing sports but that day never came." Months of nagging from his concerned family had no effect until his mother lost 35kg after signing up for TLC, a South African weight loss programme. It is a strict eating plan that allows dieters to consume only specific quantities, types and combinations of food formulated for their unique body chemistry.

Within weeks of starting the regime himself, Abid has experienced startling results and now weighs 90kg. But in a nation where dieting is typically associated with women, his decision to embark on such a strict programme is considered unusual. "The UAE is very stereotypical when it comes to dieting, and whereas women will have no issue with the word 'diet', men see it as denying themselves something," says Dr Andrew Devine, a specialist in family medicine at City Hospital in Dubai.

But it is not as if men can afford to ignore dietary advice. According to the World Health Organisation, the UAE has the fourth highest rate of obesity in the world, with 33.7 per cent of Emirati men considered obese compared to 38 per cent of women. Expatriates don't fare much better, with one in five men and one in three women, between the ages of 30 and 39 deemed obese. For Dr Devine, such alarming statistics are no great surprise.

"Two-thirds of the patients who walk through my door are obese," he says. "That means they have a body mass index of over 30 and that figure is equally split between men and women. But if I explain to a man the significance of his weight on his health, then his beliefs will start to be challenged." According to Helena Brown, a weight management consultant for TLC in Abu Dhabi, the message is starting to filter through.

"One in every five of our clients is a man," she says. "The only difference between men and women is that men won't tell anyone. Unlike women, who will refuse a piece of cake, stating that they are on a diet, a man would probably have the cake and deal with the guilt later, which is sabotaging their weight loss strategy." Interestingly, while men are willing to try different diets, they are often more likely to do so if their wife joins them at the same time. Brown says most of her clients come to her after their wives have seen her first. Diane Lannon, a consultant for the healthy eating and slimming club Good Habits, says many of her male clients join at the same time as their other halves.

"They need the camaraderie," says Lannon, who has 10 men in her Friday class in Dubai. "It takes a lot of courage for a man to come and they're often quite nervous at first. But once they make the decision to diet, men are very focused, losing the weight very steadily and nearly always hitting their target." In fact, both diet experts agree that once their male clients commit to a diet, they lose the weight faster than women.

"I'm not sure why this is," says Brown, "but it certainly keeps them motivated when they see 1.5kg plus per week consistently coming off while following the programme." But Dr Devine dismisses the notion that men can lose weight faster than women. "Some people may say it is hormonal or that women have more fat than men, but it simply depends on how committed you are to losing weight," he says. "Men are, however, often better at sustaining weight loss. When people lose weight they eventually hit a plateau and I think men are probably better at persevering through that plateau."

M has tracked down four men who are either on diets or have recently finished to find out why they decided to lose weight and how they did it. 

Chris Harris, 40, a senior project manager who moved to the UAE in May 2007, lives in Mangrove Village in Abu Dhabi with his wife, Theresa, 39, and three daughters. He exercises four times a week with the Original Fitness Co, which runs hour-long boot camp-style workouts with push-ups, sit-ups and running on sand with weights. Chris is on a primal lifestyle diet, which involves eating lots of protein and few carbohydrates.

Starting weight: 95kg
Weight now: 88kg
Target weight: 85kg
Height: 1.88m 

I hate the word "diet," because I don't believe I'm on a diet, I'm just changing the way I eat. I've always been pretty slim and kept fit when I was younger by playing rugby, football, tennis and swimming. I'm 40 now and as the years have gone on, I have thought, "Well, I could look better" and my wife has been making a massive effort to lose weight for me so I thought I'd do the same for her.

I started doing the boot camp 12 months ago to improve my fitness and help me get trimmer. I get up at 5am, go down to the beach and do military-style training including push-ups and running through the sand with weights. I thrive on being told what to do in terms of fitness, because if I left it to myself I'd never get my shoes on, let alone go for a run. But although my aerobic fitness has improved, it hasn't got rid of the fat around my belly.

So when my wife's nutritionist recommended a primal lifestyle diet for her, I decided to join her. The idea is that we should be eating like cavemen, consuming far more meat than carbohydrates. It's a strict regime and similar to the Atkins diet but there's a better balance. Eighty per cent of the time I eat fat and protein and the rest I can eat carbohydrates such as a sandwich or chocolate. The first five days I detoxed completely, which can give you flu-like symptoms, but I didn't feel too bad. Then I slowly introduced sugars and carbohydrates but only in the evening.

Four weeks in and I had lost 5kg while my wife had lost 7kg, but for me it's never been about the weight - I just wanted to trim down. I've dropped a trouser size already, going from a 36-inch waist to 34, but I don't want to lose much more - another few kilos and a 32-inch waist would be nice and then I'll just carry on with the fitness. Despite a trip to the UK recently, where I binged on carbs such as fish and chips, I am already heading towards my goal.

Guys in the office make fun of me but to be honest, I couldn't care less. I think men discuss diets more now than they did before because they want to look good, but it's done in a much more macho way than women. I would never have gone looking for a diet if Theresa hadn't come up with this idea. But I've noticed some big improvements. I feel fantastic now. I don't have that post-lunch dip where you want to fall asleep during a meeting. I'm also less grumpy and tired with the children.

Adil Abid, 30, a British chartered accountant, lives in Khalidiya in Abu Dhabi with his wife, Darakhshan, 31. Adil, who moved to the UAE in 2007, is halfway through a four-month programme with TLC, which allows him to eat specific foods in quantities matched to his body chemistry. He has monthly weigh-ins and combines dieting with walks in the park. 

Weight before: 122kg
Weight now: 90kg
Target weight: 80kg
Height: 1.88m 

At university I stayed in shape by playing a lot of sport and walking to all my lectures, but when I started my professional life, things took a turn for the worse. I worked long hours and after I married in 2004, my wife's great cooking compounded the issue because I love food. She is very slim and people used to joke that I ate her dinner every day as well. But when my weight became a serious problem, my family put pressure on me to lose weight because I was suffering from sleep apnoea, had pain in my joints and was lethargic all the time.

I'm at work by 7.15am, leave at 9.30pm and sometimes end up working weekends, too, so I needed something that was easy as I've never been a big fan of diets. Then my mother lost 35kg on the TLC programme so I was inspired to do the same. I had my consultation six weeks ago, which involved having a blood test sent to South Africa, where this programme was established. It helped the dieticians draw up a customised diet based on my height, weight, body mass index and general health.

I'd never done a blood test before so the results were quite shocking. They discovered I had very high blood sugar and was close to being diabetic, plus I had a high uric acid level and high cholesterol. I loved chocolate and had a really sweet tooth so it's no wonder my results were shockingly bad. The diet must be followed very strictly and involves eating three meals a day complemented by fruit. Everything is weighed and I had to give up bread, milk, sugar and carbohydrates, so I suffered major withdrawal symptoms at first.

The programme also recommends daily exercise but I have only managed a little bit of walking, as I don't have much time. Once I reach the right weight for my height, I will move onto a stability programme to re-introduce all the foods I've cut out. For someone who loves food it's been a nightmare but the results speak volumes. The weight loss is very noticeable. Everyone has commented on it but the best thing is that I went to the doctor again and though my uric acid levels are still high, everything else is back to normal.

The sleep apnoea's gone, I don't feel pain in my joints and my love handles have disappeared, too. Before I felt lethargic, drowsy and my brain was not as active as it used to be. Now that I'm losing weight I feel full of energy, very in tune and awake. But the diet has made me slightly anti-social and a bit of a diet bore. When I go on client lunches now, I have to be very careful what I eat. I can eat grilled chicken but it has to be off the bone and the vegetables have to be sautéed not fried.

Guys at work are intrigued by this diet and I certainly get some teasing but it's just banter. Some colleagues will pop out a juicy steak or chocolate pudding and start eating it in front of me but thankfully my willpower has grown. 

Mike Barth, 47, a technical manager, moved to the UAE with his wife, Lynden, 47, and his daughter, 20, and 16-year-old son in 2004. He joined Good Habits in June last year.

The slimming club demands weekly weigh-ins and offers advice on regulating portion sizes and choose healthier foods. Mike joined a gym to do three hours of cardiovascular and weights-based exercises every week. 

Weight before: 90kg
Weight now: 77kg
Target weight: 75kg
Height: 1.70cm 

I've always been fit and sporty and used to play football three times a week until I was forced to stop at the age of 37 because of a back injury. That's when the weight slowly started to pile on.

I didn't notice it, to be honest; it was a gradual thing and I suppose every time I bought some new clothes, I just got a slightly bigger size. I went from having a 32-inch waist to a 38-inch waist, but the real trigger came when I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in January 2009 during a routine check-up. I was prescribed medication that did not make me feel very well so I decided to join a gym to lose the weight. I did weights with a personal trainer and ran on a treadmill on my own but when my wife said she was going to sign up with Good Habits I thought I'd give it a go because it didn't seem too harsh a diet.

Would I have gone without her? Probably not, because dieting is a bit of a girly thing, but there were a couple of other guys there so it wasn't too bad. And I don't know how I would have lost the weight otherwise. At the first class I was a bit nervous but once I realised it wasn't a full-on diet, but focused on balanced, healthy meals and measuring the food you eat, it was OK. And I never felt that I was starving, which is what I thought would happen - I thought I'd be going through a pain barrier. I needed to lose two stone [12.7kg] and every week at the weigh-in I had lost between one and four pounds [0.45kg and 1.81kg]. It was very steady and in the process I learnt a lot about balanced nutrition. I wasn't eating a huge amount before; I was just eating the wrong things. There was only one week where I gained a pound and that was because I went on holiday.

I don't go around preaching at people to lose weight. There were a couple of guys who wanted to find out more but I don't think any of them have followed it up, which is a shame. I feel great now. For the first time I have more muscle than fat in my body and I can run 7km, whereas a year ago I couldn't have run 700 metres. I don't want to be an athlete but I do want to be fit and my waist size is down to 34 inches.

Being on the diet wasn't uncomfortable; I just got on with it and did it and I was really pleased when I hit the target in October last year. I've had a lot of comments from people about the weight loss both at work and socially, which is nice because it confirms that you have done it. I have had to buy a whole new wardrobe though, which was a big expense. I've probably gained a couple of kilos since I finished the programme but I'm still exercising hard because the minute I stop, my blood pressure goes back up, so I have to keep doing it.