Six M staff members with different goals get some professional guidance to improve their health and well-being for the new year.
Six paths to New Year's resolution success
Want glowing skin? Luscious locks? A slimmer waist? Better nutrition? A smarter wardrobe? How about simply achieving and enjoying more in life? Many of us at M magazine have just such universal goals and took off in dedicated pursuit of them.
'I love the immediate and striking difference'
My hair is fine and liable to frizz. Then, a few months ago, I discovered hair extensions and they have revolutionised my life, slicing 20 minutes off my getting-ready time, removing kilos from my luggage when I travel (no more curlers or bottles of volumising mousse) and preventing the hysteria previously experienced when I was staying anywhere without my hairdryer.
My hair and I have never really been friends. Growing up, my older sister always wanted a perm and I wanted the Farrah Fawcett look, but my thin, hapless strands always fell short. With my wedding only a few weeks away I wanted hair so voluminous that it could be coiffed into any "do" I saw fit.
At a chance meeting with my friend Amanda - she of long, luscious locks - in desperation I ask her what shampoo she uses. What treatments or supplements does she daily undergo to keep her hair so thick and healthy? Leaning in, she whispers: "The secret is Julie Powell at the Gold Salon."
Powell is known in this region as the queen of hair extensions. Having lived in the UAE for more than 20 years, she knows full well the damage that the sun, heat and desalinated water can have on your hair - or the lack of it. I, of course, knew of extensions, but after hearing the horror stories of the harm they could do to your hair and scalp (think Britney Spears or Paris Hilton's bald patches), I am openly terrified.
However, after a thorough consultation to determine my desired maintenance level and style preference, I allow Powell to do what she does best: weave magic into my hair, giving me an instant transformation. She uses ethically sourced extensions crafted from real human hair by Great Lengths, and you can choose your length and number of extensions to suit your desired look. I opt for 14 inches in length and 120 pieces to really give my mane some volume. My hair is washed and blow-dried and then separated into sections. Using a tool similar to hot pliers the new hair strands are fixed to the root of my own hair using a keratin bond.
Though the extensions come with care instructions, Powell assures me that these new tresses are "idiot proof" and are as easy to style as my own hair. To prove it, she teases and sculpts my mane into a natural, voluminous masterpiece. I stare into the mirror, trying to acquaint myself with the new me, who looks almost nothing like the old me, despite the fact that I've been at the salon for just one hour. I scrutinise my locks from scalp to tip and I can honestly say that the extensions match my own hair exactly. Plus, as the bonds are fixed mainly at the back of my head and attached underneath my own hair, you would be hard pushed to notice anything that looked "fake".
As I swish my long glossy locks from side to side I love the immediate and striking difference. People tell me that I look healthy or ask if have I lost weight. Overnight, thanks to my new crowning glory, I find that less make-up is required, my clothes somehow look better and I generally feel much more glamorous.
Now after the wedding I have (sadly) removed my extensions and gone back to sporting my former thinner tresses. Luckily, no damage was done to my hair - in fact, as I didn't spend so long washing and styling it, my scalp and roots actually look healthier than before. It's also good to remember that extensions are just added hair, not a genie and a magic lamp. Plus, the extra care that the extensions take can become slightly tedious.
Overall, knowing that a total head-turning transformation - one that doesn't include a tortuous detox or spending long hours in the gym - is just an hour away is a great, confidence-boosting way to start a new year.
Julie Powell's top tips
When choosing a new look or a restyle, first book a consultation with your stylist to make sure the look you want will flatter your bone structure and your face shape.
For extensions, go to a reputable salon for a detailed consultation. Ask to see "before" and "after" pictures of actual salon work, and to speak to clients.
For a change of colour, don't go further than three shades away from your natural hair shade. This will mean your colour will continue to match your skin tone.
Choose a style that suits your lifestyle. If you are always in the pool or the gym, do not go for a super straight style that requires daily blow-dries. Or if your hair is super straight don't get a style with waves or curls.
When you meet a new stylist, take time to explain what you like and what you don't like.
If you see someone with great hair, tap her on the shoulder and ask her for a referral.
The Gold Salon, 502 Al Attar Tower, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, 04 321 1423, www.goldsalondubai.com
Jemma Nicholls, senior editor
'The small lines beneath my eyes have disappeared'
It is a cruel twist of fate that women begin to appreciate their bodies only after the age of 30, right around when things start to deteriorate. While there is no doubt most of us have never felt better, our skin - the obligatory age spots, fine lines and discolouration - argue otherwise.
Unfortunately we have only ourselves to blame. "She's had work done. Everyone says so." "Did you notice all those awful lines around her mouth?" We all do it, feeding each other with one-upmanship, because in one way or another it's a common belief we must look young to be beautiful. Real or fake, we are at a point where we associate youth with glamour and success, and we will go to great lengths to try to achieve it.
So here we are, the party's over, the canapés eaten, and all that's left is a rather larger than normal empty shell. We need results and we need them now - the quick fix, the ultimate one-hit wonder. Which is exactly why I had been advised to try advanced fluorescent technology (AFT), the new generation of laser treatment that promises to treat brown spots, broken capillaries, rosacea and sun damage, giving me an altogether more youthful appearance.
Using relatively low-energy, short-pulse broadband light means that imperfections can be gently heated and eliminated, replaced by newer, younger looking skin - almost forcing the skin to rejuvenate. Describing it as intense light given through a series of gentle pulses is a slight exaggeration. The treatment from my therapist, Natasha Bennett, is not what I would call particularly gentle - a feeling I can only compare to having a few hundred rubber bands snapping across my face and neck, although in saying that it wasn't unbearable.
Being cynical, I leave with not a huge amount of hope, and quite honestly forget about it for a few days. But then oddly something does indeed happen - four days later, to be exact - as on close inspection I can see that the small lines beneath my eyes have disappeared, and everything looks a little smoother and brighter.
My doubts are further eradicated with a couple of backhanded compliments from colleagues - one asking whether I was using different make-up and another asking if I had lost weight.
So, in short, AFT works; it really and truly does, and that's saying something from an age-old self-critic with a "detox, schmetox" attitude to the whole industry. My advice: if you're the type of person used to spending a bit of hard cash on your face, then this is perhaps where the future lies. For the rest of us I suggest it plays more of a one-off treat kind of role.
Natasha Bennett's top tips
Know who will be doing your Botox treatment. Make sure she or he explains the treatment exactly, and that you are fully aware of what will happen.
Dermal fillers are a great option to replace volume and give contour to the face. A specialist will measure and mark the face before treatment to ensure you are happy with where you will be filled.
Check the ingredients in your skincare products. The best way to maintain the body's largest organ (skin) is to feed it with suitable products. Key ingredients are AHAs, vitamin A and vitamin C.
AFT (advanced fluorescent technology) can be used to stimulate the production of collagen, the vital component in keeping the skin youthful and plump. This non-invasive, pain-free treatment is the ideal solution for skin maintenance.
Lines, wrinkles and sagging skin can all be kept at bay. NIR (near-infra-red) uses heat to cause collagen to retract. The increased oxygen means better circulation and improved texture and contours.
Advanced Fluorescent Technology, Dermalese Clinic, Dubai, 04 349 7881, www.dermalaseclinic.com
Katie Trotter, fashion director
'I feel as if I have a whole new wardrobe'
There are piles of clothes all over the house, which would seem to indicate that rather than having nothing to wear, I have plenty to wear. Not so. These are all piles of clothes to be thrown away. I am in the middle of a wardrobe makeover with the personal stylist and shopping guru Kelly Lundberg. She is not overly impressed.
"I'm going to ban you from shopping at M&S," she says, throwing yet another shirt to the ground. "And what are these trousers all about? They scream: 'I'm a busy working mother and I can't really be bothered.'"
As the pile on the floor grows, my wardrobes take on a Zen feel they have never had. Lundberg divides my clothes into three sections: coats and formal evening wear go into a spare wardrobe in my daughter's room, weekend wear and cocktail dresses into another one, and work wear into a third. My shelves are also divided: into beachwear, trousers (casual, work ones go in the work wardrobe) and casual tops and T-shirts.
Once you see your wardrobe divided like this, it's incredible how easy it is to spot where the gaps are. I realise, for example, that while I probably never need to buy another jumper, I have practically no accessories or cocktail dresses, which is ridiculous, because I go to cocktail events practically every week.
The other revelation is that rather than having less to wear, I seem to have more to wear. And it takes me less time to get dressed. I don't waste ages going through stuff I have looked at several hundred times, only to reject.
Having said that, I do not pass up the opportunity to go shopping with Lundberg, which is another part of her service. We meet at Zara, where she has already put five or six items in the changing room for me. While I try them on she goes out gathering more, popping in every few minutes to give me her verdict on the things I am trying on. I shop in Zara all the time, but Lundberg picks things I would never have gone for, and they all look great. So one tip is not to just go for your comfort zones in your favourite shops (like anything pink or in leopard print for me) but look for the unexpected.
Lundberg's mission is to boost my "basic blacks" to trousers, skirts and blazers, to add more dresses to my wardrobe that can be both work and after-work if I am going on to another event, and to introduce me to accessories. I have never even thought about accessories, but am learning that they can utterly make an outfit. We pick up some belts in Zara and head to Accessorize for jewellery. Lundberg tells me the key here is to layer it so it doesn't look like it comes from Accessorize, so buy necklaces and bangles that fit well together, and have in mind an outfit you are going to create when you buy them.
Lundberg leaves me with a mountain of shopping bags as well as a print-out of my "style goals" that will guide me in the future when she's not around. I am sure I will never go shopping or pick anything to wear again without referencing her advice. I feel as if I have a whole new wardrobe, whereas I really have only a quarter of a new wardrobe, but the difference is that everything in it will be worn, with accessories.
Kelly Lundberg's top tips
Rate your clothes from one to 10. Anything that gets six or below (or you can't justify such as skiing clothes/walking the dog), throw out.
Pick a celebrity style icon, and when you go shopping ask yourself whether your icon would wear what you're about to buy.
Rethink certain items. Would a shirt that you never wear, for example, work if tucked in, or would some shorts look good with a chunky belt?
Separate your wardrobe into work (if you work) and weekends/casual or everyday and dressy. This way you will spot any gaps.
Take shoes out of boxes so you can see them - and wear them.
Accessories should be visual, not hidden in drawers. As with the shoes, you need to see them to wear them.
Treat your wardrobe like your favourite boutique. Don't use wire hangers, and keep it tidy and organised.
Contact Kelly Lundberg at Divine at 050 396 2296 or 04 214 9784, or email email@example.com; www.divine.ae
Helena Frith Powell, editor
'I can see the opportunity for personal progress'
You'd be forgiven for assuming that a former US army soldier with a degree in physical education would be fit. But I, too, have fallen victim to the sedentary expat lifestyle: the weather does little for motivation, making it too hot to walk, and many of us have help at home for cleaning and other physical tasks, plus it's practically a requirement to indulge in Friday brunch. So where does one turn to get back in shape, lose some weight and feel like your old self again? Inspire Sports Management has the solution.
I meet Hania Kuleib, the director of the Abu Dhabi-based organisation Inspire, prior to my first group class. I tell her that having been an avid fitness enthusiast in the past I am eager to rededicate myself to a fitness programme for 2012, but am concerned about how to sustain my interest and enthusiasm beyond January. Kuleib begins by explaining that the goal of her company is to encourage women to adopt a healthful, fit lifestyle, with the idea that they in turn will inspire their peers, family members and the next generation to do the same. She assures me that Inspire's ideology includes renewing your faith in your fitness by finding a programme that suits your interests and abilities and becomes part of your lifestyle.
Kuleib is supported by a team of three staff members and eight certified, professional instructors who lead children's classes and women-only classes at both the Al Bateen Secondary School and the Hilton Abu Dhabi hotel. With low prices for classes and lessons packages, Inspire offers flexibility and convenience in a fitness programme.
I decide to attend the launch of the Body Combat 50 class, part of the Les Mills group fitness classes I am familiar with and had participated in back in the States. When I did Tony Horton's P90X programme on my own at home last year I loved the martial-arts-themed Kenpo X the most, so I had high hopes for a Kenpo-style workout, but in a group environment. The Les Mills web site promises Body Combat will offer 55 minutes of "high-intensity martial arts-inspired cardio" with an average burn of 737 calories, and I briefly consider texting my husband to ask him to have a hot bath ready for me when I arrive home.
The class starts out strongly and within minutes I realise that while I am in a bit over my head physically, I am utterly elated by what I am doing: kicking, punching, stepping and jabbing my way to a new me. It feels great. The music is fresh and fun, the instructors, Reem and Elitza, are inspiring and entertaining and thoughtfully demonstrate optional beginner and advanced moves. Already I feel that essential female camaraderie when about 15 minutes in, a woman beside me, exhausted but smiling, turns to me and gasps: "Oh, my!" A few of us get personal pointers from Reem and Elitza on hand and foot positioning to help us get more out of our experience, and we all audibly and cheerfully respond to our instructors' commands and prompts.
When it is over we have a 10-minute abs-and-arms session, stretching and a cool-down. Class ends with a running lap around the room and we are all high-fived by our instructors. Kuleib, Reem and Eliza stay after class and offer us slices of a nutritious, homemade banana cake to celebrate the launch of the new Body Combat class. We chat briefly and I readily admit that I've found a class that, reminding me of my days of group training in the military, feels right to me, and even if it is a bit advanced for my current conditioning I can see the opportunity for personal progress because I feel good and already want to return and achieve more.
"Imagine how you'll feel after four, five, six classes," says Reem.
A Les Mills poster on the wall of the studio at Al Bateen Secondary School reads: "You're only new the first time". So with that in mind, I'm going to check out more group classes offered by Inspire, such as Body Jam, Sh'Bam and Body Pump. Plus, I'll be back at Body Combat on Tuesday nights.
See you there!
Hania Kuleib's top tips
Schedule your workout into your diary. Make exercise a part of your daily routine.
Make fitness a priority. Feel empowered to say: "Sorry, I can't make it tomorrow at 7:30; I have Body Pump class."
Bring a friend, make a friend. Camaraderie with classmates, personal attention from your instructor and noticing your progress makes it easy to become part of a fitness community.
Do your homework. Know what is available in your community. Many clubs and facilities offer fitness programmes, but what are you looking for: group classes, personal training, swimming?
Choose convenience. Proximity to home or work, good prices, well-lit parking and clean facilities are as important as fun classes and state-of-the-art equipment.
Inspire Sports Management class schedules and prices are available at www.inspiresports.ae or call 050 157 5508
Ellen Fortini, production journalist
'Was I ever wrong - never, ever count calories'
Every night at 6, like clockwork, my colleague chimes in: "There is the hot sauce". That would be me, dinner time at my desk before I dash off to Pilates, dousing my black bean burger with hot sauce, day in and day out. Everyone who has ever known me knows that I am a calorie-counting obsessive who eats nearly the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner for months at a time. The past six months have featured my protein bar breakfast, omelette and baked bean lunch and black bean burger dinner. That paired with my snacks gives me my perfect 1,400 calories that I thought I needed to restrict myself to in order to lose these last 10 pounds. Needless to say, it's not been working.
When I meet with the nutritionist Laura Holland, I assume she'll tell me just what I've read over and over for years in my health magazines: drink plenty of water, don't drink alcohol and don't eat too many carbs. Was I ever wrong. After five minutes of detailing what I think is my healthy way of eating and calorie counting, she tells me her No. 1 piece of advice is to never, ever count calories.
She explains that I wouldn't overeat if I were eating the right foods and giving my body the nutrients it needed. One look at me and she could tell that my digestion process was a bit of a mess. I become slightly paranoid that Holland is a mind reader when she knows without my telling her that I suffer from terrible bloating as well as waves of energy that go up and down in spikes. She says that in Ayurvedic medicine, the root of all disease is bad digestion. While digestion can be genetic, it is a direct result of our state of mind. Each day our bodies may require a different number of calories based on our monthly cycle as women, the amount of sleep we get, the level of our daily stress and the anxiety we may experience. She admits there would be no need for nutritionists like her if we all listened to our bodies telling us what they need each day.
It turns out that all of my fat-free, sugar-free, pre-packaged foods may be the root of my digestive issues. I learn that if I could get over my fear of food and redefine how I see it, I would never need to count another calorie. Holland emphasises the importance of variety. By eating the same things every day, I am causing my body to build an intolerance towards them.
"It takes four days for our bodies to get rid of the food that we eat," she says. When our bodies build this intolerance, they lose the ability to properly digest these foods.
While this all sounds encouraging, I wonder how I am going to be able to totally reverse the wayI've been eating for most of my adult life. When I ask for a few key things specific to me that I could try to start with, she has some pieces of easy advice.
Because my digestion is not working well, she recommends that I not eat many raw foods. She uses the analogy of my digestion being like a fire. I need to provide enough energy for the fire to burn. OK, but what does this mean? My vegetables should be warm and cooked, especially at night when my digestion is experiencing a lull. Eating cold and wet foods is like putting a cold shower on the already weak fire. For two weeks, I should eat half a teaspoon of ginger with two squeezes of lime juice and a pinch of sea salt 20 minutes before each meal. She explains this is another immediate way for me specifically to "start my fire".
She also gives me some sample meals for a day that sound do-able: rice cakes with sugar-free peanut butter for breakfast; some tea and figs for a snack; a quinoa salad, hummus and some asparagus for lunch; and a vegetable curry with brown rice for dinner. She stresses that for me spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric are important aids for my digestive process. What I love most about our session is that Holland is able to give me things to do aimed at my body specifically, things that scientifically seem to make sense and things I'd never been taught before.
If only I hadn't done my weekly shopping last night.
Laura Holland's top tips
A well-chewed burger is better for you than a badly chewed salad. Our stomachs don't have teeth, so anything that reaches them unchewed goes undigested and causes bloating.
Don't drink anything (even water) for half an hour after a meal. You can drink before or during, but liquids after a meal dilute your stomach acids, affecting the digestive process.
Eat fruit only on an empty stomach, never as a dessert. Because it digests so quickly, when eaten with other foods fruit will sit in your stomach and begin to ferment, creating toxins and gas.
Sip on ginger, nettle or dandelion tea. This will help to detox the body and neutralize the acids.
Variety is the spice of life. When you give the body the same thing every day, it builds an intolerance towards it.
Laura Holland is available for consultation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, 050 504 8532, www.inshallah.org.uk
Kerri Abrams, art director
'I approach my goals with more courage'
I'm not the kind of person who talks to people about my problems - at least not until I've found a solution for them. So when I am tasked with speaking to a life coach, panics set in right away: "What is she going to make me do? Talk about my feelings?"
After a quick introduction, my coach, Rawan Albina, sends me a two-page questionnaire to work on. It's meant to "take you to a deeper level and make you think about things you haven't thought about in a long time", she says. It takes me more than two hours to fill out what initially appears to be a simple list of questions, and even then I leave some blank, including the impossible "My best contribution to the world is...".
According to Albina, the questionnaire is "a really good way to stop and reflect", and our first telephone session begins with us doing just that. The main goal of our talk is for her to get a feel for my values and teach me about the different steps of life coaching. Knowing what is going on and what she intends to work on with me is a huge relief, to say the least.
"There's something in coaching we call perspective - it's used to describe the perspective you're standing in," she starts. To put it in simple terms, the aim is to filter out everyone else's perspective of my life and to figure out which is solely my own. This helps narrow down what the individual wants to achieve from coaching and how to plan on growing in the next couple of years.
After a lot of umm-ing and ahh-ing I come up with a solid list of targets for the personal and professional aspects of my life. Next step is to consider how I am going to go about achieving them - that's when talk of a "saboteur" begins.
"The saboteur is that voice in your head that sabotages your best efforts to help you grow," Albina says. "Someone who is very afraid of change in the sense that the voice will keep repeating: 'Who do you think you are? You are so conceited'."
The key is to "look them in the eye and say: 'I acknowledge you're there, I want to put you in a box and kick you all the way to the moon.' Or you simply ignore it and anchor yourself in a place where your values are so strong the saboteur disappears," Albina emphasises.
Once I am aware of this I approach my goals with more courage. Albina even points out how my strategy changes dramatically from my initial response, and gives me some advice: "Whenever you approach somebody for something, keep in mind what you want to get out of this. Look at the end result and backtrack to see how you will get this goal. You need to put on the table the facts that support the decision-making process, look at what you can offer and talk about your accomplishments and give specific examples to back it up."
The session ends with an assignment called "The Me Project" that works as brainstorming. I am instructed to "take a piece of cardboard paper with you in the middle, with job and personal goals on each side. Then you take them step by step and come up with an action plan". In the next session I would share the plan with her so she could see that I was following through.
"If we were to give a big theme to coaching it would be 'putting myself first'," Albina says - which sounds like what one would normally do until you realise that you don't. After hanging up I feel vulnerable for sharing so much with a stranger, but I find confidence in that and end up understanding what I need more than I had in a long time.
Rawan Albina's top tips
Put yourself first.
Learn to say no.
You can be the good friend without pleasing everyone around you.
Learn what it takes to take care of yourself.
Consciously take time out every day to disconnect from what you're doing.
Rawan Albina is a professional certified coach based in Dubai with more than 800 hours of coaching experience. Get in touch with Rawan at www.leaplifecoach.com or follow her on Twitter @RawanAlbina
Nadia El Dasher, stylist