Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

Emirati who ran to Makkah says education is key to fighting obesity

Dr Khaled Al Suwaidi, who was prediabetic and obese before he took up running, says teaching children healthier habits is vital to ensuring the future of the country

Educating young children about and exercise is key to tackling the UAE’s obesity problem, according to an Emirati ultra-runner who ran thousands of kilometres to Makkah fuelled on fruit and vegetables.

Dr Khaled Al Suwaidi, Emirati executive director of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, recently completed a 29-day, 2,070 kilometre run from Abu Dhabi to Makkah.

Leaving from the capital's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on February 1, the father of two, 34, arrived at the boundaries of the Great Mosque in Saudi Arabia on March 1 — 10 days ahead of his target.

Covering an average of distance of 74km a day, he battled sandstorms, the loss of feeling in his hands due to rain and the cold desert temperatures, and ran for the last week of the challenge on a broken foot.

Go through, experiment yourself and figure out what you need

Dr Khaled Al Suwaidi, ultra-runner

Mostly a vegetarian, he also achieved the impressive feat on an almost exclusively plant-based diet – he ate 4 kilogrammes of fruit and 12kg of vegetables each day to fuel the run.

“I wanted to show the younger generation here in this country that nothing is impossible,” said Dr Al Suwaidi.

“I was obese. I am flat footed. I am not meant to run more than 20km at a time because there are no arches in my feet.

"I worked really hard to get to where I am today.”

Dr Khaled Al Suwaidi, 35, recently completed a trek from Abu Dhabi to Makkah on a plant-based diet with a broken foot. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Dr Khaled Al Suwaidi, 35, recently completed a trek from Abu Dhabi to Makkah on a plant-based diet with a broken foot. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

He embarked on his path to fitness in 2015 after being diagnosed as prediabetic around the time he got married.

“I realised that if I couldn’t take care of myself, it was impossible to take care of others. Or even explain to others how to take care of themselves,” said Dr Al Suwaidi.

“I started going to the gym. I changed my food patterns. I didn’t see a nutritionist — I did it all through trial and error.”

He took up running, ditched both red meat and chicken, and over the three years that followed lost 53kg.

He now hopes to inspire the younger generation to change their habits.

“Obesity is a big issue — 38 per cent of kids aged between nine and 18 are obese in this country,” he said.

“If you figure out a way to move, you are half way there, but 90 per cent of my weight loss happened in the kitchen.”

But Dr Al Suwaidi also pointed out that if you exercise regularly you can eat more of what you want, and he still eats pizza and ice cream occasionally.

“When I was training for these runs, I would run 70km a day for a week straight and when I got home I would eat whatever I wanted because my body needed it.”

He encouraged people to experiment with their diet and exercise schedule themselves, as he did, before seeking help from nutritionists and doctors.

“Go through, experiment yourself and figure out what you need,” he said.

“The more you learn about food and nutrition and benefits of moving, even walking, the better you are going to feel.”

And teaching children this while they are young is vital to ensuring the future of the country, he added.

“We are all getting older,” said Dr Al Suwaidi.

“The younger generation is going to take our place soon so we need to make sure they are in the best position possible to take over and continue to lead this great country into great places.”

Updated: March 11, 2019 11:29 AM

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