x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Weight loss sachets see dieters eat less than 500 calories a day

Low-calorie shake powders are growing in popularity as UAE residents try to tackle their weight problems.

DUBAI // Mona Majzaub has eaten less than 500 calories a day for the past three months, barely a quarter of an average person’s recommended daily intake.

Hanzy Catague, 30, is from the Phlippines. She drank barely 300 calories a day for two months, and aside from the odd hunger pang, maintained a busy work and social life.

They are two of a growing number of dieters who are using an over-the-counter meal-replacement product originally designed as a last resort clinical intervention for morbidly obese patients.

Very low calorie diets have been around for some time, and despite high success rates and dozens of clinical studies, have also been linked with gallstones and metabolic damage.

Nevertheless, adherents say there is no safer way to lose weight quickly and that the risks of remaining obese outweigh any potential damage from the rapid weight change.

“I don’t feel any harm to my body,” said Ms Majzaub, 48, from Lebanon. “My mind is clear, I feel full and I’m losing weight every day.”

Ms Majzaub and Ms Catague both used a brand called Nutridiet, which is popular in Sweden and Norway under the name Nutrilett.

It relies on individuals consuming five or six sachets of 100-calorie, vitamin-fortified shakes a day for rapid weight loss, and no food. Sometimes two or three shakes are used in place of breakfast or lunch.

It is sold in Dubai by Swedish Health, and the sachets are already sold in 120 shops. The company estimates that 5,000 people in Dubai have tried the shake.

The company will this week sponsor the Your Child in Gold campaign by Dubai Municipality, which rewards people with a gram of gold for every kilogram lost over the course of six weeks.

“One might argue that GCC countries are already the fattest in the world,” said Peter Ekstedt, chief executive of Swedish Health.

“It’s a huge problem, and something that has probably derived from an instant adoption of a western lifestyle, but without the same opportunities to exercise. However, there’s a gradual recognition of that fact, and attitudes are changing.”

A survey in a medical journal in 2012 found the UAE to be the fifth fattest country in the world, with about 68 per cent of the population overweight. The average UAE resident eats about 3,000 calories a day, whereas the recommended daily allowance for men is 2,500 calories and 2,000 for women.

Dr Fawad Khan, a consultant in family medicine at Al Noor Hospital, said he couldn’t comment specifically on Nutridiet, but said he generally advised patients to not undertake any sort of crash diet.

“Generally doctors are not too keen on these sorts of diets,” he said. “We generally advise patients to modify their lifestyles, eating a balanced diet and taking regular exercise.”

He said it was often the case that people’s weight rebounded after finishing the diet. “It can generate a lot of psychological symptoms, and can really take a toll on the body. Extreme calorie restriction can sometimes cause muscle wastage, and it can have an impact on the kidneys.”

Ms Majzaub started Nutridiet soon after undergoing a gastric bypass. Through the combination of surgery and diet, she has lost more than 20kg in three months, dropping from 117kg to 97kg.

She aims to lose another 40kg, but says she is not in any rush.

“I do miss food, but I’m not in any rush to go back to eating,” she said. “If it takes another two or three years to reach the weight, I’ll do it.”

Ms Catague, who drank only 300 to 400 calories a day, less than the product maker’s recommended daily dose.

She said it took more than a week for her body to get used to the diet.

“I was starving, but I was motivated,” she said. “The first 10 days were the toughest. After that, you just adjust and you get used to it. I started noticing changes immediately. This is the only thing that’s worked.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae