Would you believe this man once weighed 130 kilos?
From flab to fab, how Essa Al Ansari lost 70 kilos in two years
We've all heard weightloss success stories before. There are friends and family members who swear by diets, Internet articles promising to help you lose weight in days, with TV shows like The Biggest Loser only adding fuel to the fire. Alas, no matter how many 'flab-to-fab' articles do the rounds, most people have a tough time shedding unwanted pounds. So, what is the difference between those who are weightloss success stories, and those who dread looking down at the weighing scale?
According to Essa Al Ansari, it all boils down to mindset. "I always say that setting goals and having a positive mindset are the most important factors," he says. "If you set smaller goals and take baby steps, trust me, you will reach them."
Easier said than done. But no one, least of all Essa, is saying it's going to be easy.
THEN AND NOW: Essa before and after his dramatic weightloss
Growing up, the Emirati national was obese, something he speaks of today with an openness and honestly that is rare. He didn't like exercise or physical activity of any kind - going as far as to call in sick if he knew there was going to be any sports activities in school the following day. What he did like was food. Having a sweet tooth meant that desserts and candies were a must. As he gradually gained more weight, he started getting bullied in school because of it. And the stress that came with it made him eat all the more.
In 2009, things got worse when he went to a university in Switzerland. Having no parents restricting him from eating what he wanted meant he kept gaining more weight. Once he returned to Dubai, he fulfilled his ambition of joining the hospitality sector, but even that had an adverse effect on his health as it fuelled his foodie lifestyle.
"I was overweight most of my life and got used to snacking on chips, chocolates, cookies, especially right before bedtime, which was the worst possible thing I could do. I would also order fast food at least two to three times every week," he admits. "My weight reached 130 kilograms. I was so embarrassed that I did not want to go out as much."
It was Essa's twin brother Hamad who helped him realise the repercussions of his lifestyle. Having always been fit himself, one day, he invited Essa to join him on a workout session. "I said, 'Why not?', as if I could do it," says Essa. "Believe it or not, I didn't last five minutes. I ran out of breath really fast and it made me realise what I had been doing to my body was extremely unhealthy."
It turned out to be a turning point for Essa, who decided it was time to take matters into his own hand and change his diet. Bidding farewell to his favourite foods was the hardest part, but he was determined. Essa began by setting smaller goals and working towards them, and that's something he recommends today for anyone who wants to lose weight.
"You can't just say you want to lose 20 kilograms and expect it to happen. I started by saying, 'I'm going to lose 8 to 10 kilograms in six months' and seeing if it worked. It did!"
Essa went on to lose 70 kilograms in just two years. Now 25 years old, he's as svelte as he can be - so much so that he's collaborating with fitness clothing brands such as La Martina. Today, he credits weightloss to a careful diet - four or five meals are eaten every three hours and they consist mainly of protein and green vegetables. Carbs are reserved as pre-or-post workout meals. He indulges from time to time, but always in limited portions. This is followed by an exercise routine that has him training six days a week. All this while managing his family business as director of Al Ansari Hospitality. "If you want to stay fit, you absolutely have to learn how to manage your time well. I wake up early to train and do cardio, and after work, I do strength training! Your job should not and cannot be an excuse for an unhealthy lifestyle," says Essa.
But simply changing his lifestyle didn't feel enough. Emboldened by how much more positive and energetic he began to feel after losing weight, today, Essa considers it his duty to spread awareness about the many benefits of eating healthy and staying fit to UAE residents, especially youngsters.
"We live in a place that has a very fast-paced lifestyle, where we have restaurants from all over the world available to us," says Essa, who believes that this easy access to choicest of food contributed to his obesity.
"I once remember asking my father if it was like this when he was younger and he told me it wasn't similar at all. And this easy lifestyle has an impact on one's health."
According to a recent survey by Zurich International Life, a little over 47 per cent of UAE residents are overweight with most of them clocking a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 30 - so you know Essa isn't exaggerating when he talks about the causes of weight gain. "It is very scary and something we need to look into," he adds. "Young children and students need to start living a healthy lifestyle now and not later. After all, the older you get, the harder it is to lose weight."
Luckily, Essa also has some tips to help UAE residents stay healthy. "According to the research I've done, 150 minutes of any type of sport or physical activity a week is a good start. I'd advise you to split those minutes into three different activities and do them on different days, so you don't get bored. For example, I alternate between swimming, running and high intensity workouts."
That's not the only advice he has. "Don't make excuses," he warns. "That won't take you anywhere. Set your goals, have a positive mindset and believe in yourself. That's the best way to achieve your dreams."