MISSION TO INSPIRE HEALTHY YOUTHS
Businessman mentors pupils after shedding half his body weight
At 25 years old and a member of a wealthy, influential UAE family, Essa Al Ansari could probably do just about anything he wanted.
But the young Emirati is choosing to channel his spare time talking to schoolchildren about the dangers of bingeing on snacks and junk food - a lesson he knows only too well.
Al Ansari says something must be done about our rank as the world’s 15th most obese country.
“I want to inspire the next generation,” he told 7DAYS. “We have an easy life in the UAE where we don’t have to walk anywhere, we can get food delivered to the car, anywhere if you like.
“I want people, youngsters, to at least think about what they are doing. And by reaching the kids, they might go home and tell their parents they want a healthy, balanced dinner.”
Al Ansari spent years struggling with obesity and tipped the scales at 130kg during his time at university in Switzerland, before undergoing a gruelling weight loss and training regime to turn his life around.
In a little over two years, the young hospitality executive has lost more than half his bodyweight, 70kg. Al Ansari is giving presentations to teenagers at schools across Dubai.
His “journey” has not been easy, as he told hundreds of students at Emirates International School in Jumeirah this week.
“The meals we had at home were healthy, but the problem was when they all went to bed I would go into the kitchen looking for snacks - crisps, chocolates, candy,” he said
“I would often bring a box of cupcakes to school for my friends. They loved me for that.”
His predicament hit home when on a trip back home to Dubai from university in Switzerland, weighing 130kg, he decided to join his brother in a spot of circuit training.
“My twin brother was always really fit and told me one day that I had to get fit, because it was dangerous how overweight I was. I was the biggest loser,” he said, referring to a new American reality TV Show, which he hopes to one day bring to the UAE.
“I literally trained for five minutes and I was dying. I couldn’t move. I think my brother purposely did that to make me realise how bad I was. So I decided to change. I started with a personal trainer, and gave up the snacks,” Al Ansari told students.
“The most important thing is setting goals,” he said, adding that he set targets to lose 10-12kg per month, working out for two hours a day.
One of the things Al Ansari hopes to ingrain in kids is that eating a healthy diet and keeping fit is the only healthy way to lose weight.
“If you do it naturally it takes years. A lot of people go for the easier option, for the bypass operation.
“Surgery food is very common here in the UAE,” he said, referring to widespread gastric bypass operations in the Middle East.
“It’s at a huge number, it’s insane and keeps on increasing every year, because it’s the easy way out,” he said.
The nation’s preference for surgery food is rooted in a culture of cosmetic fixes and lack of parental responsibility, said head of physical health education at EIS, Laila Freckleton.
“It’s pure laziness. Kids skip PE class because they think ‘why should I exercise?’
“‘If I get overweight I can just get a gastric bypass or a personal trainer’.
“And their parents are happy to pay for it,” Freckleton said.
In 2015, more than 30 per cent of the UAE population was obese, while over 60 per cent are overweight, according to Index Mundi world statistics website.
“I want to change the culture here. I’m not saying don’t treat yourself to junk food, just limit it to once a week, as a Friday treat,” Al Ansari said.
LESSONS LEARNED: Al Ansari speaks to pupils at Emirates International School