04 March 2015 Last updated

Diet Challenge

Meet the Aquarius Diet challengers

Welcome to our first Aquarius Diet Challenge! Three brave readers have signed up for three months of intensive exercise and strict nutrition in a bid to slim down, tone up and lose more kilos than the other competitors. The prize? A year’s free membership at a gym

By Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius magazine
27 Aug 2012 | 11:34 am
  • Diet diaries

    From left: Emma Paine, who weighs 89 kg., wants to lose 17 kg; Sukaina Merchant, who weighs 113 kg., wants to lose 43 kilos; Christina Thomas, who weighs 91 kg., wants to lose 20 kg.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque and Grace Paras/ANM

Emma Paine 39, from Britain
Married with two grown-up children
Works in learning support department at JESS Secondary, Arabian Ranches

Weight at start: 89.6kg
BMI at start: 31.9
Total body fat at start: 35.2%

Emma: I’m 40 next year and I should be looking sexy, but I don’t feel sexy at all.

On weightloss “Since moving to Dubai five years ago, I have struggled to control my weight. It seemed to creep up on me slowly… I’m naturally curvy and weight has always been distributed evenly around my body and in proportion, so I always looked OK with nothing really sticking out or being too big in relation to anything else. Now though I feel it’s all sticking out too much. I’ve tried to lose weight in the past and then quite successfully gained it again.”

On fitness “I enjoy the gym, but I don’t know how to work the machines (I actually fell off a treadmill once, which thankfully nobody saw). I went to boxing classes, but didn’t keep it up. I love canoeing and have been a few times but, again, I haven’t made it a habit. My husband and I have been for early morning walks around the lake near our house and sometimes I challenge us to run/walk/run/walk, which we both like doing. I’ve been out on bike rides with friends but it isn’t something that’s regular.”

On nutrition “I make rules for myself like ‘Don’t buy chocolate’, but then I break it because who’s going to tell me off? Each day changes with my eating – a good day would start with some toast and an apple; a sandwich and crisps for lunch; then lasagne or shepherd’s pie for dinner, or we’ll go for dinner at our local club. I like healthy yoghurts but end up eating a whole pot in one go. I like chocolate – in fact I’m having a secret love affair with Cadbury’s. If someone asked me to look after their child and gave me a packet of Cadbury’s chocolate buttons, the child would get three – it’s that bad.”

What the Aquarius Diet Challenge is all about 

On motivation “I know that the longer I stay like this, the harder it will be to shift it. I’m 40 next year and I should be looking sexy, but I don’t feel sexy at all. I’m not saying I’m low in confidence, just low in the know-how of getting to a better weight. I don’t want to be reaching for the size 16s anymore. I want the size 12s. I don’t want to be one of those women who stops trying.”

Personal mantra “Remember, you’re a strong independent woman who can achieve anything you put your mind to.”

Emma’s gym is... Optimal Fitness

About Optimal Fitness: Kelly Frost, group exercise instructor and membership co-ordinator, says, “We’re the gym equivalent of the TV show Cheers – we know all of our members by name and we have a warm and welcoming atmosphere. One Optimal Fitness member has said, ‘I come here because it’s always fun and varied, and there is something for everyone. The instructors make the classes an enjoyable experience and motivate us with their great energy, and some have become friends. In the past year, Optimal Fitness has become my second home.’”

Fitness ethos: “We don’t say that it will be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.”

Nutrition plan: Keith Littlewood, Optimal’s rehabilitation and nutritional therapist, says, “I encourage nutrition principles that support cell function. I also recommend an assessment of the gut, thyroid and adrenal health and a lifestyle assessment for my clients.”

Studio City, call 04-4572048 or for more information, visit

Sukaina Merchant Naqvi 35, from India
Married with a two-year-old son
Currently a homemaker, planning to start her own company shortly

Weight at start: 113.9kg
BMI at start: 44
Total body fat at start: 45%

Sukaina: I’m tired of being lazy and want to run around with my son.

On weightloss “The last time I remember being happy about my weight was when I was 11 years old. I don’t remember what I weighed, but I was skinny. Losing weight has always been a struggle for me… it’s demotivating seeing others putting in half the effort you put in yet losing more.”

On fitness “I like exercising. I just need to get past the initial laziness. I was in the volleyball team at school. Now? My weight makes sure I remain in the shadows... I’m looking forward to the exercise regime on the Diet Challenge – I wasn’t thrown into it, I wanted this. I am ashamed that I’ve let this happen to me and I intend to make amends... 20 plus years of steady weight gain will not go away easily, will it? Hard-core routine is what I need.”

On nutrition “At the moment, food is my biggest challenge. I am an emotional eater. I eat when I’m bored, when I’m sad, when I’m worried, when I’m stressed. My emotions are strongly linked to food and it has become a source of comfort. So that’s my biggest challenge, really – to break this emotional bond with food, to train my mind and change my lifestyle, to reduce my love for food and look to satisfy my need for comfort elsewhere.”

On motivation “I have a really long list of motivating factors: good health – I’m too young to die of fat-related diseases; fitness – I’m tired of being lazy and want to be able to run around with my son; looks – I want to look in the mirror and admire the person I see, instead of shying away from her; memories – I avoid being photographed, or stand behind other people, so I’m missing out on a lot of great memories; confidence – my weight overrides all of my talents and good qualities… it’s a huge heavy blanket I want to throw off so that the real me can shine; and lastly, success – doing this change will give me an ‘I can achieve anything’ attitude in all other aspects of life, too.”

Personal mantra “Pain is temporary, quitting is permanent. It’s your choice. Just remember why you started in the first place.”

Sukaina’s gym is... Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark

About Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark: Candice Howe, co-founder, says, “We teach movement and how to move, with the aim of better preparing clients for their life whether that involves contact sports, chasing toddlers all day, or just looking and feeling great. CrossFit makes you better at life... and we have the best community in Dubai.”

Fitness ethos: “We believe true fitness spans all areas of life from physical to nutritional to emotional. Quality sleep, good nutrition and stress management are what enables you to thrive physically. Fitness is a lifestyle, not just a few hours in the gym a week.”

Nutrition plan: “We advocate and follow the Paleo Diet, which essentially involves removing processed and inflammatory foods and filling our diets with wholesome, nutrient-dense foods, such as good quality meats, fruits, vegetables and good fats.”

Concorde Tower in JLT , visit for more information

Christina Thomas 31, from India
Married with two young daughters
Works in marketing communications

Weight at start: 91.2kg
BMI at start: 33.8
Total body fat at start: 37

Christina: My two girls need a healthy, active and fun me.

On weightloss “The only time I ever tried to lose weight was just before my wedding. That’s the first time I went to a gym with the intention of shedding a few kilos. I managed to shed around five, but that’s about it.”

On fitness “I’ve never been the sporty type. Actually quite the opposite – I’ve always been a bookworm… the type of kid that aced academics but never broke a sweat. I used to visit the gym during my college days, but that was more to keep my friends company. I know I could make time for the gym now if I wanted to, but whenever I get home, I feel like I need to spend time with my kids as I haven’t seen them all day. That kind of overriding guilt makes me choose them over the gym. Probably just an excuse my subconscious is making, but it’s stopped me so far.”

On nutrition “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I don’t ever overeat or take seconds but obviously I must be doing something wrong for this stubborn fat to have lodged itself all over my body. I’m looking forward to getting some structure. I want professional advice on how and what to eat instead of just following one diet after the other from snippets in magazines.”

On motivation “My main motivations are my health and my children. I wouldn’t have even considered my health to be an issue until I found myself on a hospital bed with very high blood pressure. I mean, come on... Who gets a heart attack at 31? Well, little did I know, but I’m inching towards being a statistic of this ‘silent killer’. The only solution is a healthy fitness regimen and a diet with minimal salt. There is medication, but it would mean I’d have to stop breastfeeding my youngest. I’d feel so guilty if that were to happen.”

Personal mantra “I saw a quote once that said ‘the difference between try and triumph is just a little umph!’ I know I’m going to have some really difficult days – or perhaps the entire 90 days is going to be a struggle – but there’s honestly no gain without some pain. Attached to this note would be a picture of my two girls. They need me – a healthy, active and fun me.”

 Christina’s gym is... Symmetry Gym

About Symmetry: “We are a small, exclusive gym providing scientifically backed and experientially tested training programmes for those serious about losing weight and willing to work hard to get lasting results,” says managing director Alexandra Causton. “We have a 30-day satisfaction guarantee – the only gym in Dubai to do so.”

Fitness ethos: “We believe every individual has the responsibility to pursue their most perfect self, meaning a balanced, elegant, functional physique enabling them to perform to their fullest potential. The more symmetrical, the better.”

Nutrition ethos: “Our nutrition plans are designed to neutralise the fat-storage effects of high-stress hormones in your system – this means we do not starve you, nor do we exclude any macronutrients. We ensure structured eating and include a cycle of planned cheating to help you stop storing fat in stubborn areas.”

Dubai Gold and Diamond Park, call 04-3466479;

Profiles: Weight watchers

Emma Paine

Current weight: 89 kilos
Goal weight: Her pre-wedding weight of between 67kg and 70kg ideally, but is aiming for 72kg.

Sukaina Merchant

Current weight: 113 kilos
Goal weight: Ideally would like to be 65kg to 70kg, but would be happy with 70kg to 75kg.

Christina Thomas

Current weight: 91 kilos
Goal weight: Weighed 66 kilos before she got married six years ago but is now aiming for 71 kg.

By Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius magazine

By Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius magazine