Mai Hamed had spent a lifetime trying to control her weight. Unhealthy habits and zero exercise caused her scales to hit highs of 105 kilograms, which given her 154cm height gave her a BMI of more than 44.
This classified the mother as morbidly obese and made her vulnerable to conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Over the years, fad diets and bursts of enthusiasm allowed Mai, 37, to lose weight occasionally, but the change was unsustainable and the kilos always piled back on.
“I was always a chubby baby, then I got married, had two kids, never was into fitness or working out, the maximum effort I would do was walk,” said the category director from Egypt.
“At some point I weighed 105kg and I am only 154cm tall, so you can imagine how I looked – like a real balloon."
Bearing two children brought with it more stress as the additional weight she gained seemed even harder to shift.
“Pregnancy was particularly difficult because I was always severely overweight.
As the pandemic loomed, Mai weighed around 90kg. Still significantly overweight for her height, reports that Covid-19 was especially dangerous to anyone with pre-existing conditions spurred her into changing her lifestyle.
“It did not hit me until Covid happened and I thought; 'health is key'. The healthier we are, the stronger we are to fight something like Covid."
With new-found motivation, Mai began to exercise and paid closer attention to what she put on her plate. Enthusiasm for her new lifestyle meant she soon qualified as a nutritionist and is now a certified fitness trainer.
“When the lockdown started in March 2020, I thought while I’m staying at home I need to change something in my life.
“The first thing I thought about was that I have to take care of my health, and this time I will not just aim to lose weight and that is it; I will study the whole process.”
She finished her diploma from Precision Nutrition, and studied with Body Hack in Dubai to become a personal trainer and lead group fitness classes, “and I started applying everything to myself”, she said.
Mai transformed her home into one that supported her new lifestyle. Soon it was equipped with weight sets and an exercise bike.
“I started shedding the weight doing Les Mills on demand, spinning, body combat and body pump.”
In March 2020, Mai weighed 89kg. After more than a year of changing her habits she now weighs 64kg.
After losing the excess weight, Mai said she realised her newly adopted lifestyle had turned into a passion and she plans to pursue it further.
“It was very hard to juggle my full time job, taking care of the kids, home-schooling and studying for my certification.
“I would wake up at 6am to train, run a virtual class in the evening, and study at night; I loved every bit of it.”
Mai said she specifically likes to guide other women struggling with their weight-loss journey and would like to start teaching prenatal fitness classes.
Recalling how her body image affected her confidence at work, she said it should not have been important to her, but it was. It caused her to shy away from social occasions with colleagues and hide when they took photos.
“They were all shocked when I walked through the door and started asking 'where is the rest of Mai?'.”
Creating an Instagram account under the name @thefit4mula, Mai wanted to show others how she did it.
One of the merits of losing weight, she said, was getting to wear nicer clothes.
But while this used to be one of her main goals in the past, she said she discovered that “it is much deeper than that”.
“When I was growing up everybody just told me to stop eating and to lose weight," she said. "That never worked.
“I wish they had approached me differently and explained that it is a holistic [process] and supported me to do it.”