In 2007, a year after I'd moved to Dubai and avowedly feeling helpless about my ballooning weight, I chanced upon an article that only a person in my then mental state would have found. The article explained why those who are overweight often find something — or someone — else to blame for their weight gain, to absolve themselves of the guilt.
A study by University of Warwick researcher Karen Throsby is heavily quoted in the article. After interviewing 35 patients who applied to the UK's National Health Service for weight-loss surgery, Throsby concluded that there were three main types of "excuses" used by the overweight.
These were genetics, issues from childhood, and lifestyle.
So, when someone suggested that my weight gain was the result of the infamous "Dubai Stone", I clutched on to it. A quick Google search told me what it is supposed to mean, with varying degrees of sincerity.
The "Dubai Stone", the narrative goes, is the weight you supposedly gain, about 6.3 kilograms, soon after having moved to the city. The reasons range from a more sedentary lifestyle to excessive brunches.
It's an enticing logic, and one even easier to manifest. So, for the next five years, I piled on my so-called "Dubai Stone" until a family tragedy knocked me out of my daze. I lost my brother, who was only 36, to a heart attack. While he did not live in Dubai, John was extremely overweight and smoked and drank. There were also professional and personal issues that clearly affected his overall well-being.
The year my brother died, I weighed 125kg, the heaviest I've ever been.
Within months, I walked into a gym for the first time in my life. I became obsessive about having regular medical checks. It was also during this time that my siblings and I found out we were predisposed to heart conditions, which strengthened our resolve to stay healthy.
Within a year, I lost 35kg.
It wasn't easy, of course. There were many days of failure, and of giving up. Still, I was lucky I didn't have any underlying medical issues to contend with. I know all too well by now weight loss is not just about walking into a gym and sweating it out.
In April, I marked 16 years in Dubai. While I wish I had an inspiring transformation story to tell when it comes to me and my weight, I don't. My weight has constantly fluctuated, mostly determined by my mental state at different stages of my life — from relationship failures to professional setbacks, and more loss.
When I lost my mother six years ago, the subsequent depression led me to pile on the weight. As I inched close to the dreaded 125kg once more, the panic drove me to try all kinds of weight-loss diets — keto, Atkins, veganism. I've had as many personal trainers with varying degrees of success, too.
But somewhere along the way, I had a change of heart: I've stopped obsessing over weight loss.
Now I follow the advice of my current personal trainer / unofficial therapist, who says: "Just enjoy the process."
At the time of writing this, I weigh a cool 86kg, which, according to my smart weight scale, is a "poor" body score, enunciated with a sad emoji. That fact would have sent me into a spin not that long ago, but now I go to the gym six days a week, and am happy when I walk out feeling mentally better and stronger than when I walked in.
My weight-loss story has no neat ending. And, like life, there's no telling when the next twist will come. But it just goes to show, it was never Dubai’s problem but one I had to resolve on my own.