Essa Al Ansari has come a long way from being ‘fat’ to now being one of the leading fitness experts in the UAE. Born on 24th September, 1991, Essa is a member of the reputed Al Ansari family, who own some of the UAE’s finest businesses in the hospitality and real-estate sectors.
He lived in Dubai all his life, before going on to complete his hotel management Bachelor’s degree in Switzerland. After graduation, he started his work experience at the Jumeirah Group, Starwood Four Seasons hotel chain, and finally decided to join his family business of real estate and retail apartments. Defining himself as a ‘sociable’ individual with excellent communication skills when meeting new people, Essa believes it is a combination of these elements which define his personality best.
Looking back at his history, Essa explains, “the food cooked at home was fattening, and I was always binge eating.” During the last two years of high school, he gained weight rapidly. Interestingly, when Essa was heading for Switzerland, he thought he would lose weight, considering that he would be in a new environment, but instead he ended up gaining a great deal of weight (nearly 150 kg).
His weight not only became a major issue for him, but also a source of embarrassment in public. As he points out: “I was bullied and I did not attend any social events. For example; when I was in shopping malls, I felt very self conscious of the way people were laughing at me.” Despite the bullying, Essa does not feel the need to blame anybody but himself.
The fact remains that Essa belongs to a family who are super healthy and encourage healthy eating. However, it was not easy for him to adapt to such a lifestyle. As he emphasises, “I was very stubborn since I craved chocolates, crisps and sweets. At school, I would nibble on desserts, especially cupcakes.”
The turning point was at the end of 2012 when Essa’s twin brother, Hamad, motivated him to make a change. He remembers how joining the gym stemmed from the point when he was sitting right in front of Hamad during one of his work outs. “Hamad asked me if I wanted to give it a try; it was his way of motivating me and boosting my morale. I worked out for five minutes and I couldn’t continue. After this, I said to myself, ‘I really need to hit the gym.’”
The transformation was slow, since he wanted to maintain his new found lifestyle by not rushing towards it, but by working out in a sensible manner. His persistence paid off as he felt this was a challenge he had to accomplish no matter what. There were several efforts he undertook to remain active which included swimming and walking. Interestingly, it was only when he warmed up towards the world of exercise that he formally introduced himself to the gym.
He went through strenuous training with a complete makeover in his routine, explaining, “I had a trainer so I had to wake up early. There was a change in my lifestyle, followed by a change in my diet, where I was expected to eat baked, roasted, steamed and boiled food. It would not be wrong to say that food has definitely changed my life.”
Using his weight loss transformation as a means of motivating others, Essa initiated a campaign which was designed to motivate others by talking about his journey from ‘fat to fit’ and by providing advice and tips on how to work out and eat correctly, through motivational tours at schools and even at corporate events. In the short space of time since he started his ‘Fitness with Essa’ campaign in the UAE, he has done countless tours in schools and has also participated in events. He explains the outcome has been rather fruitful, and that school children come up to him asking interesting questions relating to healthy food and even ways of how they can lose weight. Some of the fitness events he is associated with as a brand ambassador include ‘SSS Fitness Fest’, ‘Fitness Exhibition’ and ‘Fitness Expo Dubai’ (coming up in November this year).
Despite not having a background in fitness education, Essa believes fitness and healthy eating is an important issue that must be emphasised greatly in the UAE, since the consumption of junk and fatty food is ample. Considering the culture in the UAE where traditional food is fattening and sugary it definitely contributes to weight gain and its associated health problems.
Essa recommends the consumption of fruits such as dates as an excellent replacement of desserts. On the other hand, with regards to main course, he believes protein and carbohydrates are an excellent choice either baked, roasted or steamed. Having a balanced diet is important as he explains. Furthermore, he suggests using quinoa, which has rapidly grown in popularity over the last couple of years.
In terms of his plans, Essa anticipates taking his message and the ‘Fitness with Essa’ campaign beyond the Middle East. With such enthusiasm towards promoting healthy eating and fitness there is no doubt that such a motivational icon, who spreads positive energy through his experience and passion for fitness, is certainly important for the UAE.
Words by: Rabi’ah