"The Dubai Stone": Why Expats Gain Weight and Top Tips to Manage It | ExpatWoman.com

"The Dubai Stone": Why Expats Gain Weight and Top Tips to Manage It

Here is why you might find yourself gaining weight during your stay in Dubai, and top tips for effective weight management

Posted on

6 June 2023

Last updated on 8 June 2023
Why People Gain Weight in Dubai and How to Manage Weight Loss in UAE

Dubai bears a heavy burden of "the Dubai stone".

Dubai is a cosmopolitan city with a diverse population of expats from all over the world. It is a city of wealth and opportunities with a rich history and culture. But Dubai is also a city where weight gain is a growing problem occasionally referred to as "the Dubai stone" among the expat community.

It is no doubt that obesity is a worldwide major public health concern, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is no exception. The prevalence of obesity in Dubai is highest among the emirates. A recent study by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) found striking results of 70% of expat women in Dubai being overweight or obese.

SEE ALSO: 9 Sneaky Foods Filled With Hidden Sugar and Their Health Risks

Why should we worry about weight gain?

This is a major health related concern, as obesity is associated with several chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol problems and even cancers. Weight gain can also have significant psycho-social influences on one’s life making it difficult for them to find clothes of their choice, socialise in gatherings and participate in physical activities.

Let’s look at some of pathophysiological processes leading to weight gain and try to corelate it with this part of expat population, with Dr. Jawad Bashir, Consultant Endocrinologist & Diabetologist at Mediclinic Dubai.

What causes weight gain in Dubai?

1. Energy imbalance between the two Es: What you Eat + What Exercise you do

"The two “Es” (meaning what one Eats and how much Exercise they do) are totally personalised factors which can only be modified by the individuals themselves," explained Dr. Jawad.

Calories consumed exceed the calories burned

The human body stores excess energy in the form of fat, leading to weight gain over time. This imbalance can result from overeating, consuming calorie-dense foods, and a sedentary lifestyle that limits physical activity and calorie expenditure.

Energy-dense, high-fat, and high-sugar foods tend to be palatable and easily accessible. Furthermore, frequent consumption of processed foods, sugary beverages, and large portion sizes can disrupt appetite regulation and contribute to overeating.

Lack of activity or sudden reduction in usual activity can lead to dysregulation of the body’s usual equilibrium leading to excessive storage of calories consumed in form of body fat. This goes in a vicious circle as heavier bodies are physically more reluctant to endure strenuous activity.

Exposure to food that are rich in cards and fat

Expats in Dubai may face a sudden change in their energy balance. Exposure to local cuisine (rich in carbs and fat), deprivation from native cultural foods, consumptions of processed foods, less intake of organic food items and easier access to fast foods are only some of the possible contributory factors.

Prolonged sitting and limited exercise

Dubai remains an ultra-modern tech-oriented living heaven for expats. The technological advancements, working from home, longer drive to work place and modern conveniences have led to a decrease in physical activity levels. Sedentary behaviors such as prolonged sitting, excessive screen time, and limited exercise reduce calorie expenditure and hinder weight management efforts.

Regular physical activity is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being.

How to manage weight gain and weight loss in Dubai

2. Misdiagnosing a person's weight gain as a chronic disease or caused by psychological/external factors

"This area remains a challenge for healthcare professionals to explore," said Dr. Jawad.

If medical professionals can correctly identify the true causes of a patient's weight gain, it can lead to proper intervention and reduced struggle for the individuals struggling with weight loss.

"The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and American College of Endocrinology (ACE) have proposed an alternative word for 'obesity': Adiposity-Based Chronic Disease (ABCD):," he added.

This aims to remove the stigmatisation around obesity and explicitly identifies it as a chronic disease. Dubai Endocrinologists can playa vital role to differentiate between hormonal imbalance or psychological factors leading to weight-related issues.

What causes obesity in Dubai?

A. Weight gain caused by an imbalance in hormone levels.

Hormones play a vital role in regulating appetite, metabolism, and fat storage. Imbalances in hormone levels can disrupt these processes and contribute to weight gain.

Common hormonal conditions that need to be excluded for individuals struggling with weight include conditions such as hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, impaired fasting glucose, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and hormonal changes during pre-menopause/menopause.

All these conditions can affect metabolism, appetite, energy expenditure and increase the risk of weight gain. Additional adiposity-based complications like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatigue, menstrual disturbance and depression are also common.

Certain medications, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, and some contraceptives, have been linked to weight gain as a side effect.

Furthermore, certain rare medical conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome or acromegaly or adult growth hormone deficiency can also contribute to weight gain. But luckily, they are rare conditions and produce additional clinical signs which are easily identified by endocrinologists.

B. Weight gain caused by psychological factors.

Once the hormonal imbalance has been excluded one must evaluate individuals with obesity having psychological factors, including stress, emotional eating, and certain mental health conditions, which can contribute to weight gain.

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that can promote weight gain, particularly in the abdominal region. Emotional eating, often as a response to stress or negative emotions, can lead to overeating and weight gain.

Additionally, conditions such as depression and binge eating disorder (bulimia nervosa) are associated with weight gain.

Such challenging conditions are rare but can be managed with professional help from endocrinologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, dieticians, or bariatric surgeons in Dubai.

What causes obesity and weight gain in Dubai?

3. Weight gain due to genetics

The last challenging factor affecting weight gain in Dubai are a person's genes. Family genetics play a significant role in an individual's body fat distribution.

Studies have identified specific genes associated with body weight regulation, metabolism, and fat storage. There are also genetic variations affecting appetite control, fat absorption, and energy expenditure, influencing an individual's susceptibility to weight gain.

A change in environment as a new expat abroad

Since our genes originate in certain geographies, a sudden change in environment might light up some epigenetic pathways leading to dysregulation of our metabolism.

"Would that be a causative factor contributing towards "the Dubai stone" among expats?" Dr. Jawad noted.

"This is a question which is yet to be answered," he continued.

However, genetics alone do not determine our weight status, and environmental factors also play a significant role.

Why do expats gain weight while abroad?

A Doctor's top tips on how to manage your weight in Dubai

Here are some additional tips for expat women who are trying to manage their weight in Dubai:

  1. Set realistic goals. Don't try to lose too much weight too quickly. Aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week.
  2. Find an activity you enjoy. Exercise doesn't have to be boring. Find something you enjoy doing and make it a part of your routine.
  3. Make small changes. Don't try to change everything at once. Start by making small changes to your diet and lifestyle. These changes will add up over time.
  4. Make gradual changes to your diet and lifestyle. Don't try to change everything at once. Start by making small changes, such as cutting out sugary drinks or eating more fruits and vegetables.
  5. Find a support system. Having friends or family members who are also trying to lose weight can help you stay motivated.
  6. Don't give up. Weight loss takes time and effort. Don't get discouraged if you don't see results immediately. Just keep at it and you will eventually reach your goals.
  7. Get support. Talk to your endocrinologist or a registered dietitian for help creating a weight management plan that is right for you.

Remember, managing weight is a journey, not a destination. Be patient with yourself and don't give up. With hard work and dedication, you can reach your weight loss goals.

Overcoming the stigma of "obesity" in Dubai

"Obesity is actually Adiposity-Based Chronic Disease (ABCD), and weight gain is a complex process," said Dr. Jawad.

Weight gain is a complex process influenced by a combination of factors, including energy imbalance, genetic predisposition, dietary choices, sedentary lifestyle, hormonal imbalances, psychological factors, medications, and underlying medical conditions.

It is important to promote a balanced and nutritious diet, encourage regular physical activity, manage stress and emotional eating, and address underlying medical conditions that may contribute to weight gain.

Do not forget the role of your Endocrinologist to exclude hormonal disturbance leading to your weight gain. Don’t shy away under the “obesity” stigma term as this could be an endocrine pathology Adiposity-Based Chronic Disease (ABCD). Seek help when feeling a struggle!

Expat women in Dubai are capable of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight for improved overall health and well-being.

Dr. Jawad Bashir, Consultant Endocrinologist & Diabetologist at Mediclinic Dubai

Dr. Jawad Bashir
Consultant Endocrinologist & Diabetologist
Mediclinic Dubai Mall and Mediclinic Parkview Hospital

To consult with Dr. Jawad Bashir about weight management and obesity in Dubai, please get in touch below.

Mediclinic Dubai Mall
Sponsored by
Mediclinic Dubai Mall
Mediclinic Dubai Mall is Dubai’s largest Ambulatory Care Medical Centre. Located in The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall, the Centre covers over 60,000 sqft and provides state-of-the-art facilities.

PO Box 282890, Dubai, UAE
Dubai Mall, Fashion Parking, Level 7