There’s no better time to recharge and revitalize your body than at the start of the New Year. This January, don’t let those health-related resolutions slip away. According to nutrition-expert Hany Aboul Naga, making just a couple of changes can instantly enhance your quality of life. eniGma’s Radwa El Ziki caught up with Egypt’s fitness guru to find out more about everything from healthy eating, surgical operations to nutrition myths…
At just 12 years old, Hany Aboul Naga knew exactly what he wanted to do: change people’s lives through exercise and nutrition. Of course, simply knowing what one wants to do isn’t always enough. Aboul Naga learned that lesson the hard way.
When Aboul Naga finished high school in Egypt, he applied to attend university in the United States to study nutrition. He was 17 years old at the time, and universities turned him down because he was under the age limit for admission. Yet that didn’t stop Aboul Naga. “I had to enroll into military school in Pennsylvania and it was horrible,” Aboul Naga recalls, shaking his head in dismay.
After Aboul Naga completed his year at military school, he moved to Miami, Florida and enrolled in Miami University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts and his Masters in Nutrition Science. He then wasted no time in kicking off his career, and did everything from work in a small hospital in Rome to teaching aerobics in Paris.
Aboul Naga’s varied work experiences and travels lead him to a surprising next step: choreography. “I did 16 video clips for Amr Diab, from Ameren to Habibi Wala Ala Balo,” Aboul Naga states.
Not one for settling on one thing for too long, Aboul Naga eventually returned to his true calling, and moved back to the US. There he obtained a PhD in Nutrition Science from the American Health Science University in Colorado, which focused on cancer prevention through diet and exercise. After that, Aboul Naga began working in clinics focusing on treating obesity, diabetes, cancer and blood pressure.
But even with all of his achievements – from choreography for Amr Diab to helping save lives – Aboul Naga wasn’t satisfied. And so, he moved back to Egypt to start his own business, the Fitness & Dance Academy (FDA), in, Zamalek, Cairo.
Although Aboul Naga’s academy focuses on health and fitness, it’s far from your average gym. “People address sports like a luxury. Yet it’s not just about looking good or even about being healthy, it’s a way of life,” Aboul Naga says of his mission. “ Many Egyptians do not acknowledge the word ‘health’, it is meaningless to them and we need to change that”
FDA’s prominence, coupled with Aboul Naga’s extensive background in the health industry, prompted his next great endeavor: a role on MBC’s Arabic version of The Biggest Loser “We used our own techniques and that resulted in 65 Kilos weight loss for the winning contestant in 6 months,” he recalls.
Working in this business, you are inevitably going to encounter celebrities. And Aboul Naga has worked several A-list clients, such as the Arab pop star Samira Said and Tunisian superstar Latifa, “Latifa was extremely fun to work with,” says Aboul Naga, “Yet working with a celebrity or not doesn’t make a difference to me. What matters is that the person is keen to get healthy and shape up.”
So what does Egypt’s favourite nutritionist have in store next? “We are working with MBC to create an Arabic version of The Doctors, and the script will specifically address the Middle East,” he says. Naturally, Aboul Naga will be the official nutrition and fitness expert of the show and the filming of the pilot is expected to start this month.There’s a lot more to come from Mr. Aboul Naga so it seems!
Exercise VS Operations
Patience is a virtue. Unfortunately in the Middle East, people are impatient to perfect their bodies, and rush into operations that, while fast-tracking weight loss, inevitably cause pain and suffering. According to Aboul Naga, weight loss operations can result in loss of collagen, discomfort, sleepless nights, and constant vomiting.
Delving a bit further into the subject, Aboul Naga explained two of the most popular weight loss operations in the Middle East right now. The first is the Ring, which stops food in the esophagus and often causes refluxing. Not only does it cause the patient physical problems and increases the risk of esophagus cancer, but there are psychological side effects as well. “Twelve of my male clients have divorced their wives because they keep vomiting resulting from this operation,” Aboul Naga admits.
There is also the Gastric Sleeve, an irreversible operation where half of the stomach is removed. Aboul Naga suggests asking this simple question: “What about vitamins, minerals, stomach expansion and absorption?” Going under the knife is just not worth it. Unless you fall under the criterion set by the American Heart Association, where your Body Mass Index (BMI) is over 40, then you shouldn’t even think about it, he says. Normal body mass is between 18.5-24.9, which is a fairly lenient interval to comfortably set one’s body weight.
For long-lasting and pain-free weight loss, exercise is key. In Aboul Naga’s new weight loss program, Express Training, he guarantees his clients lose 10 or more kilos in 6 weeks, through healthy eating, exercise, shaping and toning. And what makes this workout different from others is the psychological aspect. “It is really important to pin point why your eating habits went wrong,” explains Aboul Naga.
And so, his Express Training involves the incorporation of trainers, nutritionists, surgeons and a therapist for guaranteed results. Aboul Naga also stresses that unprofessional trainers can do a lot of harm, and encourages clients to ask about a trainer’s medical background before they embark on a fitness program.
With so many nutritionist and diet trends flooding the market, how do we know which ones are legit? According to Aboul Naga, there is no such thing as a diet that everyone can abide by. To ensure the best results, Aboul Naga has introduced a new way of living, dubbed “Modern Nutrition.”
Here’s how it works: clients who sign up for the Modern Nutrition program immediately undergo a screening process that sorts out their medical condition and family history. Once this is done, clients undergo a “mirroring” process, where Aboul Naga uncovers why the client is consuming extra food. Is it overeating? Night eating? A sweets addiction? When he finds out the problem he can then proceed. And instead of tackling the problem via diet, Aboul Naga goes even further. “Diet is the aggressive cure, we start with the biological clock first,” as Aboul suggests that changing eating habits and understanding one’s metabolism is most important.
Aboul Naga also recommends other lifestyle changes, such as getting an adequate amount of sleep and eating a proper breakfast, which starts your body off right for the day. “Having coffee with a cigarette in the morning and having your breakfast at 12pm decreases your metabolism by 30%”.
Health Myths Dispelled
Here are a few food myth’s Aboul Naga dispells:
1.Spinach is NOT the best source of iron. On the contrary, it contains oxalate, which does not allow the iron to be absorbed. Eating chicken liver or coloured pepper with your protein will do the job.
2.Chocolate does NOT make you happy, it makes you fat. Eating a boiled potato with its skin will have the same effect as chocolate.
3.Milk is not the best source of calcium. Instead, try guava fruit to increase your calcium uptake.
4.The stomach does not get bigger. That is physically impossible. The stomach is surrounded by the liver and other organs. It is, however, elastic, so when you eat food it expands..
PHOTOGRAPHY: Alaa Taher