DUBAI // It is only three weeks into 2017 and already many diet plans and healthy eating vows have fallen by the wayside, a survey of UAE dieters revealed.
With obesity and diabetes on the rise, many people have good intentions of starting the new year on a healthy footing but fall foul of the danger zone - the 3.30pm snack attack.
That, according to nutrition experts, is the time most workers give in to temptation.
Nationwide research they carried out showed that that 51 per cent of respondents - 750 people aged between 18 and 64 - broke their new year diets midafternoon.
That compared with 18 per cent in the morning and 31 per cent late at night.
"After January, people find themselves falling back into the same old routine, known as the 'comfort zone'," said nutritionist and blogger Linda O'Byrne.
"Transformation doesn't happen by trying to eliminate bad habits overnight, but by dealing with them as if they are real problems, by tracing back the causes and triggers and finding feasible and realistic solutions."
Those who broke their diets to snack on sugary foods or carbohydrates blamed boredom, temptation from friends or a social obligation to join in with office eating.
Others said they chose to snack in the afternoon because they were emotionally distressed, too busy to eat at lunchtime, had a dip in energy or felt unwell.
People from across the UAE, in various professions including health care, teaching, engineering and transport, were surveyed by nutrition experts from New Atkins Lifestyle, which advocates a low-carbohydrate diet to encourage weight loss.
Palm resident Lucy Self, 31, moved to Dubai from London in September and put on 6.3 kilograms in four months.
"I've always had a lot of protein in my diet but I've had to make a big adjustment to reduce carbohydrate and sugar," she said.
"I try to choose healthier options for lunch at work. In England, I exercised regularly and cycled 24 miles (38 kilometres) to and from work every day, but in Dubai I can't do that so I've put on a lot of weight."
Sneha Ashar, 31, who works in communications in Dubai, is finding it difficult to change her traditional Indian diet to one with fewer carbohydrates and admits to giving in to afternoon treats. "Dieting is tough," she said. "I usually eat a lot of rice and wheat, so trying to eat just salads and vegetables does not feel like a complete meal.
"Rarely do I feel full because I'm used to a heavier diet than what I eat now. I get a lot of cravings and it has been easier to cut out sugar than carbs.
"It is a constant battle between the heart and mind. I do cheat from time to time. It's difficult to make permanent changes when there's so much temptation."
Dubai Health Authority is working with the municipality to bring in a food-labelling rule for restaurants, so all establishments will have to declare the calories in every dish they serve.
The hope is that giving consumers more information will help to reduce food temptation.
Emirati Ali Al Marzouqi, 25, is developing a mobile phone app that will help people to make healthy choices when ordering takeaway food or eating at restaurants.
"I took on a new fitness resolution five years ago and became obsessed with counting the calories I was consuming," he said. "It has changed my life and I've dropped 20kg in weight from 85kg.
"At work, I take my own food so I know exactly how many calories I'm eating."
Mr Al Marzouqi, an analyst at National Bank of Abu Dhabi, said the free app would promote healthy food in restaurants by providing a database of dishes displaying calorie content.
"I'm surveying 30 people who are using the 'Diet and Go' app in a pilot scheme to see how they are getting on with it," he said.
"People can use it on the go to help them make healthier food choices."
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