A lot of people who I talked to while in Qatar seem to have one thing in common: after a couple of years in the Middle East, somewhere between long working hours and questionable lifestyle habits, they managed to gain an impressive amount of weight. Myself included. One of my colleagues (+8 kg in 5 years) once said that “When you live in Doha, even air and water make you fat!”. And while this might not be 100% accurate (at least I hope so 😉 ), I can definitely see a pattern.
So what exactly seems to be the problem, and what solutions does the country have to offer?
Below, I’m listing the most common issues people face when they try to maintain a healthy lifestyle in Qatar. I try to suggest ways to solve them, too – things that worked for me, or for people I know.
Problem: Heat is limiting our workout options.
Unfortunately, summer in Qatar seems to last forever! The fact that for so many months it’s simply too hot to spend time outside comes as a shock to those of us who, like me, came from countries where all-year-round outdoor activities are taken for granted. And unless we really set our minds on living healthy, we tend to stay indoors waiting for the weather to improve. Oftentimes, we are not even bothered to go out to eat and end up having ridiculously large quantities of junk food delivered to us (thanks a lot, Talabat!).
Ever heard of mall walking? As silly as it sounds, it’s actually a great idea! Speedwalking around DFC a couple of times can actually count as a mild workout. 😉 As a bonus, it’ll allow you to test the strength of your will, courtesy of all the cake / ice cream shops you’ll pass along the way. Stay focused!! I used to do mall-walk A LOT, in a feeble attempt to meet my daily 10,000 steps goal. Sometimes I even succeeded. 😉 Also, consider a gym membership. Even though it’s not the most exciting way to stay active, it will help you keep on track throughout the summer. No one said that maintaining a healthy lifestyle in Qatar will be a piece of cake! (no pun intended 😉 ).
Problem: Price of fitness activities.
I still remember how shocked I was upon discovering that the price of fitness classes and gym memberships in Qatar is up to 4 times higher than in Poland. I mean, who on earth can afford this? 😀 Ok, we could afford it, but our common sense told us that gym membership should cost less than, say, our kid’s school. Or a kidney. 😉
Stay away from the most popular fitness / gym chains and have a closer look at the small, local establishments. Thinking about joining a fitness class? Look for qualified instructors running their own classes, rather than those being employed by the fitness giants, where you need to get full membership in order to attend. Not sure where to find them? Ask online! I found the When, Where & How in Doha facebook group really useful.
Problem: Culture of eating out.
Something I both love and hate about Qatar! I love it that there are so many options out there when we decide to eat out. It’s also amazing that restaurants are open until late, and that many offer entertainment for the kids. BUT! Portions tend to be huge, so we eat much more than we need. Also, we don’t know exactly what is in each dish (save for the most basic ones 😉 ). I still remember how shocked I was when Chili’s started to put calorie values next to each menu item. I could not find any main course below 1000 kcal! Which is half of my body’s daily needs IN ONE DISH, excluding appetizer, drink, etc.
Cooking more at home is definitely something that would help you lead a healthy lifestyle in Qatar. This way at least you can control what goes inside your meal. I know, easier said than done. I’m definitely guilty of being too busy / too lazy to cook! One of the reasons why I joined the “fat crowd”. 😉 Working on that at the moment – I might write about my food adventures later on. Going back to the subject: when you do go out (because going out in Doha is awesome!), make it about other things than eating or having a latte with 10 pumps of syrup! Go watch a movie, have a walk in a park, take your kids to Gondolania, stroll aimlessly around the new Lusail Marina with a cup of take-away coffee… So many things to do that don’t involve devouring a 1500 kcal meal. 🙂
Problem: An unhealthy relationship between people and their vehicles. 😉
Another shocker for me. In Qatar, people seem to live in permanent symbiosis with their cars. Government is a bit at fault here – in some neighborhoods it’s next to impossible to find pavements, which is pretty discouraging for anyone thinking about having a stroll. Weather is at fault, too. But a big chunk of this phenomenon is based on pure laziness. I don’t find any other explanation for honking the car horn in front of a neighborhood convenience store and telling the employee to basically do your shopping for you. WTF. 😀
Use the metro! It’s open and it’s amazing! Not only you will move more, but you’ll also avoid traffic. Plus, metro tickets are much cheaper than fuel. Also, please do your own grocery shopping. 😀 (Can’t believe I actually had to write this!). If the weather allows, don’t park in front of the entrance of wherever you’re going – leave your car a bit further away and WALK. (Unless, of course, there’s a huge possibility of dying because of lack of pavements and crazy drivers around).
Problem: Unavailability and price of healthy food items.
Say, you finally decided to cook something at home. Chicken casserole sounds healthy enough, right? To make your dish extra special, you decide to get organic chicken – you heard they sell those in Monoprix. You arrive at the poultry section, see the price of the chicken, think they must have placed a comma wrongly… When you find out that the comma is, in fact, in a correct place, you turn around thinking whether to go directly to Chili’s and drown your sorrows in an appetizer sampler (because home cooking is clearly not your thing) or to go start an organic poultry business first (because it seems to be the most profitable business idea out there).
I can’t offer much advice here, unfortunately. Personally, I made a master list of whatever items are unavailable or ridiculously priced in Qatar and sourced them from my home country or hubby’s home country (either brought them myself, or asked a friend to bring something for me). This way it became a bit easier for me to lead a healthy lifestyle in Qatar.