… it’s easy – just move to Riyadh.
Yes, that’s right my friends, you might notice that I will be a bit pudgier around the edges next time you see me. So now that I’ve put it out there, no need for any polite inquiries (“Hmmm, there’s something different about you, Camelgirl … did you change your hair?”).
My weight has pretty much been steady for the past several years. I would say I am just average in height and weight – a standard US size 8-10 (sometimes I fit size 4 – vanity-sizing at its best!) Is that average nowadays? I’m not sure. Anyway, most people who know me know that I really enjoy good food and meals are one of the highlights of my day. For the most part, I have been able to get away with just exercising maybe 3-4 times/week.
This strategy clearly has not worked for me in Saudi Arabia. Since coming here 2 months ago, my pants have been steadily and definitively getting tighter on me. I am still averaging about 3 workouts per week , but clearly the Saudi lifestyle has had a significant impact (despite sweating it out around the Pregnant Woman’s Walk). I can identify several factors at play here:
1. Eating late. Dinner time averages at around 9:30 pm here. Then it’s bedtime shortly after (hey, I need my 9 hours!), so instead of burning off the calories by being up and about for the rest of the evening, my food is being happily stored away somewhere safe … like around my hips. (See also #3 below.)
2. Dinner preceded by dessert. Although an excellent idea in theory, it does not bode well for the waistline. As you may know, it’s traditional to serve Arabic coffee and dates when you have guests come over. Nowadays, it is also very fashionable to serve chocolates, mini cup-cakes, squares, and other delectable sweets alongside the dates. It’s irresistible.
Of course, following dinner, there’s the usual dessert buffet too.
3. The ubiquitous housemaid. Most households (and I’m talking about just your standard middle-class Saudi family) have at least one housemaid who, as far as I can tell, works all day, 7 days a week. Note that this is a practicality more than a luxury for most, given the size of people’s homes and families, as well as the (im)practicalities of everyday life in Saudi (e.g. the traffic, women can’t drive, shops closing for prayer time 4 times a day …). We have a lovely, cheerful lady from Indonesia working for Camelmum. She is pretty busy, cleaning the house, doing laundry, washing the dishes, preparing meals, mopping the floors, sanitizing the bathrooms, dusting the furniture (amazing how much fine dust accumulates here) … I have to admit to being a bit spoiled by it. And even when I’m cooking, I can’t deny that it is nice to have someone help with the grunt work that comes with cooking, like chopping up the onions, or washing the pots and pans afterwards. All these little tasks one usually has to do at home definitely add up, and there’s a noticeable effect when you suddenly are relieved of those responsibilities. It’s no joke when people expound housework as an effective workout routine.
4. Car culture. As I’ve discussed before, Riyadh is not exactly a pedestrian-friendly city. People drive everywhere. Bike-to-work week? Walk-to-work week? Nope, won’t hear about those. And there’s no public transportation to speak of, so no stairs to climb in metro stations or sprinting to catch a bus. And on the escalator: stand left, walk right? Not standard practice here. The general sentiment seems to be that escalators are more for riding rather than for facilitating movement.
Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking. I can’t blame things completely on the Saudi lifestyle. There are definitely days that we could have dinner at our usual hour … and I suppose I could do some of the dishes and chop my own onions! Maybe my eyes are bigger than my stomach. And the pre-dinner sweets? I could say no (sometimes). Obviously I need to go to my gym more frequently, but then that would mean organizing with Camelman to drive me, but usually he has to go to work when I can go to the gym, so that means I have to arrange for another driver to take me, and then that means I’d have to make sure that I fit my other errands around the prayer times, and then … well, things get complicated.