Why Egyptians Can’t Diet

(Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

The 2008 Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey revealed that more than half of Egyptian men and women are either overweight or obese, the percentage being higher among women.

Although not as accurate as it could have been, the study is a significant indicator that Egypt is on the heavier side of the weight scale, with rising levels of obesity and accompanying heart diseases and type two diabetes.

So why can’t Egyptians diet? Here’s a list of struggles to overcome.


The Culture


The Egyptian perspective towards body size has always favored the kersh as a sign of wealth dating back to ancient times, as evidenced by this relief from Karnak of a noble man with skin folds of fat and moobs.

Overweight meant prosperity for both men and women up until the time of our grandparents. Men here still don’t regard being overweight as a problem. While such concepts have changed for unmarried women in our modern society, it is still deemed acceptable for them to gain weight after marriage and especially after pregnancy.

But this lax attitude towards working out and outdoor exercise, especially for women, needs to change. A healthy diet and lifestyle is based on conscious decisions.


The Diet


Although parts of the Mediterranean basin are famous for their heart-healthy diets, Egypt – since the dawn of civilization and the cultivation of wheat – follows a grain-based diet. It was a surprise for archeologists to find overweight and obese mummies with diabetes and heart conditions among royals who have always been depicted as slim and healthy.

Rice and bread are commonly found on Egyptian dining tables. Kushari is the staple of Egyptian cuisine and, when the people took to the streets back in 2011, bread was one of the major demands. Modern Egyptians eat high-carb diets with a higher content of mesabbek and usually low in protein.

And don’t even get me started on skipping salad as a norm and our world-famous, sugar-laden oriental treats. We need an immediate and drastic change in the Egyptian diet.


The Lifestyle

(Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)
(Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

Spending hours on our commutes trapped in non-moving vehicles, our dependence on elevators, our overtime desk jobs, as well as other features of our sedentary lifestyles all aid in adding those layers of fat to our bodies.

We shifted from an on-the-go, active society to a lazy, couch potato one. We even gain weight during the month of fasting owing to binge eating while watching the carnival of series on TV. We need to reintroduce the value of an active lifestyle to society.


The Knowledge

Egyptian Popeye 31-inch arms

This is a huge problem spread amongst almost all social levels of Egyptian society. We lack the proper knowledge. We don’t understand what constitutes healthy food choices inside and outside of the house, we’re tempted by the “ease” of crash diets and going under the knife as an alternative and, finally, we lack knowledge of proper workout methods for fat loss.

We see people around us dieting, losing weight and gaining it back as soon as they start dining out. We see gym freaks and guys pumping weights and consuming supplements instead of actually being healthy. Coaching – nutritional and fitness – is an urgent necessity.


The Exercise

(Nasser Nasser/AP)
(Nasser Nasser/AP)

We can’t talk about diet struggles without touching on the tragedy of exercise in Egypt. We’re a football fanatic society that spends hours watching matches – rather than actually playing – with sugar-loaded sodas in our hands. And we just don’t exercise enough.

Despite the rise in the number of sport clubs and gyms in Cairo, they are not accessible to the majority and few offer real, tangible help. We don’t have enough outdoor jogging and hiking spaces and we have no bike lanes in the streets. Public schools show no attention to physical education, especially for young women.

We are a society that I believe is eager to exercise, but we lack the proper means and facilities.


Although there are some great efforts from health professionals and key people in Egyptian society who aim to spread knowledge and promote initiatives that encourage leading active lifestyles, with healthy diet options and both outdoor and indoor exercise, we still have a long way to go.

As with most societal ills, the hope lies in the younger generations who are open to the outside world and have access to proper nutrition and fitness tips. But that is barely enough. We need governmental attention and support to actually implement nationwide changes – and that should be a major demand of the people.


WE SAID THIS: Check out “Flexible Dieting and Misconceptions“.