Baraa El Sabbagh is a Dubai-based registered dietician, certified sports nutritionist, ACE certified personal trainer and Adidas Mena rep who helps her clients, 100k+ Instagram followers, listeners to her B for Better Health podcast and more become the best and healthiest versions of themselves – and helping them overcome challenges along the way. She tells The Livehealthy Podcast about her exercise philosophy, the importance of breathing, what Covid taught her and more.
What made you go beyond dietetics?
I felt like it didn’t make sense on its own. I’m like, ‘Okay, I can help people eat better, but how do people get results? How do they really change their lifestyle?’ In nutrition, they teach you that, yes, you should exercise three times a week or 150 minutes a week and I’m like, ‘Is that enough? How do you increase performance? How do you do better?’
That’s when I went and I did my certification in personal training alongside it, and I merged the two together. My reach is to always be able to help people bring them in together because their results are amplified when you combine healthy eating with exercise compared to just healthy eating in my opinion. I refuse for people to just go on calorie deficits if their goal is to lose weight, for example. That’s just brutal.
What’s your exercise philosophy?
Depending on the level that you’re at, just start with anything that you like. If walking is your jam, then let’s just do that for the first week, two weeks; 30 minutes of walking, 15 minutes of walking every day, whatever works in your lifestyle. Is it yoga that you really love? Let’s just do a few classes of that. Is it dance? Let’s do that. You want to hit the gym? Let’s do that. You want to do home workouts? The objective is to really just move, get in the rhythm of doing something that makes you feel good, and most, most, most importantly is to stay consistent with whatever you choose.
The other thing that I feel very strongly about is incorporating resistance training when you are ready to incorporate resistance training for several reasons, including bone health, increasing your muscle mass, increasing your metabolism, all that dopamine that also comes with it. Feeling good, feeling strong. It’s good for whatever age you’re at right now, if you’re consistent with it, it helps you when you’re 70. Helps you when you’re 80 to get off the chair feeling strong, to not be fragile, to live a long healthy life, to be able to lift your kids up, to lift your groceries up, to put that luggage up in the cabinet, in the airplane.
To incorporate the functionality of life through resistance training, I think is essential for all of us to feel capable, strong human beings, I think is where it’s all at.
How should people stay motivated?
It’s so important to really have a strong reason why you’re doing everything that you’re doing, because when things get tough, do you remember your why? It just keeps you centered and strong, no matter what’s coming your way, and having reminders or mantras about it.
Saying something to yourself every morning when you meditate or you journal or you wake up and you have the specific goal in your mind, or maybe even putting a vision board. Just to surround yourself with what it is that you want to achieve to keep it as a reminder so that that motivation is always there and you’re always reminded that there is a reason why I’m doing this.
How can you use breath in exercise?
If I’m having a super busy day and I go to the gym and I’m just going at it with the weights, for example, and my mind is elsewhere, it doesn’t help me with the exercise that I’m doing. What I try to do are these three things.
Number one, before I get into the gym, I take a deep breath and I focus my energy and my mind towards what it is that I want out of this gym session. This gym session is to really get me stronger. I really want to do better with this specific exercise. I want to increase the weights or I want to finish this entire session. Starting with a really big intention before you go in, or a really small intention when you first go in.
The second thing is, when you are training to do that muscle-mind connection with every single rep, especially because you have to breathe with every single rep as well. It’s inhale and then exhale. Every time you do that, I want you to think of how the muscle feels. That specific muscle for that specific exercise and really build that muscle and mind connection that allows you to recenter refocus. Once you remember to do that, you’re also going to remember to breathe.
I also know that a lot of people forget to breathe when they’re doing certain exercises. You’re supposed to breathe. This is always a good reminder that with every rep you’re supposed to be taking a breath, and exhaling and recentering muscle mind, muscle mind, how’s that muscle feeling. You can really stay focused and get out your to-do list.
The third thing that I like to do is maybe have little mantras and little things to recenter yourself when you start getting distracted. Or when things get really hard in the workout like, ‘I’m strong, I’m capable, I can do so much. This is so good for me’. Whatever it is that really resonates with you during exercise and just keeping that mantra or reading them before you go to the gym.
Do you always need a fitness goal?
I think not having a goal totally works. We all have our struggles. Even if we have goals, we have our struggles. If you feel like you’re having a struggle with consistency, then maybe looking at putting a goal for yourself might help you stay in a specific lane, so that you can reach something and then putting a different goal.
The goal doesn’t have to be weight loss, and it doesn’t have to be number-based. It doesn’t have to be physical shape either. It could be my goal is to do from zero to seven pull-ups or zero to 10 pull-ups. That just signifies strength to me or functionality to me. Maybe what would be helpful if your bigger goal is to get strong, what does get strong mean to you? Just to consider and to dive a little bit deeper into that thought like, what does strong mean? Let’s see if we can just put something towards if you like that idea. If you don’t, you really don’t have to.
Do you have to do weights?
It’s really all about progress so that the muscle goes under tension and it breaks down and then it rebuilds. As long as we’re doing that in a way, and you’re getting maybe a little bit sore every now and then, or you’re challenging your body and you’re working out a sweat or just feeling that challenge, then you’re good to go. Make sure that you’re not doing the class and it’s super easy and you’re just happy to get it over with.
How has the whole Covid experience changed you?
I think COVID allowed me to reconnect with myself definitely a lot more. Reconnect with my spouse… It allowed me to slow down and take time for myself and to realize the importance of spending quality time with the people that you love, and connecting with someone on a different level. I didn’t think I could have a new appreciation for travel, but boy, do I have a new appreciation for travel and seeing new things and experiences.
Tell us about your podcast, B For Better Health…
The reason I started it is because when I had first moved to Dubai, I didn’t have much to do. Whenever I was just trying to figure something out, I wasn’t really working. I was at home doing laundry. I’d have a marketing podcast on, or something to keep me company. I was addicted to podcasts. That was one of the main reasons why I started my own because I also wanted to share this kind of insight and be a companion to a lot of people who are taking their walks or driving their cars and just want to hear something about health and wellness or even on the treadmill. I love them.
What are your favorite podcasts?
I really enjoy Robin Sharma, actually I’ve listened to his podcast like three times over and over. I love Brene Brown’s podcast. I’m a huge fan. Every time she has a guest on, I end up buying the book that that guest has. I think those are the main two that I’m absolutely loving at the moment.
• Baraa El Sabbagh was a guest on The Livehealthy Podcast on April 25, 2021.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.