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Fat in Thailand

Lately, there has been a lot of craziness going on in the U.S. regarding, “Positive Body Image.” Basically, the idea is thin people are predisposed to being thin, and fat people are predisposed to being fat. The drive to stay thin is a conspiracy promoted by the health industry to make money. While I believe this is true to an extent, it is ridiculous to say people who are overweight should be happy with their situation, and it’s healthy. It’s not healthy, and people who are overweight should strive to be healthier.

I don’t have any degrees in this field, but throughout the years, I’ve developed some opinions on the subject, simply because I’m one of the fat ones. I wasn’t always fat. In fact, those who remember me from high school, know I was actually quite a skinny kid growing up. When I graduated from Navy boot camp in 1988, I was 23-years old, 5’ 10” and weighed 154 pounds. It was shortly after that, I started gaining weight. About the time I hit my mid-30s, maintaining the Navy’s weight requirements started to become more challenging. I never had any problem completing the necessary amount of push-ups, sit-ups, or the run, but keeping my weight down was tough. I cut down on the amount of food I was eating and worked out more often. Still, I noticed people my own age, were working out less than me, eating more than me, but weren’t having the same problem keeping the weight off. By the end of my career, I simply couldn’t make the weight, but since I was retiring anyway, it stopped being an issue.

Looking back, I realize many things I was doing wrong. I wasn’t eating too much food, but I was eating the wrong types of food. I had some type of fast food nearly every day for lunch, and I have a sweet tooth. As a Navy Journalist, my job required more cognitive than physical activity, and I didn’t get much exercise in front of my computer screen. My workouts weren’t consistent, and I always had an excuse for missing a day (or week) at the gym. I drank too much alcohol. All those extra beer calories each week add up, and the alcohol and sugar start messing with the body’s ability to process food. It’s true, others treated their bodies just as bad as me, and some even worse, but due to a high metabolism, it didn’t affect their weight. However, I’ll bet it did affect their health.

Ultimately, my extra weight has contributed to high blood pressure, sore joints, and sleep apnea. The high blood pressure is also genetic, but I’m sure being overweight doesn’t help. By the end of my Navy career, I took advantage of the stationary bicycle option during physical fitness tests, because running was too hard on my knees and lower back. Being overweight in the military is no picnic. People are cruel, and are far more apt to ridicule you than to offer anything positive, or motivating. If you want to destroy someone’s motivation for losing weight … just keep giving them a hard time for being fat.

People around the world tend to think of obesity as an American problem, but it’s becoming a global problem. Twenty years ago in Thailand, seeing a fat person was a rarity. These days, I see Thai people who are fatter than me, and find it disappointing. Weight is increasing as the people earn more money. Fast food franchises from the west are making their way into Asia. In Thailand, McDonald’s, Burger King, Duncan Donuts, and KFC are everywhere. They just opened the first Taco Bell in Bangkok, and having a pizza delivered is just as easy as it is in the States.

What I find interesting is in the U.S., poor people are more likely to be fat, because fast food is the least expensive type of food, and easiest to acquire. In Thailand, fast food is more expensive than healthy food, and the wealthier people are gaining the most weight, because they can afford the unhealthy food!

People in Thailand don’t attach as much of a stigma to being overweight, probably because if you’re overweight, you likely have money. Thai people, however, will tell you you’re fat upon your first meeting. If you have thin skin, you better get used to it. “I’d like to introduce you to Lek.” “Nice to meet you Lek.” “Nice to meet you too, you are so pumpui!” Pumpui means fat. I find it interesting people don’t seem to be offended here if they are called fat, but if you say someone has dark skin … them’s fightin’ words! Thais actually have skin whiteners in nearly all of their lotions and beauty products. Celebrities are almost all very light-skinned people with Chinese lineage, and even the most beautiful women, who happen to have been born with dark skin, are very self-conscious about it. It’s unfortunate, but skin color seems to be an issue everywhere. That’s a whole other blog!

Westerners are naturally bigger than Thai people, which makes buying clothes here much more difficult, even if you’re not particularly overweight. I have noticed more and more clothing shops popping up in malls that cater to large sizes, even in the three years I’ve been here.

What it all boils down to is, some people are lucky to have been born with a fast metabolism, and some aren’t so lucky. For those of us who have to work at losing weight, excuses don’t mean anything. It’s a lifestyle change, and there are no quick fixes. Deep down, you know what you have to do. As for these people who are touting this “Positive Body Image” philosophy, I think they’re just making excuses for not doing what they need to do to lose weight. In essence, they’re just making excuses, just like I have my whole life.

Since coming to Thailand, I’ve lost about 30 pounds. I’ve still got a big belly, but I’ve cut down on the blood pressure medicine I have to take. I recently quit drinking, and I think that’s going to make a big difference in my health and weight. We’re getting older every day, and if you want to stick around for a while, don’t buy the social media hype, don’t try to lose your extra weight all at once, but most importantly, don’t keep making excuses for yourself. I’ll let you know if I manage to get down to a healthy weight as time passes. Good luck, and stick to those resolutions!