I'm quite proud of myself after going down six trouser sizes in the past 12 months. I've dropped eight sizes and 70 pounds in total over the past 18 months.
At my most recent check-up, the doctor said my weight is now at the upper end of the range that is considered normal for my height and age. I could go down another 10 or 15 pounds, but that would be largely for cosmetic reasons and not on medical grounds. He urged me to exercise more to replace fat with muscle, which should put me at the lower end of the normal range.
No radical weight-loss regime was involved. I followed some simple rules and the pounds fell away. Millions, perhaps even billions, of words have been written in books, magazines and newspapers as well as on Websites about dieting and shedding excess weight. I can sum them all up in one six-word sentence: Burn more calories than you consume.
Of course, that's a lot easier said than done for many of us. But by obeying the prime directive to eat less and exercise more, I was able to get rid of most of the fat I'd been lugging about.
I'll give some pointers than helped me over the past year and a half. They aren't revolutionary and you can read similar pointers in just about any book or magazine article on weight loss. However, they are Pattaya-specific, i.e., losing weight while living as a retired farang in Pattaya. They may or may not work for others. And the standard disclaimer: if you have any serious medical conditions, you should definitely consult a doctor before attempting to lose weight. Also, if you are morbidly obese in the clinical sense of the term, then diet and exercise may not be enough. In fact, exercise could even be harmful. An invasive procedure like bariatric surgery (gastric band or gastric bypass) may be the only answer.
If you want to reduce your weight, think a moment about how you gained the extra pounds. Have you been carrying them all your life or did you gradually increase from a normal weight over a period of 10 or 20 years? Or did you experience a sudden jump in weight in a couple of years? This is important, because a life-long weight problem or a sudden jump could indicate faulty metabolism, whereas a gradual weight gain is probably not more than too much food and too little exercise.
My first step was taken during a trip to the U.S. I visited a doctor who specialized in weight loss and he gave me a battery of tests. He discovered I did have a problem with my metabolism, which helped explain the weight gain I'd had while living in Pattaya. My sluggish metabolism was rectified rather easily, but that still left me with close to 80 pounds I needed to drop.
The doctor said I should limit my intake of calories to less than 2,000 a day while getting more exercise. He advised me to take vitamin and fiber supplements and to drink three liters of water a day. He also added the standard admonitions to avoid junk food, sweet stuff and beer. That's pretty standard advice you can read anywhere, but it's still the right way to go.
The odd thing is I have always eaten a more healthy diet in Thailand than in the U.S. In the seven years I've been here full-time, I've eaten at fast-food restaurants maybe 10 times. I rarely have Western breakfasts and the baked sweets that tempted me in the U.S. - pies, cookies, dough nuts and the like- aren't readily available in Pattaya in a form I like. I've never been one for chocolate and other candies, nor ice cream. The calorie-rich deli sandwiches I loved in NYC are rare in Pattaya, too. If I have a soft drink, it's almost always Coke Zero. I eat more vegetables and fruit here than I did in the U.S. I eat far less beef and more chicken, fish and pork than before, but that's mainly because it's hard to get good beef in Thailand. A steak has been a once-a-moth treat for a long time now.
The one "bad thing" I consumed more of in Thailand was beer. I drank between 30 and 40 bottles of San Miguel Light a week, which at 100 calories per bottle means 3,00 to 4,000 extra calories every seven days. Since 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound of body fat, I could have picked up an extra 70 pounds in 18 months just from beer. I also wasn't getting much exercise in Pattaya beyond light walking and heavy f*cking. Given my metabolism also went wonky at some point, it's not surprising I'd packed on the pounds.
My immediate change in lifestyle was to exercise more and cut way back on the beer. I also stopped eating bread and processed meats except on rare occasions. I figured I got enough carbs through rice and noodles. Otherwise I didn't make any huge changes to my diet.
Since I was in poor physical condition, I started easy with the exercise. I swam and used an exercycle for the most part. I have a bad knee and it rules out jogging and even long walks. Once I'd lost about 30 pounds and had less burden on my knees, I started walking vigorously, but for short distances. Swimming and the exercycle were perfect forms of exercise as they don't put any pressure on the knees but burn a lot of calories. I hate, hate, hate lifting weights or working out in a gym other than the exercycle, but I am now doing more traditional gym workouts as my goal has shifted to building muscle.
And that's basically how I lost 70 pounds in 18 months. I burned more calories than I consumed.
A few practical tips:
- I can't emphasize enough the importance of drinking plenty of water. As the body burns fat, the metabolic process produces waste chemicals that need to be flushed out ASAP. You also need to keep yourself well hydrated if you're exercising in the heat and humidity of Pattaya. Dehydration is a big health risk, especially the older you are. An added benefit of drinking a lot of water is that it curbs your appetite. A glass or two of water before each meal reduces the amount space in your stomach for food.
- Soup is a great diet food. Not only does it help with hydration, it fills you up with less calories. Luckily Thai cuisine includes plenty of nutritious and healthy soups.
- Fruit is without doubt the best snack when dieting. Buy a bag of watermelon chunks instead of a bag of potato chips or French fries. If your cholesterol levels allow it, a hard-boiled egg is a protein-rich snack. I'm lucky in that I've always had low levels of bad cholesterol and high levels of the good, so I kept a few hard-boiled eggs in my fridge to quell any sudden hunger pangs.
- If you're not doing physical labor during the day, you don't need a big breakfast. Fruit and yogurt are a good start for people who don't usually do anything more strenuous than sit at a computer.
- Try to get at least 25% of your daily intake of calories from lean protein like chicken or fish. Salmon, while expensive, is a top diet food. Beef and pork are also good if the fat is trimmed away and they aren't fried. You don't have to shun fried foods entirely, but keep them to a minimum, maybe as a once-a-week treat.
- Exercise can cause some unwanted side effects, at least in the beginning. Muscles that are forced to work harder or in a different way than usual can get stiff and sore. This is temporary and actually a sign exercise is having a long-term positive effect. As long as you don't overdue things and cause yourself a injury, an over-the-counter pain reliever should be enough to take care of any discomfort.
- Even if you exercise at a measured pace, you may experience muscle cramps which are a lot more of a hassle than muscle pain. Cramps are also a natural consequence of weight loss. As fat melts away between and around muscles, the muscle tissue has to adjust to its bigger "living space" and this can cause cramps in the legs, abdomen and arms. I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but a Google search for "muscle cramps exercise" will turn up a lot of information about how to deal with them.
- I didn't become a teetotaler while dieting, but cut back significantly on my alcohol consumption, from 30-40 bottles of beer a week to five at the max. There were several stretches when I didn't drink beer or anything else alcoholic for a month or so. In a sense, I was lucky because I have an allergy to wine, so I never drank it. I gave up on strong spirits about 20 years ago because they irritated my stomach too much.
- I was- and remain- a big fan of beer. I think it's one of the most refreshing beverages there is in hot weather. But to reduce my intake of calories, I stopped drinking beer with most meals and saved my "beer allowance" for nights out in bars. That basically meant drinking much more slowly than had been my custom and switching to Coke Zero or water when I had polished off five bottles. That was perhaps the most difficult part of the whole weight-loss campaign. It wasn't a physical craving for alcohol, but bars just aren't that much fun if you're not a little tipsy.