One of the things many foreigners (known in Thailand as ‘farangs’) comment about is how easy it is to gain weight here and how fat so many foreigners get. It’s like when you first arrive in university and gain the “Freshman Five”, but in Bangkok it’s normally the “Thailand Ten” or, in many cases, a lot more. But why do so many foreigners gain weight or get fat in Thailand? Laziness? Gluttony? You might be surprised.
The Heat – The heat in Thailand is unbelievable. In fact, you really have to experience it to understand. It’s boiling hot 11 months of the year and psuedo-hot for one. When I first moved to Thailand, I gained 10 lbs in the first two months. Why? It was so darned hot, I could barely move.
Living in Europe or the US, you’re used to seasons. Even if it’s hot in the summer, fall and winter eventually arrive and, when they do, you find yourself in the great outdoors more, moving around.
Not in Thailand. It’s rarely cold enough to spend any real time outside, so you walk less than you do when you’re at home. The consequence? A fast weight gain, especially for those used to walking a lot.
Exercising is Difficult – Many foreigners who live in Thailand don’t exercise much. Like I said, it’s too hot to exercise outdoors (even at 6am it’s till 85 degrees), then add in the pollution in cities like Bangkok and, no, you’ll find quickly you’re never going to exercise outdoors.
Your options then decline to a gym at your apartment complex or to join a fitness center.
At many of Thailand’s apartment complexes, the equipment is often old, doesn’t always work and, even if it does, many places hate to put the air conditioning on. I don’t know about you, but I’m not getting on any treadmill indoors when the temperature is 95 degrees and the humidity 100%.
Food is Cheap – Unfortunately food is everywhere in Thailand and it’s dirt cheap. You can walk down just about any street and be faced with food stall after food stall. When you can buy a bag of fresh fried chicken for less than $1, a sausage on a stick for 20 cents, a bowl of noodles with meat for $1, a bag of Thai doughnuts for 30 cents and an ice cream for 30 cents, it’s a bit hard to resist it.
After all, you can’t use the excuse you can’t afford it. And, of course, it’s all delicious.
Lack of Vegetables – Thai food isn’t known for its over abundance of vegetables. Sure, you can get vegetable dishes but that’s not the norm. Most dishes in Thai cusine are usually made up of rice or noodles (carbohydrates) and some type of meat, fish or chicken, with a few tiny pieces of vegetables thrown in.
For those of us not used to eating so many carbohydrates, I think our bodies go into shock.
Sugar is Added to Everything – One thing few foreigners seem to be aware of when they realize they are getting fat is most foods in Thailand contain sugar.
Thais have a sweet tooth, so sugar is added to almost everything. It’s in noodles and curries, rice dishes, sauces, mixed with chillies and used as a dip for fresh fruit, breads, cakes, pastries, drinks (a Thai iced tea has the equivalent of around 12 teaspoons of sugar), even fresh fruit juice often has sugar added.
A Malaysian friend of mine complains she gains weight every time she comes to Thailand even when she eats similar things to back home. “It’s the bloody sugar”, she’s always telling me and, yep, she’s probably right.
So, if you move to Thailand or spend enough time here, don’t be surprised if you gain weight or get fat. It’s happened to almost all of us at one time or another.