How I Did It!
By the beginning of July of 2013, we were on our way to our retirement destination, Samar. I had had enough of the work-to-live lifestyle and the stresses that came with working inside the real estate industry during the Great Recession (2007-2009). I wasn’t just the recession but also the subsequent sluggish economic recovery that lasted three more years that took it’s toll on my body. During those tough years I found my solace in food. It was the only thing that helped me to forget how tough times really were in Northeast Mississippi, and elsewhere around the country for that matter. By the time we arrived in the Philippines, I was at my heaviest weight ever – 218 lbs! At 5 foot 10 (and a half) inches, I found my body mass (measure of body fat based on height and weight) at almost 31%. According to the BMI, any percentage greater than 25 (for my height and weight) meant that I was obese. I may have not looked obese because I carry myself well, but I was still fat!
Food Menu Changes.
We arrived in Samar on about July 3rd and unpacked our bags at Teri’s sister’s house. There we would stay until our house was completed and ready to be occupied. It was just down the street and around the corner so now I could be involved with the completion. We began building the house a couple of years earlier, as our funds would allow, but now the house was ready to be completed and the finishing touches applied. Over the course of the seven weeks living at sister-in-laws house, I had little to say about the day-to-day menu and just ate what was presented to me every day. The mornings would start with maybe some pandesal and coffee, followed by some fruit. Occasionally I would get some fried eggs and fish. For lunch it was rice with soup and either fish or chicken with vegetables (mostly greens) and fruit for dessert. Supper was pretty much a replay of lunch. Occasionally I would drink a few beers in the evening but in reality, I just wasn’t consuming as much food as I was used to. And I’ve since found out that we really don’t need to eat all the food that we eat.
Eating a more organic low calorie diet sure played a big role in my weight loss, and because I was now much less seditary than where I came from, I was burning those calories much more efficiently. I was also eating less. The fact that I was up and moving around each and every day supervising the house project that kept me from that seditary lifestyle. It was normal to make the 12 kilometer trip to town almost daily to order construction materials, and shop around for things we needed like tile, paint, fixtures, appliances, A/C units, etc. Back on the U.S. mainland I would normally spend the good part of a day in front of a computer… comforted with my array of snackfoods between a good breakfast, southern hot lunch, and big supper. I had undergone a complete metamorphosis – from being a slug to becoming a cheetah, or so it seemed. Most everyone knows what it feels like to spend an entire day outdoors in the tropics with the heat and humidity, and how draining it can be on the human physique. A lot of calories can be burned just by staying off the couch and staying active. One thing was for certain – I was sleeping well… mostly because we had installed a small window air-conditioner in the bedroom at our temporary residence. Just after the middle of August, we moved in to our new home the same day we received our household goods shipment from Manila that had been shipped from Mississippi some 4 months earlier.
The change in my diet and lifestyle surely accounted for my weight loss and I was still knocking back a few beers here and there. Just after getting our shipment unpacked and everything put in it’s place, we settled in our new home and I remained active. It didn’t take very long before I settled in at my new weight. In just about 6 months I had lost nearly 40lbs and was now at 189lbs (or 13.5 stones for you UK types). Life was pretty good at this moment in time as I was feeling the full benefits of a more nutritious diet (note: I didn’t say more tasty) and almost no stress. But as time went on, things would change.
Short of subjecting my body to ketosis when I first arrived in the Philippines, I was eating better and staying about 95% active (except for those tagay-tagay sessions that became more abundant as time went on) during much of my first year in the Philippines. After moving in to the new place, I stayed busy sanding and finishing our kitchen cabinets for many weeks. I also stayed busy in the garden on the landscape. I built an outdoor (Balinese styled) shower for my own enjoyment. I installed our patio and built shelving units for storage. For many weeks I continued with this totally different, but slowly evolving, diet. I also played Frisbee with the kids at the beach, kayaked, swam, rode my bicycle, and played tennis. While the types of meals we enjoyed were still made with fresh meats and veggies, over time Teri had embarked on a journey of learning to be more creative in the kitchen. She produced her own style of “hybrid” cooking. What I mean by that is that she would still buy the common meats and local produce while testing different recipes. What she came up with was a combination of Asian-American styled meals (think TexMex). It made the food we consumed just a little more edible for me and delectable for her… or visa versa. After all, 27 years in the U.S. and she had evolved into a meat & potatoes eater and admitted that the pure Filipino diet was getting boring. Don’t get me wrong… because while you might be able to take a filipina out of her country, you will never get that country out of a filipina, and the desire for her foods will never completely diminish. Never! But she might just learn to eat a burger and a taco now and then.
Know that the ending of all good stories does not always come with a happy ending. I found that living in the Philippines over time had an inevitable outcome, just as when water eventually sucessfully seeks its own level. You know what happens when you dig a hole deep enough? It fills with water of course! Many foreigners that come to live in the Philippines know all to well what I am about to divulge. When one first arrives in the Philippines, most foreigners come to the same conclusion about Filipino food – it is one of the more boring cuisines in all of Asia. Mostly soups and greens, fried meats and fishes… all bland and starchy. I was no different. There are certain things I really enjoy like good Sinagang and Tinola soups, some good Pancit Bihon and good Lumpia. Some desserts like Leche Flan can be really tasty when done right. Then there are all the local bakeries that bake everything from Pandesal to Hopia. All the rest of it… I could leave it in a New York skinny minute.
So here is how it goes down for most westerners. We shop at the major grocery outlets and pay exorbitant prices for western food, and we experiment with local products- mostly packaged as processed foods. From potato chips to cookies to ice cream. We all tend to suffer under a Filipino diet until we eventually find our comfort foods that can taste very similar to those foods we all left behind. And then they become our crutch. Personally I love the roasted, salty peanuts you find at the roadside vendor. I discovered that CreamOs Cookies are a good substitued for Oreos. Piatto’s chips taste almost like Pringles (after your first beer). And Selecta Ice Cream… well it is owned by Unilever, the world’s biggest ice cream manufacturer, who also makes Good Humor in the U.S. I could go on, but the point I am making is that there are a lot of Filipino packaged goods that resemble much of the things we enjoy in the west. You just have to find it. While we all have a propensity to discover and enjoy our new comfort foods, that is not necessarily a good thing. Now you can find that many stores carry American Chocolate candy bars like Snickers, M&M’s and Reeses. Then there is Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar. So when the wife cooks up a batch of tacos for supper and you finish it off with some cake and ice cream, how is that any different than what we enjoyed back home as westerners?
There is of course a two-fold cost to all of us in the discovery and enjoyment of eating our comfort foods – in both the price paid for western-type foods and weight gain… which I sorrowfully report – I found all that weight I lost, and then some! Only now, I can place most all the blame my wife Teri. Afterall, as the one who does all the shopping and cooking, I hold her totally responsible for what I eat! Well… maybe not totally. All those Mister Donut stands located everywhere should take some responsibility!
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