How do Thai women stay so skinny?

Even after living in Chiang Mai for almost a year, I’m still no closer to cracking this particular chestnut. The handful of Thai women I regularly spend time with seem to have pretty high calorie diets full of saturated fats; eat relatively few vegetables; drink very sweet drinks and reasonably large amounts of alcohol; walk and exercise very little, if at all. My workmates and I eat lunch together on most days so I know what they eat — and they have diets that would make the average health-conscious woman in the West run for the nearest gym. Deep fried food, over-sweetened snacks, refined sugars and simple carbohydrates — not unknown elements of a normal diet here. Given this, I think I can actually claim to be living exactly like a local, since I have had a similar kind of lifestyle. Eeeek!

We all went for a full health check-up on Friday at a local hospital — and when I say full, I mean that I was poked and prodded in ways that I would prefer to not go into — and I actually felt incredibly relieved that I am somehow still in good health, aside from gaining some weight and getting little exercise. I’ve since resolved that I need to steer this ship back on course. So I finally broke the gym drought I’d been experiencing, even managing to break a sweat the other night.

Maybe this new-found need to be healthy was also triggered by a rather embarrassing moment recently where I went to a shop and found a dress I liked…and when I got Josh to give me his opinion, he said, “You do realise that this is the shop for big girls?” And yeah, it was. That’s totally what I am here. It brought me back to a moment not long after I moved here, where I was trying on XXL shorts and couldn’t get them past my hips, let alone my waist, and the only thing I was able to buy from that store was a great t-shirt that fit perfectly — because it was free size.

Barbecued prawns!

Plates etc.
Plates etc.

Another reason why I’ve been thinking about this issue is earlier this week we went to a seafood buffet. They’re rather fond of buffets here and my workmates and I get together outside of work every so often at these sort of places and it’s always great fun. We had raw prawns, deep-fried and battered prawns, barbecued prawns, raw prawns (my fave), boiled crab, curried crab — not to mention different kinds of squids and various other spicy soups. But half-way through the meal I had about reached my limit and a pained look would pass by my face every time my workmates ordered something else. But they kept going!

I’m kind of joking with this post really, because things here are probably not quite what they seem. I don’t have a good answer to the question of how so many stay so skinny, but it’s important to remember that skinniness does not equate to healthfulness at all. In fact, at the health check up, one of my workmates, a young 25 year guy who’s as thin as a rake, seemed to have a bit of a cholesterol issue.

Speaking as a public health person, I think the current lifestyle here, and other parts of Asia also undergoing rapid transformation in terms of wealth, is surely a ticking bomb. That is, if the consequences haven’t already taken hold. Most people in Vietnam I met seemed to have a waist-to-hip ratio higher than it should be as well, though the Vietnamese diet is arguably a lot healthier than the Thai one.

The rise in noncommunicable diseases associated with smoking, diet, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise, will only increase over the coming years, because if anything, south-east Asians have bodies that are even less able to tolerate these kinds of modern diets compared to Caucasians, for reasons which have been the subject of much research over the past decade. I just hope that Thai society takes this issue more seriously than they’re currently doing, and take more active health promotion measures to avert a disaster in the making.

8 thoughts on “How do Thai women stay so skinny?

  1. Do you think it’s because they don’t snack? Like, they eat unhealthy stuff three times a day but restrict their eating only to those meals?

    Otherwise, I’m as baffled as you.

    1. Someone I know gave a reason on facebook that might provide a key to the mystery (below). Also, I found out that another one of my skinny workmates has a cholesterol problem when we were comparing our health test results today.

      many thai girls i know use weight loss supplements and i also hear that laxative teas are very popular, just take a look at all the “slim advertising” and “slim centers” in thailand. for thai girls this makes about as much sense as the “skin whitening centers” and over the counter products that are everywhere. yes, despite the fact that thai women are very skinny, many have poor body image complexes and use things to help them keep their weight down and make their skin lighter and whiter.

      1. They Do Not!!! Ok, They Whiten Their Skin, But Don’t Make Themselves Skinnier By Using Products!!! They Are Healthy. I Know Because My Aunts Are Skinny And They Aren’t Unnaturally Skinny, They Don’t Use Products As Well Because They Have no Money!

  2. I Know Why, They Are Active And Work Hard. ;)
    And Because It’s So Hot There That They Sweat Out All The Fat :D

    1. Not entirely true. I mean, people in Mexico and India work very hard to and its also very hot there yet many of them are overweight. Tho Ive never been to Thailand I heard they do use a lot of crazy stuff down there. In fact I was watching this documentary on netflix a year ago and these people interviewed these two prostitute girls down in Thailand who revealed they shot up on Heroin before going out and would induce vomiting to clear out their stomachs in order to stay skinny and youthful looking. Of course its clear as day to spot the difference between a heroin user and a person who is naturally thin and I am not saying at all Thai girls are junkies, but this is a subject that could be taken into many factual considerations. There are more fat out of shape Thai girls out there than you think. Its simply just Genetics.

    1. This is my most popular blog post that gets clicks every day, so you’re not the only one looking for this answer!!

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