How to Avoid the Expat Gut

If you’ve spent much time abroad, you’ve probably seen him; that humungous, bloated old expat waddling down the street. Usually wearing a sweat soaked tank top or, even more...

If you’ve spent much time abroad, you’ve probably seen him; that humungous, bloated old expat waddling down the street. Usually wearing a sweat soaked tank top or, even more often, having forgone the shirt entirely to release his ever expanding belly from the constraints of that XXL.

That’s the expat gut and it could be yours too.

So what happened? How did he get like this?

Well, I could get into some long drawn out philosophical explanation about low self-esteem and lack of self-respect, etc, ect; but this is neither the time nor the place. Truly the answer is probably simpler than all that anyways. The long and short of it is this. He lives in a place with cheap booze, cheap food, a general lack of social standards, and willing woman who don’t care what he looks like (or more accurately pretend not to care, because it is worth it to marry a western man.)

More important than how it happened to him is the real question going through your mind right now. How do I make sure it doesn’t happen to me?


Go Local

Unless you live in Central America, you have probably noticed that most of the locals are skinnier than you. This is because Western food is generally fattier and much unhealthier than Asian or other developing nation diets. Meat is expensive so most locals tend to eat a lot of vegetables and there is a noticeable lack of cheese and fatty dairy products as well. Unfortunately, many expats take their native tastes along with them and search out unhealthy western foods in their new home. If you take a gander into most expats’ fridges, you will see a plethora of western foods and snacks. The fact that Americans are fatter than most other nations is not breaking news (although it is nice to hear we have finally been surpassed by Mexico as the fattest nation in the world. Go America!) Since most expats do distinctly less exercise in their new countries, you can expect to gain weight over time if you don’t adjust your diet. Don’t go seeking out large western style portions for every meal. Instead, try eating at local restaurants. Not only will it be easier on your pocket, you’ll notice that the portions are smaller and the food is healthier.



Yeah. I know. Nobody likes to exercise. Well too bad. Maybe as a kid you didn’t have to, but once you hit 30 it’s a new ballgame. You can’t eat like you used too and even with dieting, you may notice that you are getting a little… how shall we say….fluffy. It’s important to find a way to exercise and stay fit in your new country. Join a gym if possible. If no gyms are around, start running in the evenings or early mornings when it is not so hot. If you live near the beach, start swimming regularly. There is nothing more motivating than working out with others so try looking around your community for like-minded expats trying to stay fit. A lot of expat communities have weekly runs or other activities they set up to help stay in shape. The Hash House Harriers are a good example. They have groups all around South East Asia and they meet once a week to do 5K or 10K runs. Many of the less fit members choose to walk instead.


Put Down that Beer!

Ok. This is a biggie. We all know beers cause a beer gut and the expat gut is eerily similar in look and shape to the beer gut. What’s that saying? If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, then it must be a duck. Well, many expat guts are not so cleverly disguised beer guts. It’s really no surprise when beers only cost $0.50 and there is no stigma attached to having a 9am beer to wash down those eggs, but if you want any chance at keeping that big ole’ belly away, you’re gonna have to put that beer down. There is nothing wrong with having a couple of drinks here and there or even getting hammered periodically; lord knows we all do it. It just can’t be your lifestyle. You need other things besides drinking to occupy your time. Try getting a hobby or starting a small business to keep you occupied, failing that set yourself some limits. Maybe no drinks before 3pm or only drinking 3 days a week, nothing too drastic, just some small changes to your lifestyle can do wonders to help you avoid the expat gut.


Drink Water

While this may not sound like a waist trimming technique, water is like a miracle drug for your body. Without it you won’t have the energy to exercise and you will just generally feel crappy. Most expats have moved to warm tropical climates where it is easy to get dehydrated, especially if you are just drinking beer all day (see section above.) Regularly drinking water will not only give your more energy for that new exercise regime (you know, that one you are starting after reading this article), but it will also help you eat a little less. Try drinking a full bottle of water 15 minutes before a meal. You will feel full quicker and eat less food. Keeping hydrated will also help your body to fight off colds and other infections you might otherwise succumb to.


Don’t go Overboard

We all know men are womanizing, boozing, revelers who enjoy debauchery and often fall victim to temptation, but we need to know when to say enough. Even if we live in a place with little to no social standards and life seems like one big party, we must learn to control ourselves. Moderation is key. There is nothing wrong with a little of this and a little of that, just remember, a little dab will do ya as they say.

In the end, it all comes down to your personal motivations and self discipline. Do you do the things you do because society says you should or because of your personal dedication to self-improvement? Do you want to be happy when you look in that mirror every morning?

If you aren’t one of the many who has already given up, try adopting some of these practices in your daily life and you too can avoid looking like a beached whale in a foreign land.


Brett Dvoretz

A long time traveler and recent expat, Brett wandered through over 25 countries before he decided to settle in the little beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. After struggling through the process of setting up a new life abroad, he decided to start Expats and Aliens to help other expats find the info they need before making the leap.

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