Hooray! I’m Fat!

I’ve got some good personal news to report, and another important milestone in our quest to prepare to hike the Inca Trail – now just 53 days away. As I was able to announce to the attendees at International Living’s Quito conference, “Hooray – I’m Fat!”

Constant Readers among you may remember that back on October 11 of 2016, I was able to announce that I had cracked the 35 BMI barrier, and was then considered “obese” rather than “morbidly obese”. Since that time I have dropped past my preliminary goal of getting below 232 (and therefore weighing less than I have in at least 14 years), and I have now crossed the legendary and mystical 30 BMI threshold to enter the realm of the fat, at 213.5 pounds.

That’s right, for the first time, I heard the Wii Fit say the words “That’s Overweight!” in its cheery voice, after I weighed in. That’s a definite improvement over the “That’s Obese!” that I have heard since I first bought the damn thing back in 2007. Ten years of that crap. In fact the first time I stepped on it, it said “Hey! One at a time, please!”

Still ahead, the goal of getting under 200 pounds before we leave for Peru, and it looks like I do still have a good chance of bringing it in under the wire.

I’ve been looking back, and trying to recall the last time I was just overweight, and I’m not really sure. Looking at old pictures, and judging from how old the t-shirts are that I can now fit into again, I would have to say it has been at least 20 years.

It’s been a long, long struggle.

My struggle with weight has not just been one of diet and lack of exercise, although that of course is a factor. Mostly it has been the result of personal and emotional problems that I preferred to swallow (along with fatty foods and alcohol) rather than to deal with them. I’ve finally dragged those demons out into the light, looked them in the face, and started trying to heal myself.

A big factor in making the breakthrough, is my loving and lovely wife, Rita. It also made a big difference when we committed to the crazy idea of tackling the Inca Trail, way back in August of last year. Having a goal is an important part of the weight-loss process, and a happy life in general, really.

But I have to give the biggest part of the credit to Ecuador. As I told the crowd in Quito, yes, you definitely have to make the decision that you are going to change your lifestyle – not just go on a diet. But it helps that everything you need to live a healthier life is right here in Ecuador.

As we study for our citizenship test, and read the Ecuadorian Constitution, I’ve found an interesting concept that highlights what I’m talking about. It’s the idea of living “la vida buena“. Those of you who have some Spanish will know that you would normally say “la buena vida”, meaning “the good life”. But here in Ecuador, there is the idea of trying to live a “life that is good”.

What’s the difference? Well, in the States, Americans like to live the Good Life, and Rita and I were no exception. We had a large condo on the water near the Chesapeake Bay, an even bigger house in the mountains of West Virginia, two cars, a boat, and money in the bank. I had a six-figure job as a Computer/Network Engineer in DC, and Rita was a successful realtor. We vacationed in Hawaii, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Palm Beach, St. Croix, Italy, and so on. By all US standards, we were living la buena vida.

But I was dying to get ahead. I weighed over 300 pounds when I first went to Hawaii. I couldn’t lay on the beach without Greenpeace throwing a bucket of water on me, and trying to roll me into the surf.

No, that’s not a scene from the movie “Jabba the Hutt Meets Gidget” – that’s me in Hawaii.

My blood sugar was almost as high as my weight, at 265. Medically speaking, my blood type was “Log Cabin”. I was taking 2000mg of Metformin and 20mg of Glipizide every day for Type 2 Diabetes, and another 20mg of Lisinopril for high blood pressure. What is worse, my doctor warned me that I should get used to the idea that someday in the near future, I would have to start taking daily insulin injections.

Then we got the wild idea to move to Ecuador, and things began changing. I started losing weight. After a few months, I was down 25 pounds, and I had to start cutting back on the Metformin and Glipizide. After the first year, I had to stop taking the Glipizide completely, because I was actually getting sugar lows. As my weight continued to drop, the Lisinopril dosage also had to be reduced down to just 5mg, and I was only taking 250mg of Metformin once a day.

Finally, after getting a better grip on my fractured emotional state (sorry, you’ll have to wait for the book), and our decision to go for Machu Picchu, I really started making progress. Now instead of looking forward to taking insulin injections daily, I no longer need any medication at all.

What changed when we moved to Ecuador, was that we started living “the life that is good”. We no longer had a car, so we started walking more often. Here in Salinas, the weather is almost always great – it certainly is rarely an excuse for not being able to get outside and walk. The steady 12-hour day/night cycle has done a lot for getting us into a consistent sleep and exercise schedule. And of course the biggest change of all, the food.

I can’t say enough about the food, and this is a step that not all expats choose to make. Much of the expat activities center around meeting at restaurants, or meeting for drinks. And that is fine if that’s what you are into, but that is not a way to get healthier. On the whole, restaurants here DO provide healthier meals than restaurants in the US – if you are eating from the Ecuadorian menu, anyway. A burger is a burger, no matter what hemisphere it was fried in, and portion control is always difficult if you eat out a lot.

The food I am talking about is the fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry, and seafood that we get from the local mercados. Shopping at these local places where 90% of the Ecuadorians shop first, and then getting anything else we need at the chain stores, has had the biggest impact on our health. Most of our diet now is just naturally whole fruits, vegetables and grain, with smaller portions of meat. And that meat has been raised locally without steroids, hormones, or their ilk. Our red meat consumption is way down, and our fresh fish way up.

What a change it has made for me! We now walk at least 6 miles a day, sometime 10 or 11. We use the stairs to and from our 19th floor condo twice a day. We just returned from hiking almost 30 miles of trails at altitudes between 9,800-12,670 feet, something that ol’ Jabba back in that Hawaiian photo could never have dreamed of doing. And I’m actually starting to believe we will successfully hike to Machu Picchu.

Let’s run through a typical day; breakfast is usually a medley of chunks from three or four types of fruit, with one egg and a strip of bacon. Or maybe fruit, granola and yogurt. Then we go out for our 3-mile morning walk. Lunch might be some leftovers from the night before, or just a tuna or chicken salad wrap made from leftovers. Dinner is two or three vegetables and a small serving of protein – maybe in the form of fresh beans. Sometimes, just a hearty soup. In between, we drink a lot of water, or splurge on fresh fruit juice. And of course, after dinner, as the sun is setting, we will go out and walk another 3-miles.

Is it any wonder we are getting healthier?

This is possible in the States, of course, but it is much harder – and more expensive. First, the foods that are best for you (fresh produce) are expensive: the foods that are bad for you (processed carbs) are cheap. You can buy 3 boxes of macaroni and cheese mix for $1, but fresh peaches might be $2.99/pound. Even if you are buying your produce fresh at markets when you can, much of the country has seasons that limit the times they are available. Likewise, the weather often makes it impossible to walk twice a day, at least without major wardrobe changes. Add to that the swing in the number of daylight hours which means that for part of the year, it is either dark by 5pm or until 8am.

So like I said, everything you need to change your life and live healthier is here in Ecuador. Will it work for you? Well, that is entirely up to you. Are you willing to make that change? Are you willing to eat more fresh, whole foods, and to get out to walk regularly and enjoy the beautiful scenery and climate of this country?

Are you willing to change “the good life” for a “life that is good”?

Scaled down version of me, last month with two friends. Those pants are already too big on me now.

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  • Tere says:

    So admirable! Being out of the traditional rat race also positively impacted your emotional health!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Roy Shankman says:

    I love Ecuador. And I love the way you have adapted to your life there. You are not making the best of it…you are embracing the best that it has to offer. Well done!

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