A Healthy Experiment?
When we moved to the Philippines from North Mississippi in 2013, my biggest shock was food, or lack of choices thereof. Although I can eat just about anything, the absence of my most favorite foods was a shock to my system. The loss of eating processed foods everyday, not to mention the loss of an abundance of fast-food choices (mainly tacos, burgers and pizza), put my biology engine into low-overdrive (whatever that speed is, it has been good).
The first six-months living in the Philippines was good for me. The total change in my everyday diet found me eating more fresh and un-processed foods like fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables. That alone helped me to lose almost 30 lbs. I wasn’t doing much in the way of exercise except swimming and chasing the wife around the house (sometimes I would even catch her and the result was… well, let’s just say it was an added calorie-loss bonus!)
Over time, I began to re-discover my “comfort” foods again. No Oreo cookies, no problem! I learned to eat Creamo’s. Potato chips – I would settle on Piattos or Nova’s Multigrain chips. Then I would eventually learn where to obtain my favorite chocolates and ice cream. Oh, and the bakery goods – they can be found almost everywhere. (They are as bad as any donut chain!) I hate myself for all these discoveries (not really). Then there is the cheap beer! Do you see where I am going with this? Yes – after that initial 6 months of living in the Philippines, the pounds began finding their way back.
I increased my physical activity and that seem to hold my weight at bay for a while. But eventually, I was right back to where I started. I was cheating on myself again with all my “new” comfort foods (Jollibee’s not excluded). If I would have stuck with my sister-in-laws menu choices, I would be a lean, mean, fighting machine today (well, maybe just an older thin dude). Nevertheless, I could be exactly where I needed to be, weight-wise. It was a great experiment in weight loss and proved to work without a doubt. The experiment was successful, yet I failed it! Kind of.
The Unhealthy Side of Things.
Overall, I was eating thoughtfully well and I was maintaining my physique. I was doing more working out, riding my bike, taking long walks, playing tennis, frisbee and badminton. Playing with the kids in the family would also help me stay active. Then I hit the wall. And here came the environment.
There were many days I would hop on the motorcycle and go to town for a quick errand. Increasingly, I was exposing my self to roadway exhausts and smoke from burnings. In town it was mostly diesel fumes. Back in the village, it was the neighbors burning anything they could to cook their meals (campfires in the dirty kitchen) and then there were the burnings in the rice fields and in the barangays where they burn everything else, including trash. Burning trash can be especially toxic because Filipinos will burn everything from paper to plastics to batteries. All the above might account for my four episodes of bronchitis-like illnesses during the last two years. Some days I would step outside thinking of catching some fresh air, only to be chased back indoor with that first breath. Some days the air quality is simply very poor and is healthier to stay within the confines of our air-conditioned enclave. And there I increasingly chose to remain, with the likes of my new-found comfort foods like Creamo’s cookies, Piattos and cold beer (and my wife’s hybrid cooking). A Philippine blogger’s dream really – air conditioning and unlimited supplies of food and grog. There was no real need to leave my computer and chair (except during brownouts or for a coffee refill).
Why didn’t I notice all this when I first got here? I don’t know… maybe I did but chose to ignore it when the effects were nil. Maybe because I was having too much fun and enjoying life. Trust me when I say it becomes increasingly difficult to enjoy life when you become unhealthy, and unhealthy can creep up on you in this place. The fun wears off but the effects will linger.
A Scary Reality!
Since arriving on Guam a couple of months ago, I have been reintroduced to better medical care and have been catching up on some much-needed screenings and such that I have conveniently avoided over the last 4 years. I don’t mean to belittle the Philippines health care system, but it does leave a lot to be desired, at least in the provincial areas. I have lost two acquaintances in the last couple years, most likely to medical malpractice. I will not mention names here, just that I know these people went into the hospital with relatively minor yet stable health issues, and both came out deceased. The official cause of death with both of these friends was Sepsis.
Back to the Basics.
After my arrival here on Guam, my first goal was to get reintroduced to an improved medical system. I moved my Veterans Administration official address and also established a Primary Care Manager at the new Naval Hospital here. My first goal was to get a well health physical, which I have not had since before leaving for the Philippines. Just this week, I completed my blood work and other screenings and the results were not what I was expecting.
It seems as though living in the Philippines for over 4 years has had a huge impact on my health. For the first time in over 15 years, the interpretations of my screenings indicate all my numbers are well within their desired parameters. Especially my total cholesterol and triglycerides – numbers that have been exceedingly outside the desired parameters for many years. My blood sugar is good and blood pressure is excellent. So without the use of ANY drugs or maintenance meds, I have returned my body’s internal physiology to near normal.
How did I do it? I’m not real sure but my best guess is that living in the Philippines has contributed to these unexpected results, even when I’m still consuming the so-called junk foods. Maybe it’s because my overall diet mostly consists of freshly prepared meats, vegetables and fruits. The bulk of the foods I eat are organic and non-processed foods, unlike that found living in the U.S. where, outside of purchasing expensive organic foods, everything you touch or purchase is processed. Some of these vegetable foods include malangay, camote, water spinach, sayote, eggplant, tomatoes, and bitter melon. Fruits include mostly mangoes, bananas, coconut, apples, and other lesser known fruits like rambutan (I don’t do durian!) Meats include chicken, fish, pork, and beef… in that order of prevalence. I drink much more water than I used to and consume much less dairy products, except for eggs. I enjoy more fresh soups like the sinagangs and tinolas, and eat way less pizza and burgers. I will also mention my intake of ginger and garlic has increased dramatically. And bacon, it will always be on my menu!
So now the next phase of the experiment begins… a return to living in America (so to speak), surrounded by mostly processed foods. There are some locally grown fruits and veggies available here, you just have to know where to shop.
By this time next year, I suppose I can deliver the updated results of living in the west again… kind of.