I was a little choked up on stage at the amount of applause when I proclaimed to the audience, “Hooray, I’m fat.”
Maybe I should explain a bit here. I was giving a talk at a recent International Living conference. It was an overview of the healthcare system in Ecuador, with personal descriptions of visits to clinics, doctors, and even hospitals taken from real-life experiences that I and my wife, Rita, have had during our almost four years as expats. It also included a very personal look at how living in Salinas, on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, has impacted my health.
You see, before we moved to Ecuador, I weighed 319 pounds. I was in the weight range colorfully described as “morbidly obese.” I was taking one medication for high blood pressure, and two for Type 2 diabetes. My doctor in the U.S. told me to get used to the idea that in a few years I would have to start insulin injections.
Then we started our new lives in Ecuador, and something unusual started to happen: I started losing weight. After six months, I was down 25 pounds. After the first year, I had lost 50 pounds, and had to reduce the dosages on my medication. The weight continued to drop, along with the medication, and I was now in the “obese” category as my BMI passed under 35. Finally, in June of this year, I was able to announce that I have lost over 100 pounds (and still dropping), and that my BMI has now slipped under the 30 barrier, so I am now no longer even obese—I’m just fat.
That’s why “Hooray, I’m fat.” was such a happy statement for me. Even more so, because I was also able to announce that I now no longer have to take any medication at all.
So what changed? I had been over 300 pounds for years, why did coming to Ecuador make such a difference? After all, I had dieted in the past, and tried to walk whenever I could. I would drop some pounds once and a while, but I was never able to lose weight and keep it off.
What happened for me was that living in Ecuador has allowed me to change my lifestyle completely. As I told the conference attendees, everything you need to change your life is here in Ecuador. Living in Salinas, we don’t need a car, so I naturally walk more often. The weather is always great on the coast, so I can routinely walk two or three times a day for exercise. With the day/night cycle always 12-hours each year-round, it is easier to get into the daily exercise habit, and easier to sleep regularly.
Most importantly, I can’t say enough about the quality of the fresh produce, grains, and meats that we have here in our local mercados. It seems like in the U.S., all of the healthiest foods are expensive and seasonal. The foods that are worst for you are cheap and easy to find. In Ecuador, it is just the opposite: fresh foods are plentiful and inexpensive, while processed foods are generally imported, and therefore more expensive.
We eat fresh-caught seafood. Our chicken, pork, and beef is raised locally without steroids or hormones added to the animals’ diets, and the great tasting fruits and vegetables are mostly available all year long.
Of course, it is not automatic—you don’t move to Ecuador and magically have the pounds evaporate in the equatorial sun. I had to make the decision to eat local, healthy foods like the Ecuadorians do, and to spend time outdoors. If you move here and want to continue eating burgers, pizza, chips, pasta, and so on, you certainly can—but it will cost you more money, and you will not get any healthier.
Not only do I feel better now, but my new life has also opened up new possibilities. Rita and I recently spent two weeks hiking and exploring around Quito. We hiked around the crater lake of Cuicocha near Cotacachi, took several hikes in Chugchilán south of the Cotopaxi volcano, and hiked to the beach and back to the rim of Lago Quilotoa. We racked up almost 30 miles, at altitudes between 10,000 and13,000 feet. At the end of August, we leave for Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. All of these things would have been impossible for me just a few years ago.
I can’t promise you that if you move to Ecuador you will experience the same results that I have. But I can tell you from personal experience that if you want to live a healthier, happier life, everything you need is waiting for you here.
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