When picking weight loss diets, there are so many choices: Low-carb, low-fat, Oprah’s books, Fergie’s bars, pre-packaged, mail order, charts, graphs, tables, one-on-one, groups, South Beach, North End, grapefruit, water, meat, starving, see food. You could also take a step back, and look at a group of people who constantly eat but are predominantly slim. There are 2 things you see on any street in Thailand: they’re filled with thin people and they’re filled with vendors selling food. Food is everywhere. How can there be more food, but thinner people?
Most westerners don’t eat Thai food every meal. But there are a number of easy lessons that come from how Thai people eat Thai food that directly apply to healthier western eating. It’s exotic, fun, tastes great and can encompass a whole healthy lifestyle. We’ll call this: The Siam Weight-Loss Diet.
– Snack. With street vendors in Thailand presenting readily available food, people at work grab snacks when they are hungry. According to Dr. Weil, regular snacking moderates the blood sugar and keeps you from having the peaks and valleys that causes binge eating. For example, you could keep a basket of fresh fruit or nuts handy to snack on before you starve.
– Fresh Ingredients and Preparation. Since in Thailand, good quality, fresh food is readily available for takeout or eating in the office, there is not much demand for processed foods. Leaves are more commonly a part of a meal. While making fresh food may be a time consuming, it greatly reduces the amount of unknown ingredients in your body and provides far more nutrients for the same amount of food. Frozen food has half the nutrients of fresh, canned has 10. That means you need 10x the pasta sauce to get the same benefits as fresh. Make an effort to make food when you can and you will learn to cook better food quickly. For example the canned staple spaghetti sauce, can be made in 10 minutes from raw ingredients.
– Fruits. Great fruits are everywhere in Thailand and are more widely in demand than in the US. With great fruit now available here year round, choosing fruit instead of chips or other snacks is an easy choice to copy.
– Rice. Because most of cooked rice is water, it fills you up without supplying many calories. While this may sound counterproductive, in a society where people have the tendency to eat too much, it’s a successful way to get “full” without the calories. Other similar examples of filling foods include oatmeal and couscous.
– High intensity flavored dishes. Many Thai dishes pack so much flavor per square inch (or cm) that you have to eat them on rice. There’s frequently so much salt, hot pepper or other flavorings that eating the dishes by the raw spoonful is unpleasant. The food needs the rice. Since rice is mostly water, all things being equal, there ends up being more flavor per calorie of Thai food. You get the same level of tastes as a western dish without the calories. See how you can mix high flavor foods with low calorie fillers. Generally these high flavor foods are savory. Thai examples are abundant. You could, for example, serve smaller portions of steak and rice, with kim chee, Indian cilantro relish, or a hot pepper sauce.
– No dairy. I love good cheese. However in Thai food, there is no milk, cheese or butter. All calories add up. Coconut milk is perhaps the Thai analogue to dairy, but coconut milk is not nearly as prevalent in Thai food as cheese, butter or cream are in western foods. Ask most western chefs: what’s the secret ingredient that makes people love a dish? Butter. What makes western desserts good? Butter. Lesson: pick dishes without dairy. Don’t butter every pancake. Try toast with just jam. You’ll be surprised what you need and don’t need.
– Well flavored dishes don’t need fat. In western food, the olive oil, butter or other fat provides a smoothing and filling aspect of many dishes. For me, lasagna with non-fat cheese is inedible. Because the Thai food flavor system’s complexity comes from mixing flavor intense ingredients, like fish sauce and lime and hot peppers, there’s no need for a fat. If fat is a bottom flavor that pulls spices together, many Thai dishes are comprised of top flavors without need for a bottom. In general, look for dishes that don’t depend on added fats and avoid the oilier dishes. If you try this at restaurants, you can always request stir-fried noodle dishes to be cooked with much less oil. Spread sandwiches with mustard or red pepper spread instead of mayo.
– Low in Sugar. Thai dishes are not highly sweetened. For main courses and soups, a little sugar is sometimes added to round out the flavors. Most desserts combine sugar and salt as prime ingredients but aren’t just sugary confections. Many desserts are primarily fresh fruit. Many people drink water, fresh juice or soy milk instead of soda. Look for ways to cut out sugars.
– Shared dishes and smaller portions. In the US, most restaurants over-serve their patrons. Frequently, a single dish can serve 2 people. Thai’s traditionally share from dishes in the center of the table. It is considered rude to place in your own dish much more than 2 or 3 bites of a dish at one time. Because people don’t have heaping helpings, there is no pressure to clear the massive plate of food you took at the start of the meal when you were hungry. You are less likely to overeat. The serving plates also go back in the kitchen or fridge after the meal so if they are not finished, no worry, they can be finished next meal. With the exception of hamburgers, this is a fairly easy behavior to copy.
While following these principles is a great excuse for going out for Thai food, almost all of lessons can be directly applied to eating western food. The one universal point most nutritionists agree on is that dieting doesn’t make long-term success, lifestyle choices makes long-term success. By picking a couple principles at a time and incorporating them into your life and then moving onto another when the ones you previously chose are locked into your habits, you’ll be the most successful in staying the weight you want.