Finding a Healthy Lifestyle While Teaching English in Thailand

I like to set challenges for myself.  Most of my challenges have always been based around health and fitness. It just goes to show that it is something that I have always struggled with. After University, I spent two years backpacking through Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. Although I loved every second of it and would not change my experience for the world – I completely lost any sense of being healthy along the way. That is, until I moved to Thailand to teach English abroad.

I had fallen into the “backpacker lifestyle” of boozing, eating cheap, unhealthy foods and although I could be quite active with hikes, swimming etc., it definitely was not consistent! I was not happy in my skin.

This is why, as I set off on my next adventure to do TEFL in Thailand, I promised myself that I would start looking after my body. I was sick and tired of feeling bloated and “chubby” — it was time for a change!

healthy lifestyle while teaching english in thailand
The author with her students in Thailand.

At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). For those of you who don’t know – it is a HUGE pain in the behind! It means that I am sensitive to glucose (I put on weight super fast when I eat any white refined carbs), I get “hormonal acne” (annoying breakouts), I hardly ever get my period (as my hormones are unbalanced), I get excess hair growth, and find it really hard to get rid of excess weight. I didn’t get re-tested before I left for Thailand again, but I knew that after two years of abusing my body with alcohol, Dominos $5 pizza and cheap noodles… I was in need of a big slap in the face!

I decided to become vegetarian in Thailand. I had never been much of a meat eater; I had only ever really eaten it out of habit or convenience. It was difficult sometimes, only because of the difficulty of communicating with Thai people who didn’t speak English. It was a bless and a curse at the same time that I was living in a rural town.

I remember arriving in my town in Thailand, where I would live for the next six months on a short-term teach abroad contract. It was Halloween and all the expats in the area had organized a big party for everyone to get to know each other. I am normally a very out-going, social personality, but at this party, I felt so uncomfortable in my skin because of my weight. I was probably around 160 lbs at 5”6 (the ideal weight for my frame is between 62 and 143 lbs).

healthy lifestyle teaching english in thailand

When I started teaching, I absolutely fell in love with it. Everything was just what I needed at that point in my life! I had a routine. I worked from 7:30 – 16:30 Monday-Friday. I had my own classroom with 27 students. They were such little bundles of joy and I still miss them everyday. Teaching was a lot of fun and I really felt like I was able to share a lot with the kids. This routine meant that I was able to regulate my eating pattern (FINALLY!).

I would wake up in the morning and make a smoothie in my new blender. I cut out coffee after about three month. Every lunch time, I would join all my colleagues (who soon became very good friends) at our friend Aor’s restaurant.

Aor is the most beautiful lady I had the pleasure of meeting. She became a very good friend who I was so sad to say goodbye to. The day we met, she greeted me with a huge “Thai smile”, instantly remembered my name, learned that I was vegetarian and never forgot any of my preferences! Her food will always be my favorite. Lots of veggies, tofu and the best sauces! She also made me my daily Matcha Green Tea.

After school, almost everyday I went to the gym. It became part of my routine and such a pleasure. I always felt great after it. I had friends that I would meet there and it was always fun. Also, because I was suddenly eating so well, I always had enough energy for it after a full day’s work.

I started to become a lot stronger (without bulking), a lot fitter (I went from struggling to run 2km to running 6km or 7km about 4 times a week). But the thing that I am most thankful for is YOGA!

healthy lifestyle teaching english in thailand
The author in her yoga class in Thailand

I discovered yoga on a whim. They had classes at the gym and I have always been curious. I just thought – go for it, you’re in Thailand! What a great place to try!

The first class was really difficult. The teacher was an older Thai woman who I was completely in awe of, she was so tiny and flexible and had such a great aura surrounding her. The lesson was always in Thai but she would throw a few English words in from time to time which always made me smile —“You can! You can!”.

I went to class once a week and always looked forward to it. Before long, I could see a huge difference in myself. My balance had improved and I was able to do pretty much all of the poses. It made me feel great – especially when the teacher took me aside one day and had someone translate that I had improved a lot!

In the evenings, I would join my friends for a meal in any of our favourite restaurants. None of us had kitchens and it’s so cheap to eat out all the time, it was just part of our lifestyle. Suddenly my sweet tooth had disappeared and I craved fresh, crisp salads and delicious curries – lucky I was in Thailand! I had to ask for no added sugar in a lot of the meals as Thais tend to add a few tsps to their dishes. I was soon able to do this in Thai as I learned how to say all the basics of what I needed for ordering.

Bangkok Sky Bar
Bangkok at night

The great thing about living in such a beautiful country is that I was only a short trip away from some stunning islands – Koh Chang and Koh Samet. Bangkok was a only a 4-hour bus journey and our province was surrounded by beaches and national parks. Every weekend was an adventure!

I began to realize that I had never been happier. I had such a stress free, healthy, easy life! People were commenting on how great I looked; I had lost a lot of fat and toned up my body. My skin was clearer, my eyes were brighter from not drinking much alcohol (except a cheeky few Changs at the weekend). I just felt on top of the world!

I am now living and teaching English in Vietnam, and I continue my healthy lifestyle. It has become normal for me now. I continue to practice yoga a few times a week and hope to complete a teacher training course in India next year. I have also gotten massively into nutrition and cooking (researching supplements and additives has become somewhat a hobby!).

I will forever be grateful to Thailand for pulling me out of the unhealthy, binge eating mindset and the vicious circle I was in. But, above all, I have learned to love myself and my body because the lifestyle in Thailand aided my transformation. I am now extremely proud of myself for what I have achieved and I plan to continue being kind to myself forever!

Words and images by Cathy-Ann Anderson.