One of the things I love the most about living immersed in another culture are the very different and sometimes candid responses to body image I hear from people. When I first came to Southeast Asia several years ago, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup. When I walked into the office, the 4’10” and 90lb nurse looked at me and said, “OOOOOHOOOO! You fat!”

I was somewhat ashamed by this, because in the US, I don’t think I have ever heard a doctor say, or even hint at, the word “fat.” It is simply not said. I have heard: “You could stand to lose a little weight,” “You are at risk for developing several health issues due to your body mass,” “Your big-boned nature has the potential to develop into diabetes if you do not watch it,” etc.  Not once have I been told by a medical professional what that woman told me that day. She put me on the scale and gasped when she saw the number.

“You are being fat! Stop it!” she said in very forceful and heavily accented English. I realize part of her outburst was due to a lack of understanding of the English language, but I think most of it was the fact that I was, and indeed still am, fat. There is no other word for it…it is not big-boned, it is not heavily-massed…it is fat. Pure and simple “fat.” Nothing else. Her candidness made my face burn, but she really was right about it. You are being fat, Jason…stop it.

A few months later I found myself walking down the hall at a hotel I was staying at. There was a workman who had brought his son to work with him that day. The little boy, who could not have been more than five, took one look at me and said: “Paw paw! Duu Duu! Farang ouan maaaaak!” or “Dad Dad! Look look! There is a REALLLLY fat foreigner!” From the mouths of babes, huh?

When I think back over the steps in my life that have led to me being fat, it seems like a hazy progression. There was those years leaping off of everything as a childhood daredevil and the broken feet that led to years on the couch eating Top Ramen and watching the Food Network on our little TV. There was the years of study and the almost inevitable alcohol-carb-and-fat fueled life of the average student (though by that time I was SIGNIFICANTLY bigger than average), the years driving a desk, and the years of justifications: “I worked hard today…I deserve a treat.”

I think this is true for most of us. We can see exactly where we go wrong if we look, but looking can be hard. I would LOVE to be able to simply justify breakfast: “I have a big day ahead of me, so I will have some chicken fried steak, hash browns, two eggs, buttermilk biscuits (not… cookies or whatever the hell you British people call crackers) and gravy and a latte or four.” I HAVE done this in my life and I know every single one of you reading this has as well too. Looking and watching for these justifications is vital, because it is only when you catch them that you will truly catch yourself.

The important thing, I think, is to just accept that it happened in the past and don’t dwell on it. There is nothing about you that you cannot change if you work hard enough on it. These diets you are all embarking on CAN work if you push yourself. Be strong, don’t give up, and be a rock for those around you to lean on. If you are part of this community, you ARE making a difference, and in time your body will come to match the mind you are building for it. Don’t give up; go out there and be great.