Does being an expat make you fat?


“You were a lucky bitch!”

A friend snapped at me when we were talking about expat life and how it makes one fat – most of the time. But the first time I became an expat, I was not fat – and because of that, I earn the title, “lucky bitch”. 

I was 19 when I landed in Japan from the Philippines. I was on a scholarship program, had a room all to myself in the school dormitory and was given monthly stipend. You know what a young girl would spend with sudden money landing on her lap month after month?

If you guessed clothes, wrong. I was not into clothes. Or shoes. Instead, I was on a mission to buy all the food I didn’t have before. Back home, life was tough having to share everything with five other siblings. I send some of my monthly allowance back home but still had extra. The fear of gaining weight didn’t grip me with fear. I bought and ate whatever I fancied.

When you’re 19 or in the early 20’s, you can actually get away with eating junk and lots of carbohydrates (hello late night ramen!!) and not look like a sumo wrestler. Your metabolism level is kick-ass. My typical days always included lot of whole fat milk, Pringles, sugary drinks, candies and chocolates. I had one ambitious goal that time: test and taste ALL the chocolate brands I could find! And I think I achieved that goal on the first year itself. Too bad this was in 1996-1997 when there were no blogs, Facebook or Instagram!

I remember I used to wake up in the middle of the night and creep through the lonely halls towards the direction of the vending machine in the dormitory ground floor. The vending machines in Japan fascinated me. I’d put coins and press one new button per day. I got hooked to the awesome strawberry milk the most. I also got hooked to Mister Donut, paired with hot chocolate on winters. Whoa.

Graduation day in Japan  2001 – the year I graduated from the university in Japan (I am the one in pink), 4.5 years after I landed

My friend started her life as an expat in the UK last month. She’s 28. Like me, she is amazed by what is available right in front of her eyes. Those things she could not find at home, most importantly, the ones she could not afford before. But at 28, her metabolism is not on kick-ass level anymore and paired with the UK’s ever gloomy, depressing grey and cold weather, she is in no mood to exercise. On the contrary, it makes her want to be in the comfort of chocolates and buttermilk pancakes and hot chocolate drinks.

“Help, I’m getting fat!” was the SOS message I got a month after she landed in the UK. “I know I will get fat but the Toblerones, Cadburys and Ferreros are always on sale and I can actually buy them now. I’ve been hoarding.”

Oh, life abroad. I was indeed a lucky bitch for having to taste it all without having to buy bigger jean sizes.  But those were the days – I am feeling the pinch right now, being an expat again in Dubai at a much older age. With all the fantastic dining options available, it is hard not to gain weight. In fact, there’s a popular term called “the Dubai stone” – a catchy expression of the theory that living in Dubai will result in your regular weight increasing by somewhere in the region of 6.3 something kilograms.

But at least I am done with my chocolate experiment. 

Are you an expat? Did you gain weight than when you were back home?

Top photo credit


    1. I gained weight here too, especially after having baby #2!
      Now that I am done with babies and have weaned him, it’s time to get back to the business of being fit and healthy! 🙂



  1. I was a decent size 12 when I left Manila 20 years ago. Three more kids and a lot of unhealthy food and lifestyle later, I am now a size 18 bordering on 20 depending on the brand! I blame no one else but me. I had no self-control, I did not think about anything else esp not my health. If I could change anything, I would go back and create a fun and consistent exercise regime and also eat healthy.

    It’s just as worse when I go back to Manila because then I get to eat cheaper and there’s so much more stuff available there which you cannot get here.



    1. Our weight gain just gets worse as we age, doesn’t it! And they say it gets more and more difficult to lose weight after 40!

      I was only 49 kilos when I arrived in Japan, was 55 kilos when I graduated – I thought that was the fattest of me. Boy I was wrong!! LOL



  2. I must say I’m not an expat and I STILL experiment with chocolate. LOL Granted I just turned 24 so I’m still technically in my ‘early’ twenties but I have noticed to much sugar and sweets has me feeling very blah!

    Although If I got the chance to travel, you bet your sweet bippy I’d be experimenting with every type of quinine I came across ^.^



  3. Oh those vending machines in Japan! They’re one of my big obsessions whenever I visit. As soon as I think I’ve tried all items, a new brand or product turns up. My vending machine favorite is Calpis with peach flavor:)



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