After being an expat in Chiang Mai for almost two years, there is one thing that I can say for certain: I am comfortable.
Which means, as a part of The Comfort Zone Project, it’s time to get out of Southeast Asia … at least for a little bit.
It has become second nature to navigate the tiny sois throughout the Old City. It has become too easy to tell a songthaew driver where I want to go and then negotiate — in Thai — how much I want to pay. I’ve become so used to smiling at the same people on my walk each day, going to the same restaurants for lunch …
It’s time to get out.
So, in the middle of May, that is just what I am doing.
I’ve got my friends manning my house and keeping an eye on the cats, and I’m heading on a solo European adventure. Why? Because I want to feel my heart race a little bit. I want to wakeup in the morning and not know if I am going to stay put, or hop on a train to another country where there is a different language, a different currency …
I want to challenge myself emotionally, the same way I have been challenging myself physically since February.
It is time to get out of the comfort zone of Thailand for a month and head to the gorgeous, cobblestoned, steepled Europe for a month.
The challenge will continue there — I will be looking for gyms along the way so I can put together a cheat sheet for others who want to work out while traveling. Plus, I’ll be documenting the activities I do like finding gorgeous hikes and healthy places to eat while I Europe trot.
I’m also partnering with FitWeek to help me with a fitness plan for my time abroad. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to go to the gym everyday. And, let’s face it. There’s wine. And pizza. And a quest for the best gelato in Italy. And the best chocolate and beer in Belgium.
After all, what’s the point of getting out of your comfort zone if you can’t at least have a little fun?
There are plenty of places to get information on how to break the right sweat, what work outs will give you those killer abs, the foods you should be eating now (!) to give you energy, the ultimate cleanse … and it goes on and on.
I’ve been following all of these tips like a mad woman since I started the Comfort Zone Project. Fortunately, Facebook makes it easy to get a myriad of information delivered straight to your news feed.
Now, I’m no expert (but promise I will be talking to one soon), and it is important to make sure the information you are finding online comes from a reputable source and isn’t just a quote pasted to a photo of some celebrity, but there are places with helpful information on how to become a healthier and more mindful person.
My current obsessions/online cheat sheets for fitness when I can’t go to the gym or need some extra motivation/eating ideas, etc. on Facebook are the fitness/wellness magazines constantly churning out great content:
Even when I lived in the States, I had subscriptions to each of them. I loved them for the awesome workout tips (like the five exercises to build gorgeous arms) and recipes (even though kitchen goddess I am not).
If you want some motivation and do-it-yourself workout ideas and recipes, follow along on their Facebook pages (I’ve linked them above).
When I first began The Comfort Zone Project, I had it in my head that not only was I going to join a gym and get fit, I was going to learn the art of Muay Thai. One reason being that muay thai is one hell of a workout, and the other being that the sport is so popular in Thailand, it would be great to learn more not only about it in terms of the physical aspect, but also the cultural.
I have yet to get involved in the learning of the sport, but I did manage to connect with Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu. The Muay Thai fighter has been living in Chiang Mai with her husband for two years. I wanted her take on the sport, what it’s like to live in Thailand and what takes her out of her comfort zone.
Sylvie: I don’t consider myself an “expat.” We came to Thailand in order to focus on Muay Thai because this is the best place in the world for learning and practicing the sport/art. We chose Chiang Mai because we’d been here at this camp before and my opportunities for frequent fights and a variety of opponents near my size is greater than in other areas of Thailand.
D: It is very easy to fall into the trap of not doing much/drinking/etc. What is life like for you as an expat in Chiang Mai?
S: Muay Thai camps see a lot of tourists in and out, with varying degrees of commitment both in time and effort. Some folks stay only for one session, some for a few days and up to a month or more. But, more than a couple weeks is pretty rare. None of the folks here on the short-term are “expats” but they are mostly young travelers who seem to experience their tours in foreign countries through the lens of partying. I think for a lot of tourists, Thailand is a fantasy space and it’s both viewed and treated as an adult playground — an extended “Spring Break” trip. That’s unfortunate, I think, although for many of those people that experience is satisfying. For me, because I have a focus, spending all my time training, studying Thai language and writing my blog, 8 Limbs, is very gratifying. I simply don’t have an interest in hanging out all night with westerners who are on a transient path through Thailand, one stop of many. For me, it’s easy to avoid because it holds no appeal for me. And one simply cannot commit to both late nights of booze AND 6:30 a.m. start to six-hour days of training. I consciously, and happily, choose the latter every day.
S: I started Muay Thai in the US in 2008. I was living in New York and commuting an hour in each direction to train with an absolutely incredible man named Master K, who is a 75-year-old Thai man still practicing Muay Thai and teaching it out of the basement of his home in New Jersey. He instilled in me the love for Muay Thai that is a “way of life” rather than simply an exercise or sport. My husband and I relocated to Chiang Mai in order to pursue Muay Thai full-time (for me; my husband doesn’t train) and get as much fight experience as possible; something that is very limited in the US at this point in time.
D: What makes muay thai such a great work out?
S: Muay Thai is also called “The Art of 8 Limbs” because it uses strikes from the fists, elbows, knees and legs. Using every part of your body in the practice means both that you are going to be exercising your full body, but also it is rare (especially for women) to appreciate all of your body at once, rather than picking one limb or feature to highlight or hide. There’s no hiding in Muay Thai! However, an important point to realize is that Muay Thai is a job for fighters, nakmuay, in Thailand — it’s a job for me — so simply calling it a workout does not come close to what is invested by those of us who practice Muay Thai as a way of life.
D: How easy is it to get involved in the Muay Thai scene in Chiang Mai?
S: Very easy. There are numerous gyms in Chiang Mai and surrounding areas. Most of the camps are within a proximity to one another so that you could easily visit more than one from a central location and decide for yourself which suits you best. My camp, Lanna Muay Thai/Kiat Busaba, is located near Chiang Mai University and near the foot of the Doi Suthep mountain, so it’s a really lovely area and easy to access by bike or public transport, as well as being near lots of accommodation options. All gyms offer day rates (single session or single day, depending on the camp), as well as weekly and monthly, so it’s very easy for anyone to just “drop in” and try a session or get a discount for longer stretches of training.
D: Can you describe the muay thai scene in Chiang Mai?
S: There are about four stadiums in Chiang Mai, almost all of which are within walking distance of each other, and located around the Night Bazaar. There are fight programs scheduled for every night of the week and big shows on weekends. Fighters come from all over, from big camps with familiar names (once you’ve attended two shows you’ll start to recognize the names already) to tiny gyms in family yards where the pedagogy is passed down from parent or uncle to children — very traditional. There’s a lot of gambling at some of the venues and that lends to the excitement of the atmosphere. Usually, westerners fill up the seats directly around the ring and the gamblers stand in the back. There are usually one or more “foreigner vs. Thai” bouts on a card, which are a big draw for tourist audiences. Sometimes, the matchup looks a little funny, simply because westerners can be pretty big and there aren’t Thais of that same size, so you’ll see a big western guy against a much smaller Thai — but usually the Thai makes up for the size disparity in experience and these fights can be really exciting. The cards usually start with the smaller and less experienced fighters, like young boys with a handful of fights, and progress toward the “Main Event” of bigger, more experienced fighters or the westerners on the card.
D: Has muay thai changed your body image? How was your body image before you started the sport?
S: I’ve always been athletic but I’ve never committed to a practice like I have to Muay Thai. My body is very “functional” for me, so how it looks is much less on my mind than how it performs. I’m quite muscular, which gets a lot of attention in Thailand, but I’m recognized as a fighter almost instantly here — like an assumption to explain the aesthetic — whereas in the US I was often asked “do you work out a lot?” So, there’s a level of pride to that recognition that I think makes up for the unwanted attention I get for looking the way I do. Muscles on women is not so hot in contemporary Thai aesthetic, so I think I’m more self-conscious of it than I would be back home. The women I fight don’t look like me – but because a strong body is appreciated in Muay Thai for its function, that lends to confidence nonetheless.
D: What challenges do you face to maintain your health and fitness in Chiang Mai? And how to you solve these challenges?
S: I don’t face challenges. I’ve heard western men at the camp complain about the expense of protein powder and supplements in Thailand, but I don’t partake in either so it’s not a bother to me. I find no difficulty in locating nutritious and delicious food and health care is significantly more affordable here than in the US, so if I need to see a doctor I can actually afford to go see one, which I couldn’t do in the US. So it’s actually easier for me here.
Photos courtesy Sylvie von Dugglas-Ittu
Emily Nolan is beautiful. Both on the inside and outside. A model, a vegan, an inspirational role model for those looking to lose weight or get healthy, this writer/model/awesome woman has been helping to change the way women perceive themselves.
Recently, I was able to interview her on everything from her days of being underweight and unhealthy to her life as a model, her lifestyle and more. Enjoy!
Diana: Can you talk about your struggles with weight over the years? Specifically, can you address when you decided to embrace your body as it is versus being unhealthy to be a small size?
Emily: I struggled for 10 years with painful eating disorders, starving my body from the nutrition it craved to blossom into a woman’s body. I worked very much during that 10th year to be as skinny as possible, so that I could be a model with one of the largest modeling agencies.
I was working out for six hours a day, and one day, I walked into the cardio room, hit a wall (figuratively speaking) and said, that I’d rather be dead than torturing myself for the very little appreciation and recognition that I was getting. That day, I left the gym, and promised myself that I was going to model (or continue my journey) at my own size–wherever that equilibrium falls for me. I chose to connect with my food instead of eating what magazines and fad diets were telling me to eat, and I ended up choosing a plant-based diet (my Mom also did this with me).
I continued to work out, but this time around, I was focused on happiness. I was constantly asking myself, “Does this exercise make me happy?” When you live in the land of excessive habits and disorder and you’re trying to heal on your own (for the most part), the best way to do it is to constantly ask yourself helpful questions that remind you of where you are and how you feel. So, I was asking myself questions and I was answering them honestly. Questions like, “Should you go back to torturing your body to live someone else’s dream, or is it worth giving up their dream to build your own miraculous life?” After realizing that I’d rather be dead than going through the torture I had put myself through, the answers were very clear and I was able to chart my new course for a healthier lifestyle.
D: What is the worst thing someone has said to you about your weight? How did it make you feel? How did you overcome it?
E: There are so many things that people can say about someone’s weight, height, color, etc. In the past, I let it dictate who I was. “I am fat, I am tall, I am athletic.” Now, I just live life as the best version of me, and much to my surprise, people have stopped negatively commenting and started complimenting who I am. Maybe it’s because I surround myself with a network of safe friends that are nonjudgmental, highly supportive and intelligent.
D: In society, it seems like a person’s weight is directly attributed to the respect, love and success they deserve. Do you agree with this statement? How do you suggest people can change the way society links weight to these things?
E: The internet is much to thanks for the rise in “respect for ‘perfect’ body pictures,” which can be attributed to certain men and women being idolized to a god-like level. If we realize that everyone is human, even high-paid supermodels, and that we all struggle with our own issues, we can start to understand that we are all the same–billboard or not. The important takeaway is to know that we all struggle, and we all have things that we’re great at, too. The size of your thighs or waist does not define your beauty or importance–but your brain and heart, do. And if you are setting out to make a difference in the world which I highly recommend, the latter two are the only things that matter.
D: You’re gorgeous. When did you realize you were perfect just the way you are?
E: Thank you very much. I always thought that beauty came from the way I appeared on the outside, and what I came to realize is that beauty is like a flower. The flower grows from the dirt, through the spine or stem and into a tight protective bud. Only when the bud feels like it is pretty enough, does it open up to show the world just how pretty it is–and that all came from a seed in the ground. I realized my true beauty when I started to make decisions that were deeply authentic and true to my seed; beauty has to do with living a compassion-filled life.
Have you ever looked at a fat manatee and said, “Ew, how gross and fat?” I didn’t think so. Most likely we say, “Oh, look how cute and big that manatee is! How amazing! How majestic and incredible.” By reframing the way that we see beauty, as well as sharing the same spirit with friends and family, we can move past the pressure that’s placed on outer beauty and begin to focus on that beautiful seed that is planted within us all.
D: What is your comfort zone? How did you step out of it to get to where you are today?
E: I am part German, which means my tolerance for torture and rule-following is quite high. That being said, my comfort zone is anywhere that I feel safe. It is important to note that in the beginning of My Kind of Life and my modeling career, public speaking and being in front of a camera were not always the most comfortable feeling for me; however, I always felt safe–to fail, to succeed, to be myself–so I allowed myself to work through the discomfort of a new task or job, in a safe environment.
Build self-confidence by being hyper sensitive to your authenticity, and seeking out safe environments to practice your truth is a great place to grow your comfort zone. And I highly encourage pushing your limits if your goal is to share a message that is great and life-giving.
D: What advice would you give to other women in the world who struggle with their weight?
E: If you’re like me and have struggled with your weight, the best advice that I can give you to feel more confident in your size is to eat healthy, exercise and buy clothes that fit. If you like what you see in the mirror, who cares about what the magazines are promoting, or what fad diet your friend or partner is on. We were made to be beautiful in our size, color and personality–let’s be unique and embrace the paradox of life, we’re all so different, and yet we’re all very much the same.
D: Can you talk briefly about your modeling career, why you don’t like the term “plus-size” and how your modeling career has empowered you and can empower others to love who they are?
E: My modeling career has been an incredible journey; it’s given me a platform to get up and speak to other people and share that the size of our body is insignificant. Plus size, straight size (skinny), men, kids–we all take beautiful pictures. So what makes us unique? Our brains and our hearts.
I stopped calling myself a “plus size” model because I don’t believe that women who are looking at me in their catalog should feel that they are different from thinner women. We are all beautiful and we all deserve to look stylish and feel confident, no matter the number on the tag of our clothes.
Some women disagree and think that I should embrace the label “plus-size,” but I just think, if I was a man, I would not say, “I’m a male model.” It is so obvious that I’m not skinny, so there’s no confusion as to what size of clothes I wear. I can understand both sides of the discussion–I just choose to be inclusive, since I don’t endorse any form of labeling. If I do label someone I’ll say, “She is very inspirational. She is highly intelligent.” Those are positive labels that grow from the seed within us.
D: What are the most important lessons you have learned about loving yourself? What would you tell others to do to honor themselves above others?
E: Notice the patterns of your personality. From day one, I was an animal lover, an athlete, a family person, and highly self-aware (I’m a taurus–again, I can’t be blamed). To stray from that path–maybe if society encourages another lifestyle–is to deny yourself the ultimate truth, and the opportunity to live your life with a bright mind and a brilliant, open heart.
Be true to who you are, and you’ll find nothing but love and fulfillment in your future. That is how I define success.
D: When you realized you could be happy as you are, how did life change for you?
E: As soon as I started to reconnect with my authentic interests, my career(s) started to take off. I built a very unique vessel to navigate life–because no one else has the same story that I do. I dedicate a lot of the hours in my day to fulfilling my interests and helping others find theirs. When I started to help others with no strings attached, my career again, started to build on another, higher level.
I stopped seeing money as a means to life, and started to see how giving life to people is a highly rewarding way to live. Put your heart out there and let it work miracles; money comes and goes, love and good work is consistent.
D: What is your fitness routine these days?
E: I try to sweat everyday. I love the way I feel after I workout. Sometimes I don’t make it to the gym–like twice a week–because I’m on a plane to another country. Sometimes, I just feel like taking my dog on a nice long walk along the water to look at the colorful fish swimming by and to take time to reconnect.
I’m a fan of group exercise because I work a lot harder than if I were to do a workout on my own. I like to use weights, I love spinning, kick boxing, yoga–I’ll do it all. If you’re afraid to jump in to group exercise or any exercise at all, know that even Lance Armstrong had a first day–no need to feel afraid or intimidated. I take a kickboxing class with a 90 year old woman, who shows up every week and spends the whole class going at her own pace. No one at the gym is there to judge her, we actually want to see her succeed! That woman is an inspiration to me. I hope when I’m 90, that A) I’m alive, and B) That I have a gym membership or fulfilling exercise routine.
D: Can you give us an example of your daily meal consumption?
E: This is a popular question that piques a lot of interest. If I were to tell you exactly what I eat, it may encourage others to aspire to the same habits. So when I tell you, know that this is what works for me, and you could require more or less–and your decisions to eat what you do, are great enough. Also, my entire diet is vegan, which is all plant-based, whole foods.
Note: I drink Yerba Matte all day long and drink way too much sparkling water for my own good.
Organic granola with coconut milk greek yogurt with fresh organic fruit on top
Lettuce wraps with tempeh and grilled vegetables.
Side of wild rice with veggies mixed in.
Bowl of raw crudités with a baba ganoush
Barbecue tofu over mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus and root vegetables
Plant-based whole food dessert. A healthy cookie or a few bites of a cherry cobbler with nuts and seeds as a base
D: When do you feel most beautiful?
E: I feel most beautiful when people come up to me and thank me for the work that I’m doing to make a difference in the world. Whether it was a speech I gave, a picture I published, an article I wrote–those are the things that matter, and the things that I value the most. To know that my labor of love has touched someone, that is when I feel the most beautiful.
Photo credit: Mary Beth Koeth
I sit, tuckered out from a long day of travel. Situated on the former Olympic Steps in Sarajevo, surrounded by green mountains dotted with homes which used to be in the middle of a war zone, I take it all in.
Then, I light a cigarette, inhale deeply, and really begin to take a look around what is — in this moment — my world.
The dilapidated steps, crumbling into the weeds growing alongside what used to have been something bustling, something grand.
I sit, and as I pull the toxicity into my lungs, I get it. I let myself open up to the history of Sarajevo being surrounded, the struggles, the pain, the rebirth of this city.
When I stub my cigarette out, I light another one and ponder some more.
Smoking and Travel. The perfect couple.
The lure of the nicotine
This moment doesn’t just happen once. It repeats itself throughout Europe. In the technicolor island paradise of Solta. Against an ancient stone wall when I get word of my grandma’s passing. And, it transcends travel and creeps back into my re-entry. Into my life in America.
Sure, I quit smoking a few times. In fact, before I went to Europe, I had not smoked for almost two years. But, it all changed when I grew stressed. When I grew lonely. I began to make justifications.
Just one rollie is fine. I won’t get addicted to smoking again.
I believed that. Until I was buying a pack-a-day in Europe. Until I was sitting on my balcony in Vegas, hiding the fact that I had fallen off the wagon to everyone.
On and off it went, my little love affair with smoking. My best friend who played any role in my life I needed.
Lighting up in those moments of stress seemed like a way to calm down. But, lighting up in those moments when I wanted to take it all in made even more sense.
I mean, nothing lets a gorgeous scene in Samui sink in better than inhaling sweet tobacco, right?
It isn’t just me who makes those excuses, either. It is plenty of travelers I meet. Travelers who, in their real lives, don’t smoke at all, but when they hit a foreign patch of land, they light up.
Why? What is it about traveling that makes us just want to smoke our faces off?
I look at them and think, “dude, if you don’t smoke in normal life, why on earth are you putting this into your body now?”
Then, I look at my orange, glowing cherry and relish the fact that I smoke. That I don’t have to give myself permission on holiday to pollute my body — I do it every day. That I am a grown-up and just like if I want to eat an entire package of Oreos, I can smoke until I can’t breathe.
I get it. I enjoy nothing more than savoring a new place, an old place, a moment, a situation, with the company of that glorious, burning, stick of nicotine. It just feels right.
Smoking compliments travel in the worst way. It is a chance to be outside of the normal self. It gives us permission to do things we normally wouldn’t do. It lets us sneak nasty habits back into our lives. I mean, I cannot count the number of times I have given myself permission to act a certain way because of traveling.
I’m one of those closet smokers. When I’m around people who don’t smoke, I am incredibly conscious of it. I am conscious of the way it smells, the direction the smoke blows, whether it bothers anyone else. Yet, I still smoke. I just sneak off to my own quite corner of a place, where I cannot poison anyone else.
Now, with The Comfort Zone Project and working on my health and fitness, I know it is time to break up with my best and most cancerous friend, the cigarette. (Really, Cigarette isn’t my best friend at all. More like my worst enemy … but cloaked in an addiction that makes it far more friendly.)
So, the other day, I finally stopped putting it off. Actually, I had an attitude adjustment.
I’m typically not one for self-help books. I mean, I read “The Secret” and all, but really … it is just about the power of your own mind, and we all know this and don’t need to pay X amount of money for a book to reiterate that. Or … do we? Because, I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and damn if he didn’t say everything I didn’t already know. But, reading it made it seem that much more … real. Like, I needed to read that I have been brainwashed, that I have brainwashed myself to the power of smoking, in order to actually smoke that final cigarette.
It hasn’t been that long since I crossed over into a world I feared desperately — the non-smoker’s world — but I actually feel pretty good about it. I quit for me. I didn’t sacrifice anything. I gave myself a gift.
Before I quit, I had a conversation with my friend about kicking the habit. I mentioned how worried I was to quit smoking just before I go to Europe because all the wine … the cheese … the views … the travel-related stresses … the social situations … but the book reminded me I don’t need to smoke to enjoy (or not enjoy) any of those things. That smoking does not calm me down. It does not make meals taste better. It does not make me a more social person.
Unlike other times I have quit, this time it isn’t about willpower. It isn’t about sacrificing smoking for not smoking. It is about giving myself the gift of treating my addiction, and coming out healthy.
Now … I am finally going to readjust the habit. Spectacular view? Great. I’m going to sit outside and take it in. I’m going to breathe that fresh air deeply. And, I’m going to love it.
This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.
The Comfort Zone Project and my quest to not be “fat” in Thailand are leading me down a path of mindful eating, five-day-a-week workout sessions (three of which are with a personal trainer) and breaking up with booze.
OK. So, not really “breaking up,” but more like “we’re going into a very restricted relationship. Almost like a break-up, but from time-to-time, we can still hook-up and remember how much we loved each other.”
Cause, yeah … I’m not ready to quit you, sweet red wine. I just need more time for me than you.
My relationship with alcohol began when I was a teen, as most stories of underage shenanigans begin. I didn’t even like booze at first. It tasted nasty, but that is likely because as high school students, we were totally inexperienced drinkers.
While I didn’t drink much in high school, I definitely had my little trysts with the hooch. At my friend’s house on some half-days, we’d go down to her dad’s liquor cabinet and grab the chocolate liqueor because, well, it sounded tasty and a shot is supposed to get you wasted, right? Then, we’d ruin it with orange juice (see, I told you we didn’t know any better), fill the bottle back up with some water, place it back in the cabinet, then head upstairs with a cheeky buzz.
I remember when Zima came out. It was the rage at my high school. People would doodle the brand’s name on their brown-bag-covered text books and most epic weekend party stories began and ended with name-dropping the clear (and crappy) alcoholic beverage’s name.
Fake IDs and Freshmen Life
In college, we were a bit more civilized. We opted for picking our poison, rather than being at the mercy of the grown-up’s stash. Armed with fake IDs or an upperclassman, we’d head to the drive-up liquor store and purchase tasty cases of Keystone Light or Natural Ice (yeah, we still didn’t know any better and uttering “micro-brew” would have made us wonder what science lecture we missed). Occasionally, I’d be bold and try some hard stuff like Southern Comfort or Seagrams 7 (which, to this day, I cannot stomach thanks to the way that crap tastes coming back up).
Nights in Bowling Green, Ohio (where I partied … er attended college … for 1-1/2 years) were a mix of frat parties, dorm room binge drinking and the worst — filling up a mug with boxed white zin and taking it into the shower and drinking it there because the hot water thins your blood and then you are drunk quick — and then promptly the puking of said alcohol content thanks to the gruesome image of warm mayonnaise sandwiches in the microwave when the spinning got to be too much.
Of Legal Age
When I finally turned 21 in Towson, I had already done my fair share of partying. After all, I had someone else’s expired Maryland driver’s license and was a regular in the college town bar scene, so the owners and staff of the bar I went to knew I wasn’t 21. When someone did card me, they’d turn the card over in their hand, question me as to why it was expired, and then did a shot with me.
At 22, I got into a relationship with an alcoholic 10 years my senior, and the boozing continued. Our poison back then was shots of Gran Marnier in little thimble glasses at the bar where I used to work. Followed by pints (yup) of Red Bull and Grey Goose, Blue Moon (see, I got a little classier) or Coors Light bottles (and there goes the class).
It really never stopped.
On the road
In my travels, going out for drinks has always been a bonding experience with fellow backpackers. I never thought to pass on the booze and just sip water. I have always wanted to be in the moment, to be engaged with others (i.e. make out with the cute backpacker boys with foreign accents), and I always assumed the only way to do that was to be like them.
Plus, when traveling, I feel like the world gives us permission to have a glass of chilled white wine while overlooking the Adriatic Sea … at 10 a.m. Or, having a Pilsner because, hello, I’m in Prague. Or a shot of Jameson because Ireland and my liver isn’t vital, right?
So many of my most incredible nights in foreign countries have included booze. It served as a celebration for new friends, a reward for finding the hostel with crap directions, something to calm my nerves.
I could never pass it down because it always seemed like it was the right thing to do … the right moment to have that beer/wine/shot/moonshine.
Chang and Chiang Mai
Granted, I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic. In the environments I have lived, I have always kept up, but never needed booze. I have never woken up with the shakes (although I have had some nasty hangovers), but drinking has never impacted my life in a negative sense — unless you count the general unhealthiness of it.
Living as an expat in Chiang Mai, I noticed something about myself I didn’t like — when I wasn’t at the office, when I wasn’t sleeping, I was drinking. Why? Well, a lot of it stems from sheer boredom. I’d get home after a day at the office and didn’t want to sit in my house, alone. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to do anything … but leave and go hang out with the other expats who like to have fun.
I was stuck in this comfort zone that I knew wasn’t good for me, but made me feel good.
- Buckets of booze are prevalent in Thailand. And tasty.
I liked the company. I liked the buzz. I didn’t like the hangover, but I learned how to skip that with the help of 500 mg of Paracetamol. (Not healthy, I know.)
I quit you (ish)
So, with the launch of The Comfort Zone Project, I decided to change the way I engage with others. To replace nights of Sang Som and Coke with nights of Singha Drinking Water. Not every night … I let myself not be straight-edge once a week or so … but that’s it.
It’s been interesting so far.
Sitting at Tiger Bar, one my local hangouts, I pull up a shallacked wooden bench to join my friends. The owner of the bar, Dang, comes up to me when she sees the chilled bottle of water her husband had given to me, sitting on the patterned tablecloth.
“You drink water?” She asks, looking confused.
“Ka,” I say, smiling and grabbing the little bottle.
“You not drink wine?” Disbelief.
“Ka,” I say.
She smiles, slaps my shoulder playfully, and then walks away.
Thankfully, most of my friends don’t pressure me. They all know I am trying to make changes in my life. To escape the suck of Loi Kroh, the candelight of The Lost Hut, the raunchy talks at Smith.
I go home early as the rest of my friends continue on with their night. I don’t go home because I am bored. I go home because I want to.
For the first time in a long time, I am listening to my body, listening to my mind. Not listening to the part of me that says “you have nothing else to do with your time.”
Cause, you know what?
I do have other things to do with my time.
I explore more of the city. I communicate and keep in touch with friends from all over the world. I catch up on all of the television shows I miss. I cuddle with my rescue cats. I write. Goodness, I write. I plan my next trip (coming soon!). I go to sleep early. I wake up feeling energized instead of groggy and shity. I pick up more Thai since being sober is my new lifestyle choice. I am more mindful of my living and how I choose to live, and the company I keep. I have revitalized and stronger, healthier relationships with like-minded people and have established boundaries I needed with others. I’ve learned more about the things — and people — I want in my life. I talk to my parents more. I focus more on me. I work my ass out. And, I am happy and have a good time without being drunk.
Even in the early stages of my decision to only drink twice a week (I’m five weeks in to this new lifestyle), I feel really good about it. I’ve even surprised myself. My two nights a week of “party” have turned into maybe two nights a week. And the “party” has been replaced with a few select beverages. The first real party I allowed myself was seven drinks in six hours, plus plenty of water. I wasn’t drunk. But, the next morning, I had a hangover that lasted 36 hours. Yes. Thirty. Six. Hours. The following week, I had three beers over six hours and woke up with a headache. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t fair. But it is my body’s way of telling me to keep with the healthy behaviors and leave the toxic ones behind.
So, Comfort Zone: 0; Diana: 1.
This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.
It’s Sunday night, and I’m in my bedroom, getting ready for bed. I look down at my teak wood floor and see Mr. Lucky, laying on the ground.
Odd, since that isn’t his normal behavior.
I scoop him into my arms and place him on the bed. He tucks his little orange and white paws under his body, and lays his head flat against my mattress.
Something isn’t right.
I try to cajole him … but he is listless.
Something is wrong.
Panicked, I call my boss and tell her. She refers me to a 24-hour emergency vet. Then, I call my friend, Ae, and ask her to please take me. It is 11 p.m., but she agrees.
As I am preparing him for his ride, I look into the litter box. Blood. Poop covered in blood.
No. No. No. No. Please. No. Something is very, very wrong.
My little rescue cat, with four lives already gone, is now pooping blood and not really moving. Tears fall from my face and when Ae arrives and we drive to the vet, I can feel the dread beginning to sweep in.
Just hours earlier, I had walked from my house to the gym, about a 45-minute walk. Then, I did 20 more minutes of cardio and a grueling 90-minute yoga session which resulted in my hair being plastered to my face. And now? Now I am bordering on a complete breakdown as I cradle Lucky in my arms and the vet tells me he has distemper.
Hooked up to an IV, I leave him for the night. Feeling hopeless. Helpless. Devastated at the complete turn of events in such a short amount of time.
The next morning, I walk to the clinic, about a 30-minute walk, and go to see him. The doctor reports they gave him a tiny bite of food and he has not pooped or vomited blood since the night before. There’s something not right about this clinic though, so instead, I decide to take him to my normal vet, Dr. Nook.
Once again, Ae comes through and picks me and Lucky up, takes me home to get my other cat to make sure she does not have distemper, and then takes all of us to Dr. Nook’s.
After an examination of Lucky, she runs another test and he doesn’t have distemper, but thinks he has another highly contagious virus. She escorts us out, instructing Ae to take me to Tesco and get bleach and for me to disinfect my house.
I go through the morning in a daze. I barely eat. I clean like I have never cleaned before. At night, I return to the vet and take my other cat home (with a clean bill of health), and then try to eat dinner.
The next day, it is much of the same. I got to the vet two times — the second of which I am informed Lucky now has a fever and his white blood cell, red blood cell, platelets and hemoglobin have all dropped below an acceptable level and he is now being treated for blood parasites — and then dinner.
More daze. Even when I am sitting with Simon (who changed my life on the Adriatic years earlier) and his girlfriend, I can barely eat the pizza I normally love.
While Lucky is sick, I get sick. And, I skip my workouts because I am too sick, and too worried about Lucky and going to the vet every night to get his blood results and hold him. And, right now, all I need to do is eat comfort food.
Because in this moment, food is the only thing I can control.
I don’t think about the gym. I don’t think about my mission to not be the fat girl in Thailand or The Comfort Zone Project. All I think about is how worried I am about Lucky, how sick I am, and what the hell I can eat to make me feel better
I devour a pizza. I dump a bottle of malt vinegar over fish and chips. I inhale a chimichanga. But, I don’t do my normal escape route: I don’t get drunk. I have a glass of wine or a cocktail with dinner twice, but then it is over. And I let myself be in my reality. My stressed out reality. I want to feel, even though feeling in the moment is terrible and painful.
When I finally am able to bring Lucky home, my need to control everything begins to wane. My health begins to get better. I finally let myself breathe again.
While I skipped the gym last week, I didn’t give up. I didn’t let the week set me back to the point of quitting. Because I’m not quitting on The Comfort Zone Project. I am not quitting on me.
Yesterday, I returned to the gym and did 30 minutes of cardio, 20 minutes of legs and a 30-minute ab class, then had a healthy dinner, drank some water and went to bed.
It felt phenomenal. The endorphins that had been absent last week radiated through me.
Sure, it was a bad week. Yeah, I didn’t eat well. But, I didn’t go into old D mode and freak out, get drunk and cry. Instead, I allowed myself to be present. To feel what I was feeling. To do what I needed to do.
It’s back to game on this week.
I’d like to give a very special thank you to Dr. Nook and her team for saving Lucky’s life.
This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.
“Oh, why you so pom pui?” People ask me. Strangers. Friends. You name it.
You’d think one of the first words I would learn in Thailand would be how to ask someone’s name, or how to ask for directions. But, nope. One of the first words I learn other than “drunk” is pom pui or “fat.”
And that is because everyone asks me why I am fat. Or tells me I am fat. Or says I am soai (beautiful) followed by pom pui.
Fat AND beautiful. Now, that is a nice backhanded compliment. Thankyouverymuch.
Unlike in Western cultures, weight here isn’t one of those hush-hush things. It’s an in-your-face thing. Comments people make here that would make me cry if someone Western was saying it simply roll of my back. Or, they try to roll off my back.
After awhile, those “you’re fat” comments begin to take a toll.
Skinny is everywhere in Thailand. If you’re above a size 8 (and I think I’m being quite forgiving when I say that), you won’t be able to find cute clothes. I’m a size 10 or 12 (depending on the day), and yeah, shopping at the department stores leaves me feeling defeated when I look at a pair of pants that can’t even fit an arm through the leg, let alone my ass.
The only place I can shop is Tesco Lotus, and then it is clothing that is more like a tent than anything cute and form-fitting.
I’ve always battled with being overweight, and here in Chiang Mai, it is a constant reminder of those battles.
The Skinny Syndrome and Las Vegas
When I lived in Las Vegas, I lived in a world where beauty was directly attributed to a tiny waist, big bust (check), spray tan and hair extensions. It had nothing to do with anything else. You got further in Vegas if you were skinny, and I was not a fool.
Even when work asked that I get a headshot, the photographer worked magic.
“I’m just going to make your nose a little smaller, your eyes a little bigger, your teeth a little straighter, your face a little smaller … oh, but you are beautiful,” he said, as he Photoshopped me to a younger illustration (or caricature) of myself.
After only a few months in Sin City, I began to do PR for a doctor who shall remain nameless because after years of following his business, I think he is the most unethical doctor I’ve ever met or heard of. This good doctor had a weight loss program that basically was a cocktail of diet pills and seizure pills that resulted in the heaviest of people transforming quickly into slimmer versions of themselves.
As I sat on the table after getting an EKG done, he looked at me and said “You’re going to be blown away by how fat you are.”
I kid you not.
Sure, I was tipping the scales at 200 at that time, but for a doctor to tell me that broke my heart. And yes, it is his job, but to say so in such a callous way …
He handed me two bottles of pills, a Phentermine concoction for the mornings and Topomax for the evenings, and prescribed me a weekly fat burning shot.
The shit worked. Within six months I had gone from a size 16 to a six four. I had gone from fat to toothpick. It was a miracle drug, but it had its prices. My vision became blurry. My heart would race like I had just snorted an entire eight-ball of coke for breakfast. I was skinny, but it wasn’t me.
As the good doctor put it, I was now sexy. I had newfound attention from men. I had gone from the ugly duckling in the corner watching all of the couples snuggling to the girl with guys at her side. I had gone from the girl who hid her body behind enormous, billowy shirts to the girl wearing tight dresses. I had the body I had always dreamed of.
Until I didn’t.
After nearly a year of taking the pills, I decided to stop them. Cold turkey. Within months, my weight shot back up and I was back to the loose clothing.
People would look at me with their brow furrowed, casting me their deepest sympathies for my weight gain. I was back to being the girl in the corner.
It was then I made the conscious decision that I would not let those stares ruin me. I would not let those stares define me and my body. I would take control. I enrolled at the gym and started working out. I didn’t get back to a size four, but I made sure I could have control over my weight.
The thing about weight-loss is, you have to be all in, or not at all.
I had worked out for about six months when I started to get depressed, and soon even lacing up my sneakers was a challenge. So, instead I ate. Papa John’s. McDonalds. I drank. I did whatever I could to camouflage my insecurities by doing something I could control — my intake of food and drink.
But, when your intake trumps your exertion, you gain weight. So, I ballooned back to the weight I was when I arrived in Vegas.
It’s all about control
It wasn’t until I left Vegas and relocated to Atlanta that I finally was able to control my weight again. For at least six months. Then, depression again. Weight gain again.
I thought traveling would make me skinny, so when I set out for my career-break, I decided I would lose weight. I lost a little — there’s something to be said for walking places with a huge backpack on your back that causes those calories to just burn, burn, burn.
I returned to America a smaller version of myself, but still not happy. I looked in the mirror and saw a fat, fat girl who hated herself for not being able to control her own body.
Of course, the normal lose weight-gain weight battle once again ensued upon my arrival back to Vegas. I was up to five days a week at the gym, busting out an hour of cardio a pop, followed by yoga or pilates. I was counting calories. Cutting down on the booze. And, then, I wasn’t. Again. Because it is all cyclical.
The expat life
When I moved to Thailand, I was the heaviest I had ever been. Standing in front of the mirror in my room at Smith, looking at myself naked … I would burst into tears.
I. Am. So. Fat.
Thoughts would race through my mind. I will never find someone to kiss me again. I will never find someone to sleep with again. I will never find someone to love me.
The worst part about living in Thailand and being overweight, is living in Thailand and being a western women. The chances of finding a guy are nearly zero.
I’ve always operated with the belief that beauty is everywhere … that I shouldn’t have to be skinny to fall in love or to have someone fall in love with me. That no one should be anyone they are not … that as people, we are all gorgeous, whether skinny, fat, short, tall, etc. I’ve dated men who I wasn’t initially attracted to, but as I got to know them, they turned into the world’s hottest people.
Attraction is important, yes. But, there are other things, too. And, I always held tight to the belief that people would like me simply for me. For my heart. For my mind. For my passion. Not because I am or am not a size four.
I guess I’m not everyone.
Even as the pounds began to fall off — a total change in diet (cutting out meat), along with sweltering heat and sweating my weight out of me daily — dropped the scale about 20 pounds. But, it didn’t matter. People saw me the same. Fat. Pom pui.
And soon, it became just a part of my life. Everyone commenting (and I mean everyone — strangers, friends, people I see everyday and can only exchange bits of broken Thai or English), even when their comments were not asked for or welcomed.
I have no idea why anyone thinks it is ok to tell someone they would be so much prettier/better/etc. if they weren’t fat.
Sometimes, it boggles my mind.
I don’t look at them and say, “you know, you would be better if you pulled that stick out of your ass and completely rearranged your face?” It would certainly not be met with an understanding smile. So, why the double standard? Why is it OK for someone to give you their opinion about what makes you “not worthy” of being loved? And since when does weight become the single most important factor in any part of life?
I know people here don’t mean it to cause pain. It is either no big deal since calling someone “fat” is normal, or they tell me because they think it can help me become a better me. But that doesn’t mean it just rolls off my back. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact my self-esteem. Or the way I feel about myself.
Today, I’ve grown accustomed to being “fat” even though my weight continues to drop. Men here still don’t look at me. And, I still get judged as to the person I am based on my clothing size.
Is it disheartening? Yes. Is it defeating? Yes. Is it life? Sadly, so long as I live here, it is. No amount of weight loss … no amount of lifestyle change will ever amount to me having the Thai version of a perfect body.
While it used to make me sad (hence, staring at the mirror in tears), today I look at myself and think “fuck you. Really. Fuck. You. If you don’t like me for who I am, cellulite and all, then please. Do me a favor. Fuck yourself and go find a skinny woman who will be your everything.”
Because I am worth more than my weight.
At the same time, I want to give myself a chance to kick this once and for all. I want to look in the mirror with confidence, even if the people around me don’t see the beauty I possess, regardless of whether I am 100 or 200 pounds.
It is one of the reasons why I started The Comfort Zone Project — because I want to push myself to be the best version of me I can be, and give myself the best version of the life I am living.
I enrolled in a gym. I hired a personal trainer. Drinks are cut down to twice a week. Smoking is going to stop.
Either I will be a fat girl in Thailand and embrace the shit out of it, or I will do my damned best to be the not-so-fat girl in Thailand and love myself. Because, you know what? I deserve it.
This post originally appeared on d travels ’round.
“Life’s not about living happily ever after … it’s about living.”
That is the tagline for my travel blog, d travels ’round, and was the motivating factor in the major decision I made nearly four years ago to quit my job in public relations and take a career-break and head out for a solo travel adventure.
But, during my time in Thailand, something happened:
I lost my focus.
I lost my motivation.
I lost myself.
It’s easy to do, really.
I am a stranger in a foreign land. At first, I was wide-eyed, I was excited, I was go-go-go. And then, I wasn’t. I settled into a routine that wasn’t really a routine at all, but more of a passage of time when I wasn’t in the office or with elephants. I took up smoking again. I began to drink. A lot.
I found myself stuck in this comfort zone that I would never be stuck in a place where the cost of living wasn’t as cheap, where the culture here is to drink, eat, sleep. My blog suffered. But, most importantly, I suffered. Travel became a pain in the arse. And, when I did travel, there was nothing I found worthy of writing about really. I stuck to my corner of Chiang Mai, barely venturing out. I became that girl who does nothing with her life but watch it fly by. Soon, I was in Thailand six months … a year … a year-and-a-half … and other than my day job, had little to show for it. Friends came, friends went. And soon, I began to just be that wash-rinse-repeat person.
I am still me, but not the version of me I am happy with anymore.
So, I’ve come to a decision. It’s time for a major change in my life. It is time to live again. To live for me again.
Over the next year, I want to take you on my journey. I want to share with you the trials, triumphs and travel as I navigate my way out of The Comfort Zone and into a life I own — a conscious, happy existence.
What does that mean?
Well, I’ve broken The Comfort Zone Project into four quarters. The first quarter is all about gaining confidence I have lost along the way. It’s about quitting smoking. Letting go of my vices and getting healthy, mentally and physically, and how life changes as an expat when that is accomplished. I’ve always been honest with you about my life, my struggles, my achievements, and this will be no different. I’m raw. I wear my heart on my sleeve. And you will be a fly on the wall throughout this next year.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I can promise you the quarters after that are even juicier and will not only challenge myself, but also take a look at others living a life as an expat, travelers and more. My goal is to show you that, no matter where in the world you are, you, too, can make positive changes in your life while seeing the world. I also want to show you how others live and highlight people who cross my path as I work to better myself.
It may get bumpy, I may cry (hell, I know I will cry), but I also know I will laugh. I will smile. I will love. And, at the end of the day, that’s what is most important.
Get ready for the ride and come with me as I embark on The Comfort Zone Project.
This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.