- The Setup
- The House Blessing
- Here’s Where It Gets Funny
- Thai Food
- The Science Behind The Thai Buddhist Monks
- Monks Never Get Invited To Dinner
Thailand—over two years living here as deep as it gets—has conclusively convinced me that most dietary advocates in the West are simply not dealing honestly with the facts of observable reality. Period. Some are better than others, of course; but even the best of them—low-carb, ketogenic, carnivore, paleo, primal—simply ignore the falsifying evidence of over half of the entire planet who live long and healthy lives with gusto up to the very end in their 80s, 90s, 100s. They eat whole food every day of their lives and upwards of 50%+ is from carbohydrates like rice, beans, potatoes, grains, fruit, and yes…even honey. Importantly, pretty much every meal includes animals, fish, shellfish, bugs, and insects. They do nutritional density with lowish calorie.
I honestly believe that most low-carb advocates—as a general all-inclusive—are hands down the best dietary advocates in a Western, industrialized, food-engineered world of crap that isn’t even recognizable as food in much of the far poorer but healthier world. In many ways, we live in a curse of wealth and convenience.
But, I believe that what low-carb really does is not what you believe or think.
- Get’s you to eschew much of the processed foods; the point of processed foods is to make tons of money on cheap crap that’s so cheap they can ship and truck it all over creation to put on shelves in insanely expensive real-estate and still profit $2-3 per $1 accumulated expense. Why? Because it’s almost all combined cheap carb and cheap oil and cheap sugar.
- Because you’re favoring steak and eggs over crap in bags and boxes, you feel more satiated.
- You better normalize your eating patterns (timing) and what you eat (quality).
- And instead of recognizing the real and valid mechanisms in place you think a plate of steamed white rice, boiled potatoes not drenched in butter, or beans are going to WRECK YOUR METABOLISM!!! That’s abject bullshit and too many diet guys play into that irrational fear just as badly as you see now with irrational fear of Covid.
You want to show me scientific honesty as a low-carb advocate? Then first acknowledge that there are and have been billions and billions and billions of people who have ever lived who led long, lean, and healthy lives and ate more than half their energy from carbohydrates. You’re simply not being fully honest until you do that, irrespective of the advantages you might hypothesize for lower carbs.
Here’s a constructive suggestion. There is now ample observable data in developing countries where many are now beginning to suffer various metabolic syndrome issues. Dig into it. Here’s what I predict you’ll find: the difference between the healthy and unhealthy has zero to do with percent of calories from carbohydrate—it was always high and they were markedly healthy. It has to do with the composition and combination. Processed crap with added crap oils and refined sugar, creating a perfect storm of high-palatability resulting in over-consumption, fat gain, down-stream effects.
Am I being fully integrated and honest?
Fuck yes, I am.
The House Blessing
The village extends to the west smewhat, and there’s a village school, even. Ban Sawai School, and I love to walk the girls—Chili and Wasabi—down some mornings or walk them back in the afternoon. Sometimes I give them a ride.
They like it, cause I’m the only farang around for miles and miles and all their friends are curious.
In the Western world we have housewarming parties. The Thais call it something on the order of a blessing. It’s connected to their Buddhist conscience and life way. Westerners have a difficult time understanding it because it has zero whatever to do with theism, divine intervention, childish belief in a silly Sky God, punishment, atonement, life after death, and a host of other things used to pit people against people more than they already can be, naturally.
Buddhism is one of the world’s major religions. It originated in India in 563–483 B.C.E. with Siddhartha Gautama, and over the next millennia it spread across Asia and the rest of the world. Buddhists believe that human life is a cycle of suffering and rebirth, but that if one achieves a state of enlightenment, it is possible to escape this cycle forever. Siddhartha Gautama was the first person to reach this state of enlightenment and was, and is still today, known as the Buddha. Buddhists do not believe in any kind of deity or god, although there are supernatural figures who can help or hinder people on the path towards enlightenment.https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/buddhism/
It’s about 500 years older than Christianity, or, perhaps 800 years: since Christianity as a dominating, killing, punishing, conquering, stealing, and enslaving religion didn’t get going until about 300 years later, when the Romans and others recognized its political utility.
Am I a Buddhist? No, not really. I’m simply relieved. I have the utter joy of living in a country where ideological religious belief is never ever fucking used to guilt, shame, or condemn others. Even though one could say that Thailand is a Buddhist country almost exclusively (there’s a bit of 7th-century, dirt-scratching savage Islam in the south), it’s just not political. Why? I don’t really know. My notion is that there is zero in politics, law, or culture to suggest to Thais that any deity or spiritual being is going to smite them or anyone over what they think or believe.
They have no Sword of the Lord to wield.
They have utter freedom of thought spiritually and from what I see mostly, it’s largely outward expressions of an inward discipline or struggle towards grace and gratitude. To them, it’s a path and struggle to be good and be better. It’s not a hammer of judgment over their heads—one which the Abrahamic religions use often enough to redirect towards others, even in geopolitical mass murder and destruction in order to save their souls.
…My girl sometimes uses Buddhism against me. Here’s how bad it gets:
“Richa,” with a finger pointed, “be careful the Karma.”
The Sanskrit word karma means “action”, or more specifically, any material action that brings a reaction that binds us to the material world. Although the idea of karma is generally associated with Eastern philosophy, many people in the West are also coming to understand that karma is a natural principle, like time or gravity, and no less inescapable. For every action there is a reaction. According to the law of karma, if we cause pain and suffering to other living beings, we must endure pain and suffering in return, both individually and collectively. We reap what we sow, in this life and the next, for nature has her own justice. No one can escape the law of karma…https://www.harekrishnavalley.com.au/karma/
So it came to pass that I finished building the house, about 130 square meters (1,400SF): 4BR, 2BTH, kitchen, sitting room. I built it on land my girl’s grandmother bought decades ago, and it sits between houses her uncles have built on the same plot. Land is paid for, house was built by 100% cash. No loans, zero property taxes. Electric is about $30-45 per month (we have 4 A/C units), TV is free (yep, HD satellite for free), water is about $6 per month, and fiber-optic Internet is $15 per month.
Yea, yea, yea… You live in THE LAND OF THE FREE!!!
I have a story about the housewarming party. Yui kept correcting me. “It not party. It blessing. Nine monk come on the day number 9 of the month!” Nine is their lucky number.
The really cool thing is that for this non-party, the village is somewhat like we understand as a homeowner’s association. They have enormous circus-scale tents, folding tables, chairs, and all manner of commercial scale food-preparation stuff. It’s available for all in the village to use. You just pay for labor to set up and break down. Average cost of labor is about $12 per worker for a 10hr day. No taxes, social security, medicare, labor unions. Cash. …But you live in The Land of the Free. You’re enlightened and you have been developed. I digress….
The only thing we had to rent for the non-party house blessing was the concert-scale bank of speakers, impressive audio equipment, and dance-club lighting. Of course, because it was not a party, we were only doing “tests” of everything the night before and the bottles of Chang and Leo beer, Sangsom rum, and Hong Thong whiskey were also just being taste tested….
Here’s Where It Gets Funny
Knowing the non-party was to be the next day, I ask Yui when it starts. Typical of Thais, I get a non-or-partial answer, always with ambiguity.
“We start to cook at 3.”
That makes sense. The cherished laddies of the village—including my girl’s 94-yo grandmother (RIP)—had been preparing the sides and apps for 2 days.
It makes sense to do the final cooking—things like rice, sticky rice, seafood, etc.—just a bit before the festivities begin in the late afternoon of the next day.
…It’s 5am in the morning…Yui turns on the glaring overhead recessed lights in the bedroom and exclaims so enthusiastically.
What? Huh? It’s 5 in the morning.
“I tell you yesterday we start cooking at 3.”
By 6am, there was a good portion of the village folk there. Final meal preparations were ongoing in order to serve the 9 monks at their breakfast time of 7.30am. A small sampling.
Then it was time for the blessing ceremonies and all else. My girl’s grandfather does the officiating for these events professionally. He’s in the lower right looking cool (Yui tells me sometimes: “he had many girlfriend.” She has a dozen “cousins” of sorts).
Granted, that’s a far bigger breakfast than they get usually, but there is no charge for this service they provide—they rely upon goodwill donations about 100%, so far as I know. Countrysides are dotted with temples under construction, because the locals have to rely upon themselves. The villagers simply put this all-together for us. It didn’t cost me anything and in fact, part of the ceremony is blessings from the villagers themselves and I was bestowed with about $100 cash in total from “poor people,” which I gave to Yui’s grandfather for his masterful mastering of the services.
In The House That Richard Built.
…So let’s work our way to the eating habits of Thais, glean some rules of thumb or principles, and then go way overboard to see how Thai Buddhist Monks have the dietary hack to end all hacks.
Thai Food is kind of like saying American Food. It’s vastly varied, though they have their favorites, as do we. Their solid staple food is rice, prepared various ways, but mostly steamed or sticky (a method of steaming…fantastic with BBQ pork or chicken on a stick for breakfast). They do some fried rice but with little oil. They also eat noodles in soups, but mostly rice noodles, not wheat. The West has ALL THE STAPLES: Potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, beans…anything they can stuff down in abundance.
The one thing I can say about Thais is that there is about zero to nil added fat on anything ever…I’ve never seen it. They really don’t even do salad dressings—though my girl once bought a half-pint of EVOO at the market and I think it was still half there 3 months later—she uses it to fry eggs, sometimes. Zero fat-dominant gravies and sauces—though there are a ton of water-based sauces at all heat levels. Butter? I dare you to ever find any in a Thai fridge anywhere. They do cook with oil, but palm oil is the traditional, a decent plant fat, like coconut; plus, they use rendered pork-belly fat sometimes.
However, their attitude is more of using fat in a wok as a very efficient heat-exchange, a little flavor & texture maybe. Especially for whole fish with the skin intact, which acts as a barrier. They don’t bread or batter the fish to soak up a lot of fat. Rather, after cooking and draining, they’ll put it on a platter with a water or broth-based soup along with their herbs and spices (see the picture, above).
I’m going to be straight with you about how some of the low-carb narrative annoys the ever-livin’ shit out of me because it’s so damn biased and dishonest. I don’t want to belabor this because those who already know what I’m talking about don’t need an explanation and then there are the low-carb religion types where nothing matters anyway.
I could craft a million experiments but this one comes most quickly to mind. A fish meal. See that picture above—the whole fish served to the monks. I’m not sure how they cooked it, but they very often cook whole fish, skin intact, in a wok with hot oil. They let it sit to drain any fat, and typically serve in a soupy veggie-based broth with their herbs and spices. It will be served with steamed rice, zero added fat, and maybe some of the vegetables used to flavor the broth.
Westerner takes the fish, skins and fillets it, dips it in wheat batter euphemistically called beer batter, deep fries it in some sort of soy or grain oil, then deep fries a half-plate of “chips,” then serves both with a half-cup of full-fat mayonnaise-based tartar sauce.
Nutritionally, both fish and starch meals might be comparable in terms of vitamins and minerals. Hell, potatoes have far better base nutrition than rice, and the wheat in the batter is a good source of trace minerals. Could be that the fish & chips edges out on a nutritional score.
But at what cost? Run the numbers and you’ll find that the fish & chips meal has 2×4 more energy density; because, whereas the deep fry doesn’t stick to fish skin, breading and battering soaks it up like a sponge, and plenty sticks to potatoes. The rice side dish is steamed. Add to that base palatability…the Thai dish being light and delightful, you feel good when you’ve had enough and in the latter, you can’t get enough of everything and an hour later you’re comatose so that you can go ahead and store that fat.
The Punch Line is that many, many indoctrinated low-carbers will tell you the difference is all in the carbs, flying in the face of whole societies who have eaten lots of carbs for thousands of fucking years. There are far too few who call out their fucktardedness.
How about a few principles?
- Whole food, not enginned or processed, even when you’re processing at home. Home made cakes, pies, and pastries are the absolute most health-destroying foods on the planet. Limit to holiday and birthday.
- There is fat in almost all food. There is zero health reason to ever add a gram of fat to anything ever. Eschew, use sparingly when you must. We all do, but always keep it in mind. It’s not needed. It is 100% indulgence.
- Fat is over 2 times more energy per gram than carb, protein, or alcohol. Above all else, it is the very worst thing to ever add to food. Of course, we’ll all do it sometimes. Yes, when I grill a steak, it will have a drizzle of browned butter usually. The Thais have an advantage in that their cooking culture has never used added fat at all that I have ever seen. Yet their food bursts with flavor and is among the most curiously spicy in the world. Ever tried Isaan green papaya salad with fermented fish sauce? My girl has to eat it every day. I call it the hottest and stinkiest fucking thing.
- Between having a glass of whiskey with your steak or drowning it in butter or a fatty sauce, the whiskey saves you 4-5 calories per gram…
But Thailand too, changes: for the benefit of elitist corporate conglomerates who want to sell you endless engineered crap to make you as gluttonous, fat, and sick as possible…and then the same investors have a whole drug store to sell you on the back end…
…If I were God for just one hour…
Here’s what I’ve observed, in contrast to my 7 visits for a few months total time from ’86-’91. Back then, there just were no fat Thais that I can even remember. Of course, and according to the World Bank, 90% of Thais lived below the poverty line. In the 30 years hence, that number has exactly inverted and only 10% are below it, pre-Covid. Keep in mind the poverty line, inflation adjusted, is about $10-12 per day in 2019 dollars.
But you know what? Back then, there were no convenience stores or fast food, even supermarkets (unless Thai open-air markets that you’d recognize as farmers markets—some more massive than several football fields)—except Bangkok in the tourist areas. Economic growth has been such that even on $10-15 per day, Thais can afford crap in boxes, bags, and refrigerated and frozen packages. Even villages as small as a couple of thousand can support a Thai-Corporate-Elite 7-ELEVEN, to where the village idiots immediately clamor—putting their mom & pop friends, neighbors, and fellow villagers out of business so they can try to go find a 6 day-per-week, 10-hour-per-day job that pays $400 per month.
To put a compound contrast on this, I was living in Japan during these visits to Thailand (I also visited the Philippines 30 times or so for months and months…same story as Thailand…obesity?) and even in 1984 when I rented my first house and jaunted up to Tokyo every chance, obesity was in full swing. Young fat girls with rotten teeth everywhere. There were convenience marts on every street corner, you were never more than 30 feet away from a vending machine, and you could sit at the window of a McDonald’s in Tokyo and observe 2 other McD restaurants from your perch—much as you can do with Starbucks and their $6 and 600 calorie “coffees” in any urban city now.
The Science Behind The Thai Buddhist Monks
A year or so ago I was sent this study.
Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves 24-Hour Glucose Levels and Affects Markers of the Circadian Clock, Aging, and Autophagy in Humans
Time-restricted feeding (TRF) is a form of intermittent fasting that involves having a longer daily fasting period. Preliminary studies report that TRF improves cardiometabolic health in rodents and humans. Here, we performed the first study to determine how TRF affects gene expression, circulating hormones, and diurnal patterns in cardiometabolic risk factors in humans. Eleven overweight adults participated in a 4-day randomized crossover study where they ate between 8 am and 2 pm (early TRF (eTRF)) and between 8 am and 8 pm (control schedule). Participants underwent continuous glucose monitoring, and blood was drawn to assess cardiometabolic risk factors, hormones, and gene expression in whole blood cells. Relative to the control schedule, eTRF decreased mean 24-hour glucose levels by 4 ± 1 mg/dl (p = 0.0003) and glycemic excursions by 12 ± 3 mg/dl (p = 0.001). In the morning before breakfast, eTRF increased ketones, cholesterol, and the expression of the stress response and aging gene SIRT1 and the autophagy gene LC3A (all p < 0.04), while in the evening, it tended to increase brain-derived neurotropic factor (BNDF; p = 0.10) and also increased the expression of MTOR (p = 0.007), a major nutrient-sensing protein that regulates cell growth. eTRF also altered the diurnal patterns in cortisol and the expression of several circadian clock genes (p < 0.05). eTRF improves 24-hour glucose levels, alters lipid metabolism and circadian clock gene expression, and may also increase autophagy and have anti-aging effects in humans.https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/6/1234/htm
That was enough for me to give it a shot. Having fasted a whole lot over the last 12 years, dismissing hunger is not a big for me.
My favorite fast was the 30-hour I used to initially drop about 60 pounds. It consisted of going after lunch, to dinner the next day. Doing this is quite a piece of cake, for me. The thing is, doing it more regularly with eTRF; whereas, my 30-hr fasts were at most twice per week as I was losing fat.
But I’ll tell you what, it’s so damn powerful it makes me want to be a monk. It’s fast, powerful, and the benefits stack up quick. I have to say that the biggest one was going to bed hungry, getting used to that, then enjoying profound sleep.
What’s the most profound precursor to male testosterone? Uninterrupted REM sleep.
Monks Never Get Invited To Dinner
Well, you saw the picture above. How do they do it? All lean, clearly not starving.
I heard an old Buddhist monk joke where someone says to a monk:
“I need to lose weight!”
“Easy. Skip dinner.”
What if it was just that simple and all the dietary dogma, advocacy, bias, ideology, confirmation bias, endless more study required on top of hundreds of thousands of more study required is largely a more-harm-than-good on the large—intentionally obfuscatory, dishonest, fraudulent…a morass of abject bullshit?
Do you doubt you could go out to a rural Thai village and eat like the monks and eventually resemble them in body composition and improve many if not all metabolically-deranged health markers? Yea, you won’t be eating stuff in bags from 7-ELEVEN or having cheeseburgers, fries, and a coke, but you’ll be eating animal protein, vegetables, fruits, and starches every meal because….
…You only eat at 7.30 in the morning and 12.30 in the early afternoon….
Then you’re done.
And actually, by 7.30am, you already have a good hunger on because your day begins at 4am. On that score, it was the monks who motivated me over time to begin my days earlier, often at 4am myself. That’s when they begin their morning prayers, chants, whatever they’re called, but I could not escape the hypnotic tranquility of it all, hearing it at a distance, in the dark stillness—where even the crickets have called it a night. Over a black cup of coffee, no sugar. And yea, a smoke.
I’m the least perfect guy at this stuff than anyone. What I don’t do is lie, deceive, cheerlead, or anything like that. I’m driven by not fooling myself. That by no means means that I’m any example or flag bearer for best practices.
But at least I don’t go saying stupid shit like “must have had a few too many carbohydrates.” Nope. I at times ate too much, too often of whatever, some was crap food, and I probably dipped in the butter or fatty sauce way too much. And I otherwise committed the biggest sin of all, which is adding fat to carbohydrates. Nothing makes you so fat, so quickly, and the problem is absolutely not the carbohydrates. Rather, it is unnaturally adding a lot of fat to them, which is rare to nil in nature.
But, it doesn’t matter much, if you do eTRF like the monks and stick to it most of the time. In my practice, 2pm is about the ideal time to knock it off. It’s far more socially inconvenient than difficult to do, since we don’t actually live in Thai temples where dinner is just not served. I can almost guarantee that in a month of adhering to a 2pm caloric cut-off every day, without fail—until whenever after sunrise—you could eat as much pizza and pastries as you want, and down as much beer.
Want to know what the stupidest question is in all of dietary bullshit?
“What should I eat to lose weight?”
The enlightened question:
“When should I eat?“
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