McKenzie Paterson is a 129 TCCS Volunteer in Kanchanaburi. She is a health and fitness enthusiast, and she has graciously agreed to contribute a three-part article! The first section will focus on nutrition and healthy alternatives to maintaining a balanced diet using the options available at site, the second section will focus on fitness and includes a weekly exercise routine, and the third section focuses on self-care and mental health maintenance tips! Read on, and prosper.
McKenzie Paterson, 129 TCCS
Healthy Living: Caring for Yourself to Care for Your Community
We all want to be the best Volunteers that we can be for our communities. That means we need to be there for ourselves as much as we are for our community. 27 months is a long time, and it can seem longer if we aren’t caring for our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. If we aren’t 100% personally, we can’t serve our communities 100%. These are some methods I’ve adopted to care for myself so I can care for my community.
Healthy living has proven to be more of a feat than ever in the Peace Corps. As PCVs, integration is essential in our service – and food is a focal point of Thai culture – I’ve found it difficult to achieve a balance because I didn’t want to turn down food people offered. Thai food is often fried or soaked in oil, MSG, and/or sugar.
Healthy eating can seem really time-consuming and inconvenient, expensive, and overwhelming – all of which don’t particularly appeal to PCVs. The truth is, it can be, but that doesn’t mean it’s not attainable or sustainable.
It certainly is a commitment, but one that’s absolutely worth it! When I finally started to advocate for myself at site, my body thanked me. I noticed many positive differences. I became less lethargic and bloated. My skin and hair became much more manageable. I began to focus better, and my mood improved.
I know health can be overwhelming, even on a good day – let alone when you live in the middle of a rural village without most food staples you’re accustomed to. That’s why I’m sharing with you my favorite food staples that are easily accessible – or may, at the very most, require the occasional trip to Tesco. These items are very versatile with multiple ways to prepare them.
- Eggs: Oh man, what would my life be like at site without eggs? They’re a great source of protein and alternative to pork. Make ’em scrambled, sunny-side up, fried, hard boiled, omelet-style (with onions, peppers, garlic, etc.).
- Local veggies: Ask your host family and community what veggies are available to you. I was surprised with all the options I have – cauliflower, mushrooms, cucumbers, asparagus, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. They’re full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. They can be steamed or roasted, or can even be added to smoothies (side note: investing in a blender is COMPLETELY worth it).
- Fish: If your site has access to fish, take advantage! It’s one of the healthiest foods out there, and is a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and various vitamins and minerals.
- Oats: This will likely require a trip to Tesco, but one big bag will last you for months. You can use it for oatmeal, smoothies, homemade granola, or protein balls. The options are endless and are a much more nutritious grain alternative to rice.
- Spices: Take advantage of the endless supply of garlic, onion, peppers, and ginger that’s likely available at your site. Other spices, like cinnamon, peppercorn, and Italian seasoning are more Tesco items, but ones that will also last you months before a restock. Spices have made even the most boring meals so much more enjoyable. It’s always fun to show my family that, yes, you can have delicious food without fish oil or MSG.
- Nuts: Some of these I can get at site, like peanuts and pumpkin seeds, others require a 7 Eleven or Tesco trip. They’re delicious as a snack by themselves or added to meals (yogurt, smoothies, roasted veggies), and are packed with protein and healthy fats.
- Legumes: I love to mix in mung beans, soy beans, green beans, and sugar snap peas into my diet. They’re another great source of protein, carbs, and fiber, and usually not difficult to find at site.
- Tea: I love tea! They have so many medicinal qualities (to help remedy digestion and stomach issues, nausea, inflammation, join paint, insomnia, and fatigue) and help ward off sugar cravings. There are many things local to site I’ve boiled to make tea, my favorites being ginger, butterfly pea flower, and lemongrass. The other teas I like to buy at Tesco are chamomile, green, and peppermint teas.
- Rice Cooker: You can use this bad boy for so many more things than just boring rice! Use it to make overnight oats, homemade yogurt, pumpkin soup, vegetable frittata, banana bread, etc. Get creative and take advantage of the glorious world of Pinterest.
When I eat, I apply the 80/20 principle – eating 80% for my health and 20% for my soul. This is clean-eating method is sustainable because it gives room to indulge in your favorite goodies once in a while. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, you must first know your body, what foods to fuel it with to feel good and, more importantly, what foods not to fuel it with. It’s different for everyone, but the food staples above can be a great resource to begin.
Traveling healthy can be difficult because it’s an amazing time to eat all the different foods not available at your site – Hello pizza! I’ve missed you friend – but you’ll feel much better if you balance your intake. I try to apply a 50/50 principle and eat a healthy meal every other time. It gives you the freedom to indulge a little more without overindulging, because as many guilty pleasure options as there are available, there are an equal amount of deliciously healthy options.