What Makes Expats Fatter Than Local Populations?

In developed Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, it is not surprising to see Expats of different nationalities, who reside in the country.

In this article, we will be answering the question of whether or not expats are fatter than locals in the country. What are the factors that may cause such a phenomenon? How can one avoid such from happening? First, let us understand why Expats want to live in Asia.

What Makes Expats Want To Live In Asia?

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The reasons for westerners leaving for a new environment are either seeking for a better lifestyle or to earn more money. It is also said that the main agenda on why westerners decided to live in Asia is to have a simpler life.

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With that said, it is hard to deny that the cheaper cost of living in Asian countries is an enticing benefit. A perfect place where food or cost of living is affordable, while Asians on the other hand migrate to western countries to seek better opportunities or better-paying jobs. As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

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Aside from housing and other utilities, more affordable food offerings is one of the great perks expats experience by living locally. For instance, in a foodie country such as Singapore, you can find a wide array of food choices, from different international and local cuisines, fine dining to street food, and anything you can think of. All of that at a more affordable price & convenience, making it easier to satisfy your food cravings.

Credits: Rinag Food

While it might be an exciting reason to live in Asia, it does come with some negative repercussions. With the wide array of food choices at cheap prices and convenience, it is easy to lose control over your eating habits and succumb to your craving every time. Even at 3am in the morning, there will still be restaurants operating. Such convenience & accessibility will result in losing control of your diet that will lead to gaining a significant amount of weight in a short period of time.

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What Does the term “Expats” Really Mean?

It is not new to see westerners living outside their respective countries. Most of the time, westerners living in an Asian country are defined as expats by locals. This term is used to refer to people that are working in a foreign country but are not a resident. Over time it became a general term that people got used to when describing westerners in Asian countries.

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Are all “Expats” Fat in the local context?

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Of course NOT, being an expat does not automatically mean that you’ll be facing issues regarding your weight and food habits. It is solely dependent on the Expats' relation to food and how they manage their weight despite the change in purchasing power and accessibility to cheap and good food 24/7.

However, as expats tend to be larger in build and taller as compared to Asians, Expats tend to be stereotyped by Asians as being “fatter” when actually, they are of healthy BMI (Body Mass Index). Let us understand the reason why.

Why are Expats “bigger” in size compared to Asians?

When it comes to body sizes, The relevance of ethnicity and race has become a common question. Many studies have given various answers to this question. This includes a lot of information regarding each country's history and changes in every generation.

One major reason why most expats are bigger than Asians is because of their ancestor's lifestyles and their genetics. For example, China used to have a bigger population of poor people, where these people are not practised to gain enough nutrition, vitamins, or reasons to get into a better shape. As a result, it is common for people with Chinese ancestry to be small and thin. The same reason applies to other Asian countries like the Philippines.

Why do Expats feel that they’re “Fat” while living in Asia?

  • Asian clothing sizes are smaller than western clothing size (Especially for females)

Credits: Westend 61

Clothing in both Asian and Western countries is made to fit the body type of their local people. For example, for the women's section, the average height of an Asian woman is approximately 158cm, in comparison to a Belgian woman who is 168cm in height.

It is common knowledge that Asian sizes are smaller and shorter compared to clothing from Western countries. The reason behind this phenomenon is because the average Asian has a smaller body frame, both total body size and height, than western people.

  • New international friends
    As a Western-born person, having new friends from a different race, especially Asians can make you feel completely different. Since Western races are usually bigger in size than Asians, as an expat you might feel the major physical differences.
  • Teasing crowd
    Because expats are completely different in complexion, facial features, and size, Asian locals are fond of teasing them. There are some expats who experience bullies from local people calling them “fat” because they usually are the biggest among the group.

What really makes Expats Fat in Asia?

  • Asian Food

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Despite the commonly known petite size of Asians, these countries serve food that is high in carbohydrates, such as rice, noodles, rice cakes, dim sum, steamed buns, and dumplings. Compared to Western staple foods like burgers, pizza, beans, mashed potatoes, steaks, and various fried chicken recipes. In the given examples, it is very obvious that Western cuisine offers more meat or protein into their choices of food.

Although, some research says that Asian food is equal to Western food when it comes to the amount of energy and total fat. However, it still claims that Asian food is higher in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat. Writers at LifeofObesity thinks that is exceptionally accurate and this is vetted by what uncle roger says:

Specifically, South Asians have high levels of body fat and are mostly a victim of having abdominal obesity. Making this, a reason why Asian people have a high risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.Studies shown that Malaysia has the highest obesity rate with ½ the population being overweight or obese.

The solution to decrease the number of people with obesity in Asia is proper eating habits, and control over the food that they eat daily. Added to that, Asians having more body fat percentage is also a reason why practising a proper food intake is important to prevent obesity.

  • Stress eating 

Credits: WebMD

Expats can also become a victim of obesity when residing in Asia. Different matters like stress, homesickness, change of environment, or adapting to a new culture by eating local foods may affect their mental health status.

A few days or months staying in a foreign country, missing your favorite food at home might usually come. But because everything is new, you have this curiosity of trying things like the local dishes that you surely might have looked into when you were doing your research about this place.

And for some time you start adapting to their taste pallets and probably begin to explore more food that can be found around the country. Eventually, without noticing you have gained more weight and have been eating more than your usual diet.

Aside from eating habits, stress eating or eating more because of stress can also cause expats from gaining more weight. It could either be stress from being away from their family or difficulties in trying to live in a foreign country.

  • Tempting foods/ snacks in Asia (and its calorie count)

Credits: Aroma Asian

There are a lot of mouth-watering food choices in Asia. From Taiwan, China, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, and the Philippines. As a visitor, it would be a great start to taste all the famous food cravings in the area. With that said, if you are indulging in these cuisines, expect to gain more calories in the process. If you want to be more cautious, here’s the usual calorie count for some of the popular foods in Asia:


  • Mee Siam With Hard Boiled Egg (655g) 694 calories
  • Singaporean Prawn Laksa (1 bowl) 820 calories
  • Ban Mian (528g) 475 calories
  • Char Kway Teow (384g) 744 calories
  • Char Siew Rice (327g) 605 calories


  • Pulut (85g) 185 calories
  • Maggi Goreng ( one serving )751 calories
  • Apam Balik (one serving ) 282 calories
  • Nasi Dagang (250g) 508 calories
  • Penang Laksa ( one serving ) 436 calories 


    • Rojak Pasembur (2 cups) 510 calories
    • Hähnchenfilet Mit Woknudeln (1 serving) 590


    • Laing – cooked (1 cup) 202 calories
    • Lomi (1 cup) 222 calories
    • Dinuguan (1 cup) 255 calories
    • Pork Caldereta (330g) 342 calories
    • Tapsilog (1 serving/meal) 364 calories
    • Taho (250 ml) 180 calories
    • Palabok – cooked (0.5 cup) 305 calories
    • Balut (1 egg) 188 calories
    • Leche Flan (153g) 222 calories


    • Beef Chow Mein ( 1 cup ) 420 calories
    • Egg Roll ( per roll ) 300-350 calories
    • Chinese Chicken Ma La ( 1 plate ) 486 calories
    • Zhong Zi (1) 600 calories

These recipes are all undeniably irresistible, especially for newcomers. These are a variety of savoury and sweet dishes that Western visitors will also enjoy. However, even these entire lists of food are very appealing, nonetheless, too much of each may cause you a lot of weight.

    • 24/7 Food Delivery Applications
      No matter what ethnic group you belong to, or what race you are, cravings are a natural habit you will always have. Usually, craving comes at the most vulnerable time- midnight- and who would want to leave home late at night to buy food? Thanks to food deliveries, satisfying food cravings at 1 am are possible.

Credits: Traveller.com.au

Food deliveries became very convenient to everyone, mostly this pandemic because of pick-up only and delivery options from food chains to avoid social contact. These food deliveries tolerate people digging into their favourite food in the comfort of their own homes. Aside from that, it is cheap and easy.

Credits: JustTaiwanTour

With that said, like other things, it is not a perfect ending for the day. Late-night cravings may affect your metabolism, and will indefinitely make you gain weight.

    • BMI

      BMI has been a general way to measure a person’s overall measurement. Each ethnic group usually has different BMIs compared to one another, but still considering differences in environmental and lifestyle factors.

      A good example of a BMI comparison is between Asians and Western people. Most Asians experience higher risks of hypertension and cardiovascular disease but have a record of having lower BMI levels than their Western counterparts.

      The issue between BMI and percentage of body fat depends on age, sex, and ethnic groups. Most Asians around the world have a higher percentage of body fat than Western people of the same age and BMI. With that being said, more Asians have been reported to have a higher mortality rate when it comes to obesity as compared to Western people.

Expats Always Struggle To Lose Weight.

It could be difficult for Expats to balance a healthy lifestyle in a foreign country. Adjusting to its time, culture, and food habits may not be as easy as how you do it in your homeland.

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Maybe the Asian menu might have also given you the idea that all Asian cuisine is healthy because it has a lot of vegetables, others are steamed, and dishes like wonton soups are boiled. As you step into your first-ever Asian tour, you know that it is not as true as you think. Some Asian cuisines may be full of vegetables yet are cooked in a heavy amount of oil and sodium.

Credits: Spark Recipe

A similar story was shared by a writer named Ashley Nowka. In an article, she wrote about migrating to China from the US. She was always conscious when it comes to her figure because of how it is dealt with by Americans, and she thought that living in China would be a great way to live the skinny dream. All her thoughts were wrong as she came into the country. Even though she was eating vegetables, she still had gained weight because of the other condiments added to make the dishes taste more savoury.

Therefore, being in an Asian country doesn't guarantee a change to a healthier lifestyle. It takes a lot of self-discipline to maintain a healthy weight even with all the temptation and distractions around you.

Stop the temptation before it's too late.

There may be a lot of unhealthy choices and fewer chances to lose weight when you are in a different environment. At the same time, if you do not start learning healthier options, it might risk your health over time. Worse, you may eventually need to find alternative weight loss solutions because diet and exercise alone do not suffice for losing weight.

Credits: Klook

Bariatric or weight loss surgery is a popular alternative solution for those looking to lose weight. However, Bariatric surgery is only reserved for severe cases of obesity as most bariatric surgery involves huge risk even with current technologies of laparoscopic surgeries being available.

In summary, there are 4 main kinds of bariatric surgery, which are

Credits: ULCA

Gastric Bypass:

The surgeon divides your stomach into a small upper section by using staples. The smaller divided section (called the pouch) is where the food you eat will go. The stomach size is reduced drastically thus, reducing the amount of food you can consume.

Up next will be the bypass. The surgeon will be connecting a small part of your small intestine to the top section of your stomach that is divided earlier (called the pouch). The food you consume will now travel from the pouch to your small intestine. As a result, your body will absorb fewer calories.

Credits: Endocrine Web

Gastric Sleeve:

Unlike Gastric Bypass where the surgeon were to divide the stomach into 2 sections by stapling, gastric sleeve involves a permanent removal of a portion of your stomach and this is a non-reversible procedure. This will permanently result in a smaller appetite due to the reduction of stomach size.

Credits: Medical News Today

Gastric Band:

Gastric band was once a popular option but due to the high rates of complications & the poor results for average weight loss, the majority of the surgeons don’t recommend patients to undergo this procedure. This procedure involves using an adjustable band to be wrapped around your stomach to reduce the amount of food that you can consume, however if not done properly, the band will slip from your stomach resulting in a less than desirable result.

Gastric Balloons that require endoscopy & sedation:

Traditional gastric balloons like Orbera & Spatz 3 used to be a popular option for weight loss back then as it helps patients to lose weight without going under the knife or removing any portion of their stomach. Gastric balloon works by occupying space in the stomach, thus reducing the amount of food intake. This process involves endoscopy to insert the balloon & to remove the balloon and will require sedation during this process. To learn more about Orbera & Spatz3, click here.

There are many medical facilities in Asia that offer such procedures. However, if you are not ready to take on such a permanent step on your weight loss journey, there is a new option for you.

World’s First Non- Invasive Gastric Balloon (Allurion Gastric Balloon)

Unlike traditional gastric balloons like Orbera & Spatz 3 that require sedation & endoscopy, Allurion Gastric Balloon comes in the form of a pill that is swallowable and it doesn’t require any sedation nor endoscopy for removal and insertion of the gastric balloon. It also comes with smart tracking tools for qualified nutritionists & doctors to monitor your weight loss progress.

It works the same as a traditional gastric balloon by taking up space in your stomach and reducing the consumption of food and decreasing your appetite. As a result, it can help you lose about 10% to 15% of your total body weight in only 4 months. Also, with losing a significant amount of weight, the results of the balloon can help in having your body's cholesterol level and diabetic status toned down.

Many individuals who have already used the gastric balloon have left their testimonies of how much it changed their former lifestyle and how much it helped them decrease their food intake and have taught them healthier ways to live. Till date there are already 50,000 users of Allurion Gastric Balloon with lower complication rates as compared to the previous generations of gastric balloons.

The procedure with the Allurion Balloon is also now offered in Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong & Japan.

To learn more about Allurion Balloon, click here
To learn more about Spatz 3 Gastric Balloon, click here
To learn more about Orbera Gastric Balloon, click here

In Conclusion

It is not too late to change the way you can take care of yourself. Whether you are in your own country or far from where you used to live. Yes, it is undoubtedly hard to stop yourself from eating, especially when the food available around is new to you and meets your taste qualifications. But then again, your health is a top priority. Always consider choosing healthier options. Cravings may come, and it is natural. Yet, training yourself to a healthy practice may help a lot in changing your craving habits.