Going Keto in Thailand

One of Thailand’s many amazing attributes is the food. Thai food is a culinary odyssey unlike any other, but even more exciting is the vast array of foreign chefs, fusion restaurants, and avant garde establishments that make life here a foodie’s fantasy. Unfortunately for a middle-aged man like me, this also means getting fat.

A couple years ago I decided to do something about my increasing girth. I started intermittent fasting, and although it produced some positive results, I couldn’t abide by one crucial rule: no booze after 8 pm. Psh. Right. Have you seen my Twitter? Do you know my lifestyle? So I made a drastic decision last month, and on the 1st of September I began the keto diet. That’s right, keto. In Thailand. Where rice is a staple of every meal. But guess what? It’s not as impossible as it sounds. For those new to this concept, keto in a nutshell is: No sugar, and a maximum of 50 grams of carbs per day. It’s a lot like the old Atkin’s diet from the 1980s and the recent Paleo diet, where you basically eat meat, fat, dairy, and veggies (except for corn, potatoes, carrots, and all other starchy carby ones). Here’s how my month went…

The first two days were rough. When I got home from work on day one, I stared into my fridge for 10 minutes trying to figure out what—if any–contents I was allowed to eat. The answer: none of it. So I went on Foodpanda, and after an hour-long search found nothing keto-friendly. Then I googled a quick list of acceptable shit, went to the supermarket, and got salad, cheese, ham, celery, Greek yogurt, and strawberries. Not exactly a culinary adventure. But afterward, I felt surprisingly full. Day one: survived.

As the days progressed, I fell into a routine. After an occasional stomach growl at random times, my body acclimated, and I stopped craving carbs all together. I thought the hardest part would be giving up the foods I love, like bread and sweets. But by the end of week one, the thought of that stuff made me nauseous. It definitely confused my system, though.

Sometimes I’d feel full and hungry at the same time, if that makes sense. If my body could talk to itself, I’d imagine it was saying “Hey, where’s the carbs? I need energy.” To which my brain said, “No carbs, dude. Just use the flab around your gross belly.” To which my body then said, “Oh word, OK. I guess I can do that.”  That’s what ketosis is—your system learning to burn fat in lieu of carbs. And damn skippy if it didn’t work like a charm. By the end of the first week, I’d lost half an inch off the old waistline.

By the end of week three, there was a noticeable difference in my face and my gut. And by the 30th of September, my back stopped hurting, my flexibility was greatly improved, and I could fit into shorts that I’d given up on last year at this time.  All told, I lost around three kilos in one month on keto without exercising. Even my harem noticed. “Seven, before you fat and now you slimmm. Tam arai?” For October, I plan to stick with it, and also incorporate some weight-training and moderate cardio. Hopefully I’ll get even better results.

The hardest part so far has been staying on track when eating out. Because of the restrictions on things like potatoes, rice, and bread, it was much easier to stock up at the grocery store and make my own meals. But if like me you have an active nightlife, it’s not possible to eat at home every night. So the problem becomes finding keto-friendly restaurants, or at least keto-friendly menu items in various places. Up until the end of September, The Steakhouse Co. was perfect. The staff there were very accommodating, substituting mushrooms for fries, and spinach for potatoes. And the Sunday carvery was 90% keto-compatible. When it closed, I found myself searching Silom for a substitute. Here’s what I came across last week:


French Kiss: filet de boeuf (480b)—excellent, though I had to skip the potatoes. Also the charcuterie plate (550)—it was smaller than the one at The Steakhouse and cost more, but it was better than nothing

Took Lae Dee: chef’s salad (119b) and pork wonton soup (82b), eating only half the wontons. Both were very adequate.

Shenanigans: the best option is of course the build-your-own breakfast where you can pick and choose around the carbs. They also have a great Caesar’s salad (300b) and for dinner I also got the salt-chili wings (140b).

Tip Top: duck a l’orange (390b). It came with a ton of duck, and a side of veggies including mashed potatoes, of which I had only one bite as it’s a keto no-no. Everything was terrific.

The Paddy Field: Although it’s an Irish pub, they also serve UK-style Chinese off their Golden Bowl menu. I got sweet and sour pork (180b) and ribs in Peking sauce (175b). Both were excellent as always.

Le Bouchon: I don’t recommend going here when on keto because you’d be depriving yourself of the fantastic carb-heavy food they serve in this incredible bistro. Also because eating keto here is really expensive. I asked if they’d make me a charcuterie and cheese plate, even though it’s not on the menu, and they obliged—for 880 baht. It was delicious, though not 880 baht delicious.

So the good news is, there are options out there for anyone who wants to have a carb-less meal out on the town.

Friends have asked me about the downsides of keto. The answer is, there aren’t many. “Don’t you miss bread?” they ask. In fact, I don’t miss carbs at all. The limitations can be monotonous. My meals are often embarrassingly similar to the elementary school lunches my mom packed for me as a kid—string cheese, yogurt, pickle, salami slices with olives. I did come up with my own version of steak cheval: marinated sirloin, melted cheese and a fried egg, but it took more work in the kitchen than I’m used to. And obviously, not eating noodles and rice in Thailand is hard. Also, mosquitos love the ketos. I haven’t been bitten this much since I first moved here. But that’s about all I can say regarding the negative aspects of keto. Overall, I feel better, I have more energy, and being slimmer is really, really, really awesome. Looking at my shirtless reflection with—as Homer Simpson would say, “What’s the opposite of shame? …less shame”—is truly inspiring.

So I’m going to continue on keto, this month incorporating exercise, with a projected result of even greater weight loss and an even more appealing reflection. For anyone considering cutting out carbs, let me just say, it was easier than I thought. San Miguel Light and Asahi are both 2 carbs per bottle, and vodka sodas weigh in at zero carbs per tumbler, so this little punter’s feeling groovy. Check back on Friday for another Delirium Days flashback, and until then keep your chin up, your weight down, and cheers to everyone who’s trying a new diet in the greatest country on Earth: Thailand.