Reverse Culture Shock: Health Observations from 2 Returned Ex-Pats

BLOG: Reverse Culture Shock: Health Observations from 2 Returned Ex-Pats

America – Through Fresh Eyes

If you left the USA for a few years and then returned, what do you think you’d notice about American health, with your fresh eyes?

AmeliaAndJP – popular YouTubers –  did just that. They moved to Ecuador six years ago (ironically because they could not see affording USA healthcare and a decent quality of life). They returned recently to visit family in Texas and Kansas. I found their observations fascinating.

(They made observations in many different categories, but I’ll just highlight those connected to health, because…well, you know me – that’s my jam!)

What did they see? What did they notice as ex-pat Americans? I’ll list their observations, and my commentary.

Drug Advertising is Everywhere

A/JP: Television, billboards, radio. Everywhere. And the long, long lists of potential side effects shocked them, too.

WB: Yes…marketing pharmaceutical drugs directly to consumers is pervasive now in the United States. Big Pharma is indeed everywhere. Did you know that $.40 of every $1.00 spent on advertising is spent by drug companies??? Did you know that Big Pharma finances medical schools and therefore has a hand in a drug solution-centered curriculum?

To me this has so many harmful consequences. For example, brainwashing us to believe that it is NORMAL to be medicated. IT IS NOT. Medications do not have to be a part of your life, unless you have an extremely rare need for them.

Our society is overdrugged and under-healthed; I wonder how much healthier we’d be if whole foods, exercise, community ties, clean air and water, time outdoors and stress management via lifestyle habits (like breathwork and meditation) were as pervasively saturating our consciousness?

People Do Not Walk. They Drive Everywhere.

A/JP: Most American cities are not set up for walkability: limited sidewalks, big stores cited far away from homes.

WB: Have you ever craved living in one of those small towns in the movies or a child’s storybook? I did. Lots of small businesses line the town center, with people stopping in here and there, making connections with their neighbors, shopping frequently for smaller quantities. I think we have lost a lot by separating residential areas from smaller shops that can serve them.


A/JP: People are very rushed, and spend a lot of time driving around. Yet, despite the rushing, they have no time.

WB: Wow…what an observation. I also notice this. Many of my clients and patients are distracted, rushed, stressed. At their darkest, they ask, “What is this all for?” As a society, I believe that we are so out of the moment, we don’t even realize it most of the time. We are inundated with data from all forms of media and other visual distraction that we don’t know what’s wrong, just that we do not feel “right.”

People Eat Out... A Lot

A/JP: Because they are so rushed, with “no time to cook,” people are often feeding themselves and their kids by driving through fastfood joints.

WB: What is time for if not to spend on our health and on the people we love? Preparing meals is not a chore, it is a way to love ourselves and each other. Also, we snack-snack-snack instead of slowing down enough to enjoy a proper meal…which often leads to digestive problems.

Restaurants – especially fastfood establishments – have goals directly opposed to your health: they want to create the cheapest product they can to want you to eat a lot, and come back soon to get more.

Processed food producers don’t care about your health today or down the road. They do not care about your children’s health. They just want to sell you their products. That’s why the big commercial food companies spend billions of dollars creating food that addicts you to it. Billions of dollars to get you addicted to it.

Food is Expensive. Alcohol is Cheap.

A/JP: Alcohol is generally the same price as it was when they left six years ago. Food is dramatically more expensive. This is the opposite price structure they find in Ecuador, where fresh food is cheap and alcohol is expensive.

WB: I could say a lot about this. I’ll limit myself to saying that alcohol is poison, and affects our minds, bodies and emotions. Food is medicine, and also affects our minds, bodies and emotions. Find a way to feed yourself the highest quality food you possibly can, including growing at least some of it, and decide if you want alcohol to be a part of your life at all. If your answer is yes, do so with awareness and control. Your present and future health depends on your actions in this regard, and if you’re feeding children, the very future of our species depends on your answers to these questions.

Everything is Homogenous

A/JP: Chain stores and chain restaurants dominate smaller unique establishments.

WB: COVID closures decimated many small businesses, with many closing to never again open. Yet, the larger businesses were not only allowed to stay open, they profited hugely. This concerns me greatly as a small business owner, a citizen, a parent and a grandparent. I sincerely hope that the culture of small business will again arise to take its place as the backbone of American society. Without these diverse unique voices, we are less as a country. Much less.

Flavorless Produce

A/JP: Compared to Ecuador, and to the US of their memory, JP and Amelia found food tasteless and of lower quality. Apples are flavorless and dry. Carrots are not sweet. The bananas don’t even smell like the “banana cream pie” fragrance of their Ecuadorian rivals. They found themselves unsatiated and eating more food to satisfy their hunger.

WB: Yet this tasteless food is more expensive…hmmm. What have we sacrificed in the name of convenience? Also, we eat first with our eyes and our noses. Part of our appetite is satisfied by colors and fragrances of fresh, whole foods.

On a deeper level, if we eat nutritionally depleted food, we will chase those deficient nutrients by eating more calories. It’s a survival mechanism: our bodies are desperate to get those nutrients no matter what. The typical “Standard American Diet” of overwhelmingly brown and white foods is not giving them to us, so we eat more.

“Convenience” Above All

A/JP: They were shocked at how easy American culture has made it to spend money, especially on convenience foods: the automobile “vending machines,” the airport stores where a sensor “reads” what you’ve taken as you walk out, and charges the card in your pocket. The lightning-fast delivery of goods ordered online.

WB: Yes, we can have everything delivered, can’t we: food, goods, entertainment. Even cars purchased online! But again, what about the human connection? What have we traded with all this convenience? We are rushing around even more, rather than spending “free time” pursuing things that give us joy. Making things from scratch, and actually connecting with those who serve us is not a waste of time. There is beauty in it. Be intentional with your time.

Weight Gain

A/JP: They each gained about eight pounds in the few weeks they were here!

WB: No surprise there, as their walking was limited to 6-7 minutes a day rather than the thousands of steps they typically take daily and they ate convenience foods rather than the meals they typically create. I might add that they could have expected aches and pains (especially low back) a-coming from all the driving, and illness from the chemicals in that “convenience” food they consumed, had they stayed longer.

In conclusion...

I think we can learn a lot from JP’s and Amelia’s observations. It’s been said that a fish is unaware of water that surrounds it, and similarly, we can be insensitive to the many factors of our own surroundings. Even the factors that can lead to ill health, like those above.

There is a cost to be paid for deviating from a life that encompasses work getting the things we desire, a diet of fresh food, daily ongoing movement and connection to others.

So many times what I do with my clients and patients is about reconnecting them to this truth.

A healthy life really isn’t so complicated;
it’s disease that’s complicated.

If you want help getting back to this truth, you’re ready for a fresh start, and want to reset your health, I invite you to apply for our Solutions Reset and see if it’s a good fit for you.

I'd love to coach you to the better version of yourself I know is there waiting!

Thank you to these two for sharing their insights. Check out their entertaining blog – it’s inspired me to visit Ecuador, and it might inspire you to, as well!

Let me know in the comments below what you’ve noticed abut American health – or absence of it – that makes you say hmmmmmm….

Dr. Wade

Dr. Wade Binley, DC CFMP

Dr. Wade Binley, DC CFMP

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