Saturday, June 1, 2013

Soviet Slim Down: An Introduction

Weight, it’s something we don’t openly talk about how we struggle with it, in most of the world. After spending a year in Georgia, my views on food, fitness, and health were changed. We, fellow teachers, talked about it a lot, almost as much as our bathroom issues. I adopted an “I don’t give a shit about what you think,” attitude. I started doing things my way and on a budget. This is an introduction to my Soviet Slim Down that I started in Georgia and am now carrying on during my vacation in Ukraine and will conical from here on out.

It started off as a joke. I was sitting in a Georgian restaurant in February 2012 with a newly formed friend, enjoying our snow day of freedom from our students, laughing about how my host parents put me on a scale a few days earlier, shocked that I weighed a whopping 107kg (236lbs). He said that they had to use the industrial scale, that they used for making Cha Cha, because I would have broken a normal one. I had known this guy for all of three weeks, barley spoken to him, but here we sat, making fun of my predicament and eating habits. For some reason I was ok with him making fun of me, anyone else I would have burst into tears and told them to fuck off. Maybe it was because we were in Georgia and had to laugh at our lives or we would have lost our minds or maybe it was because I knew in my heart that early on in our friendship that he cared and this was his way of showing it. 
I’ve always been fat, not chubby, plump, slightly overweight, or any other nicety phrase you want to throw at me. Something clicked, hard, in Georgia during my time there. I would sit in the teachers room, watching my co-workers, not so much older than me take each others blood pressure, talk about medications for controllable health conditions that were the product of unhealthy eating, and sip coffee that was mostly sugar, thinking that something had to change. It was like a PSA for what you didn’t want your health to end up as that just played over and over. One day I drew a food pyramid on the chalk board and they all started laughing at me, the silly America who thought she was teaching them something they didn’t know. They knew alright, but didn’t care, just like millions of people in America alone. I continued to bitch for a few months about how this country was making me fat, until my outspoken friend told me to shut up and stop blaming my wealthy host family with their sweets and fried chicken and take some control and loose weight. If I couldn’t do it in a country like Georgia, where every kind of produce was coming into season, that cost next to nothing, and I only worked 15 hours a week, was I really expecting that I could do it in America? Because my friend, who I love dearly, is an asshole and I am stubborn, we formed a bet. I had to loose a kilo a week or he got my prized food bag, normally a Kit-Kat, pear soda and some other horrible food, that I would eat on my journey back to my village every weekend from Tbilisi. I didn’t care if I would have to give him this food, because it didn’t matter I could have bought it in my village anyways, I wanted to win and shove it in his face.

Me on my way home to my village with a kit-kat in one hand and a pear soda in the other (Georgia March 2012)

I explained to my host family that money was on the line for me to get skinny. They laid off force feeding me, my well meaning host mother even tried to get me up at 7am to do ‘sport’ with my host brother, and my family would come running when they would hear me dragging the scale out to monitor their American daughter’s progress. Everyone in the village knew what was going on, everyone. My weight was no longer a secret. People openly commented on my figure like I was a livestock animal they were getting ready for the fair. My friend regaled our friends at dinner in the city with my struggles, making them guess my weight. No one could believe that I was above 100kg (220lbs). The odd thing was that after a while I didn’t care that people knew what my weight was. It was a fact of life that I was fat. No matter what I wear it does not hide the fact that I am not a size 2. 
The talks with my weight out in the open, not backstabbing whispers, were more productive then the years I spent as an adolescent in Weight Watchers or trying some quick weight loss diet, which clearly didn’t work in the long run. After that spring, when I went back into western culture I put on weight again, and fast. After getting down to around 100kg (220lbs) I was back up to around the 107kg (236lbs) that I had started at. it was a mix of traveling a lot, eating food that I hadn’t eating in while (years in the case of Denmark), drinking, and generally not caring until it had caught up with me yet again. 
When I got back to the States that summer I had to buy new pants and I squeezed myself into a pair of size 16 jeans that had no right to be stretched that far and have me say that they “fit.” Six weeks later when I went home to Georgia I couldn’t even get them on.
Arriving in Georgia, I was going to be living on my own, in an apartment, for an extended period of time for the first time in my life. After paying my rent I only had about $135 to last me the month on food. I quickly discovered that almost all western brands of prepackaged food wasn’t an option and local produce was cheap. I gave up on any meat I would have to cook at home and almost all forms of dairy, to avoid explosive bathroom issues that semester. I couldn’t eat out of boredom anymore, because it wasn’t in the budget, but I never went hungry. I drank water, flavored with minimal amounts of my valuable Chrystal Light, to add variety, gone were the sugary drinks, again not in the budget. 
I got myself weighed on the street by old women, and their scales who would question if 103kg (227lbs) was really something to be proud about. I had women at a bazaar flat out tell me that they didn’t have pants big enough for me. The friend that I was with, another American, asked if I was ok emotionally after having all of them basically tell me that I was too fat. I said I was use to it. They didn’t need to be any less honest. I knew that I was the one who had to change, not them. I was the one who was screwing with my health, being stupid, and staying depressed because I had decided to eat a whole cake, not just a piece.
Every visit back home to my Georgian village to see my family that fall, I was greeted by them telling me that I was still getting skinny slowly, but surly. They had faith that their America could do it, even if they couldn’t. My host mum set my goal weight at 85kg (187.3lbs). She had no past background history on me, she hadn’t seen the struggles. She was blissfully unaware and thought that I had never thought about loosing weight before. There was something refreshing about this and her blind faith that I could do this. When I came back from a summer away, she blamed my weight gain on America.
When I left Georgia, I got myself weighed on the street by an old woman for the last time in December and I was back down to 100kg (220lbs) after an extremely inactive semester. When I landed back in the States food was over processed and I felt like a freak for complaining. I struggled with eating what my family ate and what I ate. Not a lot was matching up. My mother started calling me her vegan daughter, I still didn’t trust meat and dairy for the fear of toilet explosions. I again had to battle against that American stereotypes of weight and how it was talked about. A few weeks ago my boss spoke with me, right before I felt for Ukraine that when I got back from Georgia I was the “tiny,” the smallest he had ever seen me and then again I put a little back on, but slowly it was coming off again. He spoke honestly about my plans and goals, nothing was hushed. I talked numbers. I don’t know where I want to end up, because I can’t remember the last time I was ever this skinny. Yesterday I got myself weighed on the streets of Lviv by an old woman and I was at 90kg (198.5lbs). I got off the scale and went on my way to the market to buy some more produce and didn’t think much of it until this morning. My license that I have had since I was 18, that says 200lbs (90.7kg) is no longer a lie and for the first time has even come close to being true. I don’t want a medal or a party. I just want to keep going on with my journey, slowly chipping away enjoying throwing out old clothes, because they are too big. Most of all I can’t wait to see my friend from Georgia further down the road, healthier, and being able to say, “I told you I could do it, you ass!”

Breakdown of the numbers:
Fall 2009: 
February 2012: 107kg (236lbs)
June 2012: 100kg (220lbs)
August 2012: 108kg (238lbs)
December 2012: 100kg (220lbs)
May 2012: 90kg (198.5lbs)

February 2012: Barley squeezing into a size 18 in Gap
May 2012: Comfortably a size 14 in Gap 

Break down in photos:

January 2012 (Georgia)
June 2012 (Armenia)

November 2012 (Ukraine)

May 2013 (Ukraine)


  1. When food stops being really important in your life and simply becomes the fuel that allows your body to take you where you want to go, that is a huge breakthrough. It is still something to really enjoy, but it's no longer a focus. You have used your world travels to figure out things many people go through their entire lives without learning! Congrats, Emily. And btw you look great.