Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Unexpected Georgian Diet

A common topic of discussion amongst my North American friends and I is weight loss...the weight loss that has occurred since we arrived in Georgia on July 31st. All of us are curious/shocked/surprised about the weight loss. But I must note, none of us are complaining about it. Many of us comment about needing more holes on belts, clothes that just hang on us, jeans or pants that do not need to be unzipped or unbuttoned to put on, etc. I was not expecting anything like this to happen to me.

Personally, I've lost about 20 pounds since I arrived. I look at pictures taken the 3rd day in the country versus now and the difference is readily apparent. But once again I am not complaining. If the weight loss continues at it's present rate (approximately 1-2 pounds per week), I'll make my overall goal weight before I return to the United States in June. That would be cool. My Eddie Bauer jeans best illustrate how much I've lost, not only in Georgia, but in the last 2 years. In July 2008 I found a pair of Eddie Bauer jeans for about 85% off at the Eddie Bauer store in St. George, UT. They fit barely, but would fit better if 5 more pounds were lost. I washed them and they shrink unbelievably. After washing them, I had 5 inches of space between the button and the button hole. I did not immediately take them to DI to donate. I held on to them. Eventually, I could close them. Now I need a belt to keep them up, and because they are so baggy they look like a pair of Mom Jeans. I cannot wait for the after Christmas sales in the US so that I can buy all new clothes, which will likely be too big before I return to the US in June.

But we are all perplexed by the reasons for such dramatic weight loss. The diet seemingly does not lend itself to such an occurrence being high in fats, carbs, meat, and alcohol. Ultimately, my friends and I have several reasons we think are behind the weight loss.

1. The foods here are largely unprocessed in comparison to American foods.

Grocery stores here carry a few items, but most of the items are ingredients that you must actually cook with. Cooking takes up a considerable amount of time for the Georgian housewife. Even with the large amount of carbs involved, the flour isn't the enriched or bleached kind like in the US. It is simply flour sold in 50 kilo sacks. Also, high fructose corn syrup does not seem to exist.

2. We walk a lot.

Marshrut'kas can only get us so far. Consequently, we walk considerably more than the average American does. But for me I probably walk less then I did in Springdale during my 18 months of trying to avoid using the car. I loved it when shuttle drivers in Springdale would comment on me taking a shuttle, not walking. They were honestly surprised. Also, I got to see Springdale in a way I could not from my trusty Saturn.

3. We all have been violently ill at some point.

This is the sucky part of the Georgian Diet. In September I had a couple of bad, bad weekends from the food poisoning. During the second time, I went about 72 hours without eating much at all. For me it is dairy products which make me sick. Unfortunately, when each of us has been sick it seems to be a guessing game as to what causes it. Moreover, it might not be just the food but the food preparation methods. Basic food handling techniques are not always practiced.

4. The foods are largely preservative free.

This makes sense because the foods are largely unprocessed. Because preservatives are lacking shopping for food is done every 2-3 days. Bread at my house is bought daily I would say. I wish my host family would buy the happy, soft bread not the tough, rough bread. If I only knew where the happy bread came from. The tough and rough bread is frequently bought because the bakery is in some one's garage (I am not making that up) next to the 90-unit apartment complex the family is building. In other words it's very convenient.

Ultimately, this is a diet that Michael Pollan could support. He wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules.

My weight loss has been a source of concern to my host family. On my birthday they first confronted me about it, asking me if the weight loss meant I did not like their cooking. No not at all! Then after I got sick and lost some more weight they said that when my mother sees me at the airport she will think that they did not feed me for four months. I wanted to reply that she would be grateful for the weight loss. Most recently my host mother and other assorted host relatives commented about how much my clothes hang on me. Well, that cannot be avoided. One of my friends keeps giving me her clothes that have become too big for her which are fast becoming too big for me.

I'm curious about whether or not the weight loss will continue. I weigh myself every Thursday, but today I just checked in. It looks like I have lost a pound this week. However, I am also curious as to whether or not the weight will return when I move back to the US. Frankly, I will not let that happen.

Finally, I am also curious how this will positively affect my canyoneering abilities. Lots of weight loss + the beloved 5.10 Canyoneer2 (thank you JDZ) + Zion Adventure Company Kokotat Drysuit = SUCCESS! (I must admit I have thought a lot about what size drysuit I will be when I get back. I still have not decided what size I will fit into. I doubt it will be the XL-Short...too big.)


  1. So... would you advice to people in States who desperately want to lost weight to relocate to Georgia for one year? ;-)

  2. > My weight loss has been a source of concern to
    > my host family

    On a more serious note - as you've already noticed a guest is very important to Georgian family and in society general. A guest MUST be well fed and if she/he starts to loose weigh than it means (from Georgian standpoint) that something is wrong with the food at host's family and that is shame not only for them but for the society and country in general.

    > I wanted to reply that she would be grateful
    > for the weight loss

    You SHOULD reply this way. Tell them that once you are back in States you will be the object of envy of everyone because you are fit and in shape and this is result of healthy diet and food you've being having in Georgia - it would take their concerns a little bit away.

    One question/request - I've being asking your colleague TLGers about their experience in Georgia. Would you mind to answer three short questions?

    Thanks again for your observations and please keep writing.


  3. The reason you have lost so much weight is due to the fresh, whole foods you are eating and lack of refined carbohydrates and preservatives! Your body processes energy differently when you feed it REAL food!

    However, when you return to the States, you will gain weight if you continue to eat the same diet as you did before!
    Check out the 'Weston A Price Foundation' on the internet for more information!

    I am not saying that you need to eat Georgian cuisine all your lide, but you need to know some important points:

    1.Cane Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, other processed sugars and substitutes make you gain fat! They also increase cancer risk and lower your immune system.

    Instead look for Palm Sugar or cane sugar that has been processed only 1 time. In Australia it is called Rapadura sugar. It won't make you gain fat unless you have obscene amounts.

    2. Then you want to watch your intake of refined carbs and potatos. White rice, potatoes, bread (ALL THE BREAD IN THE SUPERMARKET), are ALL bad for you and all make you fat!

    Look for the "harder" bread instead, ie: SOURDOUGH!!!! Great stuff. The gluten has been broken down more. Look for brown rice.

    3. And lastly: Avoid Canola Oil, Cottonseed Oil (deep-fried foods contain this). Avoid take-out as they are all cooked in this.

    Have instead, lard, dripping, butter, coconut oil, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, cream, (cheese,eggs, full-cream milk).
    These make you lose fat. Seriously! Especially butter and Coconut Oil!

    You can adopt this diet in America still and find places that sell coconut palm oil and sugar and sourdough breads. Buy them on the internet??
    I am in Australia and I eat like this - it's not hard. I lost 13kg quickly on this diet. I went from a 12/14 to an 8 (American 4).
    This is the real reason you have lost weight! They use good oils and fats in Georgia, unrefined carbs, and not so much bad sugar, right?
    They (the dietians) lied to us when they told us that saturated fat is bad! And guess what, my cholesterol has gone down too since eating it, and I don't have Chronic Fatigue or Hypoglycemia anymore! I have energy! I can think straight!!