How to lose weight, the Russian ways

Alena Repkina
Traditionally in Russia, thinness was attributed to ill health and it was thought that women should ideally be fleshy. The same rule applied to men.

Even Catherine I was forced to gain weight before her wedding with the Emperor Peter the Great. Russian dinners were famous far beyond the country, too. Honoured and dear guests were treated to the finest dishes, in vast quantities. Nevertheless, there still exist some secrets of Russian thinness.

Village diet

Being thin was the natural state for peasants; constant physical work and a frequent lack of food made them thin. In the mid-spring, peasants went into the field and spent almost all their time there, even staying overnight. They could not take much food with them – just some bread and a jug of sour milk. The rest would have spoiled in the heat (kvass and sour milk were peasant Russia's favourite drinks). They also ate what grew in the garden and the forest: cabbage, turnips, sorrel (spinach-like yet sour grass), berries and mushrooms; all these summer treats are very low in calories. Sweets were unavailable to common peasants: sugar was very expensive, honey was also used only on holidays and as a medicine, and jam, too, was a rare treat.

Source: Alena RepkinaSource: Alena Repkina

Orthodox fasting

Orthodox traditions have also contributed to the natural thinness of the common people. According to the laws of the church, every Wednesday and Friday are considered days of fasting. On these days, you should not only avoid eating meat and dairy products and eggs, but also generally restrict the intake of food. Additionally, long fasts are observed four times a year. Lent, or the Great Fast, in the spring, and the Christmas Fast in the winter together last 49 days or more (depending on the date of Easter). There are also the Apostles' Fast and the Dormition Fast. During fasts, especially strict ones, not only was eating animal protein prohibited, but even vegetable oil, while the overall intake of food was limited. It was also necessary to fast for at least three days before confession and communion, which people had to attend regularly.

Source: Alena RepkinaSource: Alena Repkina


An effective means of preventing excess weight, as well as many diseases in Russia was a bath (every Saturday was bath day). In addition, it was believed that water and steam washed away not only dirt but also bad thoughts and sins. It happens, as modern physiologists explain, because under the influence of high temperatures followed by quenching, the body is relieved of excess fluid, while the metabolic processes accelerate. Previously, however, no one went to a bathhouse deliberately to lose weight. Today, however, it is a very popular slimming technique.

Source: Alena RepkinaSource: Alena Repkina

The diet of the Emperor

Unlike the common people, the elite of Russian society could afford any excesses in eating and had to think about controlling its consumption. For example, Peter the Great (1689-1725) is remembered as a handsome, dapper ruler, who paid great attention to his diet. He would get up very early, before 5 a.m. and breakfast swiftly, to have time to do other things. The Emperor lunched no later than noon.

The menu usually consisted of thick sour shchi – cabbage soup, meat or poultry – cold roast duck or cold piglet roasted in sour cream as well as ham or cheese. Peter the Great was also very fond of fruits from the imperial gardens. In other words, the Tsar preferred a protein and vegetable diet in combination with fresh fruit.

Source: Alena RepkinaSource: Alena Repkina

The no-dinner diet

In the Russian Empire, the upper class also knew the practice of giving up dinner for maintaining a healthy weight. This was even noted by Russian writer Ivan Goncharov in "A Common Story."

One of his characters, a senior person in St. Petersburg (635 km from Moscow), considered the habit of dining as belonging to peasants and yokels. Many emperors also did not dine. It is said that Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) never had dinner. Lunch in St. Petersburg was late enough: served at around 5 or 6 p.m.

Source: Alena RepkinaSource: Alena Repkina

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