Full and happy
It’s no secret I’m fascinated by health and wellness, specifically diet and nutrition. Due to my food intolerances from a young age, I have experienced the direct correlation between the foods we consume and the way we look and feel firsthand. On my recent trip to Italy, I had some major revelations about the difference between the Italian food mentality and the American food mentality. Whenever I travel to Europe, specifically France or Italy, people ALWAYS ask me “what are you going to eat?” because they know I have Celiac’s and am lactose intolerant. They and assume I will starve to death if I can’t partake in the croissants, pasta, pizza, cheese, bread, and gelato. I’ve been abroad numerous times, and studied abroad in France for an extended period in college, and I’ve never struggled at all to eat extremely well on my travels. That’s mostly because the American idea of an Italian or French diet is much different than their diets actually are. It’s not the Olive Garden with tables covered in baskets of cheesy butter covered sticks of garlic bread and troughs of Fettucini Alfredo over there (actually, I’ve never seen an Italian eat order or eat either of these things). Italians just don’t eat deep dish lasagna, baked ziti, spaghetti with meatballs, and pizza all day. I enjoyed lots of rich foods like prosciutto, salami, pounds of olives, and beef (I’m serious, I ate these foods every single day), poured lots of olive oil over my fish and veggies, and drank wine with every lunch and dinner . Even when I was doing it I thought “this seems pretty decadent”, but I felt great and didn’t gain an ounce after two weeks of eating this way. I made some important observations about the Italian style of eating while I was there after seeing that virtually every single woman is effortlessly thin and here are my findings:
1) Olive Oil. Plain old olive oil. This is the ONLY oil they use, and the only condiment really. There is no soybean oil, canola oil spray, cottonseed oil, or hydrogenated oils. You also would never find a bottled salad dressing in an Italian kitchen or market. When you order a salad you get a side of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress your salad or they’ve lightly done it for you. That’s it. They don’t douse everything in a heavy, creamy, chemical laden dressing or fat free sauce. They give salads, fish, pasta, and bread a simple drizzling of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and call it a day. Olive oil is a healthy monounsaturated fat your body can easily digest because it recognizes it and knows exactly what to do with it and can assimilate and eliminate it efficiently.
2) They only eat fresh food. You would never find frozen meals or out of season frozen ingredients in an Italian home. If it’s not in season, they don’t eat it because they don’t have it. You also don’t see any prepackaged low fat, low carb, sugar free, non-fat, etc. foods anywhere. They eat lots of fresh fish, tomatoes, leafy greens, artichokes, eggplant, zucchini, lemons, olives, and capers because they are available fresh and full of flavor. You also can’t expect to sit in a restaurant and have everything served quickly and immediately. They expect that you’ll be there a while enjoying your time your company so they serve at a more leisurely pace than the typical U.S. restaurant.
3) They do not snack. Mealtime is a big deal for an Italian. It’s not unusual to sit down with friends for a 2 hour lunch during workday. They value their time to sit and enjoy company as much as the value their meal. Because they’re eating satisfying balanced meals, they don’t need to snack throughout the day. And if they do have something, it’s a few nuts or a piece of fruit, not processed foods like potato chips, a diet bar, or Cheez-Its.
4) They eat a small breakfast. Mornings consist of coffee with a little milk and sugar and a small croissant, biscuit, or biscotti from a local “bar”. The bars are basically little coffee shops that people duck into on their way to work to grab their coffee and bite and socialize for a few minutes. And when I say croissant, I’m talking about one that’s about 1/3 the size of an American bakery croissant. Just a little something to get the day going, not a coma inducing plate of eggs, bacon, and waffles with syrup. And certainly no processed crap like Pop Tarts, sugary cereals, or energy bars. Breakfast isn’t a big event. Lunch is their biggest meal of the day and they know it’s only a few hours away.
5) They don’t diet. You won’t see Italians bingeing then restricting. They maintain a constant and moderate diet that doesn’t go all over the place. If they have a few bites of dessert, they enjoy it and move on. They don’t bury their face in an entire gallon of ice cream because they feel bad they already “slipped”. They don’t feel guilty at all about indulging because when they do, it’s an appropriate amount that has minimal impact on their overall dietary intake. They view food as a friend, not an enemy and they don’t carry food shame.
6) They move. Italians walk everywhere. They walk to get where they need to go but they also walk for pleasure. They stroll through the main streets, lakes, old town, and piazzas for leisure to enjoy being outside and this can really add up. We walked 40 minutes to an hour after dinner every night and noticed how good it felt for our sleep and digestion to move after having a meal.
7) They have small portions. Italians usually have primo (usually a small amount of pasta) and secondo (usually a simple preparation of a protein and vegetables) courses in their meals. If you told a carb avoiding American woman she should be eating a pasta course in addition to her main course she’d have a heart attack, because the American idea of a plate of pasta and a main course are like three times the size of what Italians eat and it would seem super fattening to eat both. They have a small serving of pasta to whet the appetite, but since they know another course is coming they don’t eat a ton, and a small serving of simply prepared fresh fish, chicken, or meat with seasonal veggies to satiate and satisfy, but since they’ve already had a pasta course they don’t eat a ton there either. It’s actually a very balanced way to eat!
8) They have less of a sweet tooth. Don’t get me wrong, Italians don’t avoid sugar by any means. But, they are smart with their sweets. They put a bit of plain sugar in their coffee, they don’t have a frappucino with whipped cream. They have a small pastry for breakfast, not a bowl of sugary cereal or a frosted donut the size of their head. They have a few bites of tiramisu or gelato for dessert, not a Snicker’s bar or chocolate sundae with toppings. They drink a glass of red wine with dinner, not a soda. If they need a snack, they peel an orange, not a candy wrapper. You feel?
9) They are confident. Italian women don’t stay home from the beach because they feel like they’ve gained a few pounds. Even when their weight is up, they rock their bikinis and have fun with their friends at the pool or playing with their kids at the beach. They just cut back a bit to get to their happy weight without making a big fuss about it. They don’t fixate on food and obsess about eating.
And now, here’s what I ate:
green salad w/ green bell pepper, avocado, olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepperfirst course: sea bass carpaccio for me, tomato basil spaghetti for the boyfresh caught seared tuna and a green salad with olive oil morning coffee with some ice (it’s a bit weird to ask for ice with your drinks, even water, but it was super hot and humid that morning on our walk!) also, it’s hard to tell, but this cup was SMALL. not once was I able to get a coffee to go that was even the size of a tall at Starbuck’s.enjoying my wine prosciutto and salami OK. this was the best steak I’ve EVER had. it was grilled rare (my fave) and topped with…wait for it…TRUFFLES! if you’ve read my blog for a while, you know how I feel about truffles. be still, my heart!another green salad with veggies and you guessed it…olive oilmore prosciutto and salami grilled red snapper with olive oil and lemon + sauteed spinach in olive oil with sea saltafter dinner espressotuna carpaccio with fresh garlic and parsley in olive oil and balsamicfresh caught albacore tuna green salad with…drumroll…olive oil and sea saltmore grilled red snapper with spinach and lots of olive oil (I loved this meal so much I had it 3 times!)afternoon snack of olives, almonds, and cocktails yep, another green salad with avocado and olive oilamberjack crudo with fennel, orange, and olivesif you’re gluten free and can’t have a typical Italian pastry breakfast, no problem. there are plenty of beautiful meats, veggies, and fruits to choose from. the Italian pastry breakfast – they will grab ONE of these items, like a piece of raisin bread or a croissant (notice how much smaller they are?) and a small coffee with milk. that’s it, breakfast over. it’s all about lunch for them.fresh fish carpaccio – yes, I ate this all by myself as a starter!
So there you have it, a gluten and dairy free take on eating abroad! It is really so much easier than you might think. It’s amazing how so many European cultures embrace local, seasonal, simply prepared fresh foods. If you have an open mind and are willing to be flexible within your dietary needs, you will enjoy food on a whole new level! It’s very refreshing after being surrounded by the American fast food, processed, convenience food culture.
Leave any questions in the comments section below and tell me, what’s your favorite international cuisine?