America is a country that is obsessed with dieting.
We just can’t wait to try the latest, “cleanse” or “21 day quick fix”, or “eat 500 calories a day and inject pregnant women’s urine into yourself”, (what the???) to get the body of your dreams.
Yet, we are a country where 2/3 of our population is overweight.
Clearly “dieting” isn’t working.
I started down that slippery slope of diet obsession when I was 24, managing a trendy clothing store, and the much coveted size “0” was introduced & considered to be the “ideal” body type. (I shared more insights on this topic and many other nutrition, fitness and mindset topics with my subscribers btw. You can subscribe here if you’d like !).
My then size 9 body complete with wide hips and big butt was far from ideal and I was trying every diet gimmick from Slimfast to Fibertrim pills, counting calories, not eating a morsel past 6:00 pm ,to eliminating entire food groups (fat & carbs were equally “horrible” back then) to get my body to shrink. I had rules rules rules and more rules on how I was supposed to eat.
Nothing worked permanently of course and I was frustrated. I would go through bouts of starvation, and then of course bingeing because I was so hungry. Of course I wasn’t bingeing on vegetables either. It was mostly chips and junk food. My relationship with food was horrible to say the least.
And then I moved to Padova Italy.
My now husband, then boyfriend at the time, was living there (he’s German/Italian…we met when he was an exchange student), and working there as a radio and club DJ ….so why not?
Talk about a difference in culture. Wow!
When I moved there in August, the beach towns were still filled with tourists (my boyfriend worked at a club in a beach town), the days were still very long- it didn’t get dark until after 10:00 pm. I could not believe people were packed into restaurants eating what seemed like these ginormous pizzas (they’re actually wafer thin and topped with veggies. Nothing like American pizza at all which is piled 3″ high with cheese and pepperoni), at 10:00 and 11:00 at night!
THAT was breaking 2 of my dieting cardinal rules at one time: 1) Eating carbs & 2) Eating past 6:00 pm.
One of my first observations was that there were very few overweight people eating at these restaurants or anywhere for that matter. And everybody seemed to be happy….and they were eating pizza and pasta…and they used olive oil on their salads (in America olive oil was a big no no cuz it contains FAT!)…they were hanging with friends and family and really enjoying themselves.
This was really really really different from what I did with my friends. My girlfriends and I made sure we didn’t eat pizza (except after a few too many beers from time to time). No way,
We ate lean cuisines and then talked about dieting and how many calories were in our lean cuisines and how many more calories we were going to cut for the day and how we were going to work off these calories later that day.
Pure enjoyment compared to how the Italians eat right?
As time went on,I started noticing more differences between Italian eating culture and American eating culture.
Italians drink soda…but it is such a tiny amount. Like half of a normal can of American soda. And they typically only have 1 per day with lunch. No such thing as a big gulp in Italy. I was never much of a soda drinker…so this wasn’t my thing anyway.
Italians don’t have entire aisles in there grocery stores dedicated to snacks. They have some chips and candy but very little variety and very small portion sizes. Mostly because they just don’t snack. Hmmmm.
It’s rare to find bottled salad dressings in Italy. They use the balsamic and olive oil.
They take long lunches in Italy. Like from noon til 2:00. They either go to restaurants or go home and eat their meals slowly. No eating at their desks like we love to do here. Oh, and they take afternoon naps too.
They eat their meals in small courses. The “Prima Piatti”- first plate, is typically the pasta, risotto, tortellini soup, lasagna, etc…but it’s really small portions compared to what we are used to.
I used to love watching Marcus’ (then boyfriend, now husband) grandmother prepare the pasta for the prima piatti. She would take the individual serving bowls that we would be eating out of, and break or pour the dry pasta into the bowl before she cooked it to ensure portion control. Naturally the bowls are much smaller than American size pasta bowls. It always amazed me that the portions would come out perfect for each person every single time.. No dumping the whole box of pasta into the water they way we did it when I grew up.
After we would have our soup, pasta, risotto, which, by the way, was served with a small piece of sour dough bread, (not the greasy garlic bread we eat in the states. There’s no such thing as garlic bread in Italy…totally an American thing), we would have the “Seconda Piatti”, which consisted of vegetables and a small piece of meat or fish. Again, a very small piece of protein. Maybe 3 oz max. per person….no 12 and 24 ouncers like in the US.
The final plate would be a small piece of cheese and some fruit. Yeah there was wine in there too, but, small portions and they mixed it with mineral water.
Wait, so let me recount, we have…carbs…white carbs, smaller than American sizes of protein, and fat like olive oil on our veggies, real cheese for dessert, and no conversations of how many carbs or calories or fat grams we were ingesting while eating? Nobody talked about ” how we need to go to the gym to work off all that pasta that we ate.” In fact, the only thing we discussed about the food we were eating is how delicious it tasted. We took our time eating. We enjoyed each other’s company.
This was my life for 2 years. Marcus’ grandmother & great aunt taught me how to make amazing foods like cooked veggies,and pasta sauces, and fish, chicken & salads. They were all homemade and made with super simple but really great ingredients. Lots of fresh veggies in the sauces and salads.
I stopped obsessing over food, and calories,carbs,fat grams, and loved every minute of it. And the kicker: I maintained my weight without ever even thinking about it. I worked out with weights to recordings of my Firm videos and did a ton of walking and riding my bike. But I’ve always been an active person, so this was nothing new.
But my weight never changed.
I was free from the starvation, bingeing, yo yo dieting cycle from hell (never binged once while I lived there).
Now to be fair, you do see ads in Italian magazines or on TV for natural diet pills or diet foods like yogurt. And yes, sometimes Italians gain weight and need to lose it.
But they don’t give up their culture of pasta and carbs to lose weight. They simply cut back a little bit. That’s it. No deprivation/binge cycle or shame for continuing to eat the way their ancestors have for 1,000’s of years.
What a difference in mindset about food wouldn’t you agree?
So what are the takeaways from Italian culture that we can implement here in the USA? Here are my top nine:
1) Italians eat much smaller portions of food than we do….and the quality is much better! Processed and take out food is harder to find. Gas is the only thing found at gas stations.
2) Italians rarely snack vs Americans who eat at their desks all day long. I think this has something to do with the fact that every meal they eat is so satisfying, they don’t need to constantly eat until the next meal.
3) They don’t eat at their desks or in front of the TV or while on their cell phones! Eating amazing food and enjoying every single bite is part of their national pride! Think about it; if we’re eating delicious food…why would we want to be distracted?? We want to be fully present to enjoy every bite.
4) They don’t eat “low fat” or “fat free” stuff. They eat the real butter, the real cheese, and the real ice-cream….just in smaller portions.
5) They have a much healthier attitude towards food and don’t label foods as “good” or “bad”, therefore they eat with enjoyment and no guilt.
Carbs are not bad! Cheese is not bad! Olive oil is not bad! They’ve been eating them for 100’s of years and are still far healthier than we are.
Their advantage over us is that they grew up knowing how to eat proper portions of these foods. We grew up being subjected to such massively over-sized portions here in the states that we think is normal.
Eating to satisfaction is what we need to tune into…and that takes times….and it takes not being distracted. When we master this, we can eat without guilt and remorse, and just enjoy our food.
6) They eat dinner later so there tends to be no midnight snacking.
7) Sweets are eaten only on special occasions. The portions are small and they aren’t as sweet and sugary as our sweets. They prefer to eat more fruit and nuts for dessert.
8) If they gain a little weight…they just cut back a little. They don’t go on “cleanses” and “detoxes” and “calorie, carb, fat counting” starvation plans. They simply eat the way they eat…just a little bit less. Hmmm, that seems to make a lot of sense doesn’t it?
9) They drink very small portions of soda and tea like I mentioned before. No refills. Mineral water is what they consume most. They are also mindful of their vino intake. They definitely don’t drink to get drunk.
Breaking free from the “diet” cycle can be so hard, especially because it’s such a way of life here in the states!
But ask yourself this before you try that “next big magical (meaning deprivation) diet”, could you envision eating and living like this the rest of your life and feeling satisfied?
Then don’t do it!
Take note of how the Italians (and I’m sure other cultures) eat…all day…everyday….365.
Now that is a program I can stick to!
If you liked this post, subscribe to my newsletter where I share much more information than I do here.