How to Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle in Italy
When it comes to traveling, the No. 2 thing I look for in a destination is the food. (No. 1 is affordability, in case you were curious.) So of course, how could I pass up Italy? Italian cuisine is world famous. And no, I’m not talking about Alfredo sauce (which doesn’t exist here) or spaghetti with meatballs (which also doesn’t exist). Pasta, wine, REAL pizza, tomatoes, olives, fruits and cheese for days, along with that staple of Italian cuisine: Nutella. Well, maybe that’s just me.
Food is a way of life here, and cooking is one of the joyous instruments used to achieve that way of life, especially for women. It’s practically guaranteed that every Italian woman knows how to cook, and it’s a safe bet that most Italian men know how to, too. I’ve found in many households that the mother is in charge of the kitchen, and God help you if you decide to make a snack on your own without asking her first.
How do they stay so skinny and fit into clothing sizes that are so small, they probably don’t even exist in the States?
Eating is taken quite seriously here, especially lunch and dinner. Both are important family meals, and can be quite large compared to American expectations. However, it’s important to note that both meals also can last quite a long time (which partially explains why some shops are closed from 11 am-2 pm during the day…) and are meant to be relaxed and enjoyable, with several courses involved. And don’t get me started on Italian weddings, in which eating is literally an all day affair.
How does all this eating affect women’s images and how society views them? Is dieting a thing here? Is it even needed? After all, despite the overload of pizza and pasta, obesity seems to be a problem only in America. How do they stay so skinny and fit into clothing sizes that are so small, they probably don’t even exist in the States?
Well for starters, if you don’t enjoy eating here at least a little, then maybe you don’t belong here. One time, I went to a restaurant with some friends but didn’t order anything because I’d already eaten at home and wasn’t hungry. The waiter stared at me a little bit and joked that I must’ve been on a diet.
The idea of a good reputation is of more importance than being skinny.
And as concerned about appearances as Italians are, particularly their physical ones, weight doesn’t seem to be much of an issue here. There’s something deeper behind society’s views. Italians are concerned with the “bella figura” (literally “good figure”) but it’s more than a physical figure, it’s how they present themselves in public.
The idea of a good reputation is of more importance than being skinny. I’ve seen Italian women who aren’t model-thin, but are well dressed and put together and carry themselves well. No one seems to judge them because they eat everything on their plates; rather, you are judged if you DON’T eat everything.
In addition, because meals are stretched over hours sometimes (no really, they are), the pace is more leisurely and can allow your stomach time to process the food, which in turn gives you a chance to actually feel full. Don’t want to eat any more pasta? Then don’t. Talk with your friends while your food digests and wait a while before ordering the next course, maybe of vegetables. Believe me, the waiter isn’t going to rush you at the restaurant. Even if they are closing up shop and you’re still chatting with your friends, they’ll wait. Or, they’ll close up shop and leave you inside to finish your wine and conversation.
Don’t worry so much about the carb overload, because you’ll miss out on the beauty of the meal and the chance to try different foods.
Even if you decide you’ve been overdoing it with the pasta and pastries, there are plenty of ways to exercise, and many Italians do. CrossFit, yoga, running and cycling are all quite popular in Rome. And if you visit or live in the city, you’re going to do quite a bit of walking. With all of the beautiful parks in the city, it’s not hard to get exercise.
So relax, and live a little while you’re here. Don’t worry so much about the carb overload, because you’ll miss out on the beauty of the meal and the chance to try different foods. Elizabeth Gilbert says in Eat Pray Love: “Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?”
How to Maintain a ‘Bella Figura’, In Italy top photo by Unsplash.