“Che regole? What rules? There are no rules, my friend Vittoria from Cassino (just outside of Rome) told me, bringing her hands together as if praying, but then fluttering her joined fingers back and forth, to distinguish the kind of prayer that goes to God’s ears, from the kind that is meant reach mine to say: I pray that you’re not really asking me such a ridiculous question; are you, nuts? You can count on my Italian sisters not to beat around the bush. The question had been “What rules do Italians follow to stay in shape?” After reminding me that rule-following is more an American mindset, since rules are considered an insult to Italian creativity, I did manage to eek out a few, let us say “daily habits”, which Vittoria and her Italian girlfriends practice consistently without giving them a second thought.
In Italy One Eats Small Portions. Italians eat meals that are usually of higher quality and of smaller portions than the typical fare in the U.S., even though inter-cultural books don’t usually immortalize them for it, like their French and Japanese counterparts. Once I tried explaining the concept of the “all-you can eat buffet” to a group of girlfriends in Italy. It literally took them days to recuperate from their disbelief, during which time I had to reassure them I had described the concept correctly, because how on earth could stuffing one’s stomach to the breaking point appeal to anyone?
In reality, even slight overeating, if done consistently can pack on quite a few pounds over the course of a year. Most of us could stand to eat about ¼ less than we normally put on our plates without even noticing the smaller amount. Try doing this for a few weeks, and then you can gradually take away another ¼ until you are down to about half of your original portion sizes. Your body will love you for it. In US restaurants, just divide your meal in half before you even start eating, and bring the other portion home. You will save money and calories, too.
Italians Don’t Graze. “What is up with these weight loss diets that tell Americans to eat 6-8 times a day?” said Giovanna, as we sat in her home on the piazza Santo Spirito in Florence, dangerously close not only to the gilded baubles on sale along the Ponte Vecchio, but also to one of the best gelatterias in all of Italy—Vestri. “Tre. tre TRE!” She said emphatically thinking I looked confused. Of course I knew the word tre, but I had never heard it put quite so definitively. Italians, for the most part, eat three meals a day period, except for a late afternoon coffee break with a small biscotto (when not trying to lose a pound or two) to tide one over till the 8 o’clock dinner hour. Because the Mediterranean way of eating is rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals from an abundance of fresh produce, it satisfies hunger at a deep cellular level, and eliminates that famished feeling between meals.
Italians Eat Sweets Rarely; Junk food Never. To one whose culture has taught her to treasure her body, eating junk food is considered an assault on one’s health. There is no national polarity about it. To most Italians, it is unthinkable to “pig out” on cannoli one day, and eat nothing but a salad for the week that follows, to make up for it. In America, the plethora of mixed messages can drive us pazzi. As an example, let’s take a look at the headlines on the cover of an Italian woman’s magazine that I picked up at a kiosk on Via Cavour in Parma: How to Take Care of Springtime Allergies. Discover What Skin Type You Have. There’s a Time to Work, and a Time to Live. Can You Find Happiness in a Moment? The themes of all of these articles are consistent, pertaining to a person’s well-being. If you examine the magazines on your own coffee table at home in the U.S., you might instead find something like this: Lose 10 pounds on the 7-Day Veggie Juice Fast. 20 minute Chocolate Cheesecake Fudge. 5 Exercises you can do at your desk. Icebox cake the way Grandma Used to Make It –all on the same cover!
“Everyone knows that if you eat chocolate cake and then go on a fast,” said my Parmigiana friend MariaLuisa, “you just end up right back at your starting weight. What’s the point?”
From the mouth of an Italian babe!
In the Bel Paese, a Moderate Amount of Bread and Pasta, Per Favore. Italian women say that if you eat a loaf of bread a day you will start to look like one. When trying to drop a chilo or two they might substitute a vegetable minestrone for their afternoon (or evening) pasta meal a few times a week, and cut down on some of the bread. They don’t cut those foods out completely, however. Deprivation never leads to success. But bread and pasta are not green lights for gluttony either. Italians typically use a piece of bread (even a half piece) to fare la scarpetta (literally, make a little shoe) to mop up the pasta sauce or the last bits of soup. There is no eating slice after slice slathered in butter. Instead, bread is used more as an accent to maximize enjoyment of the main course.
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