There is an entire movement in American psychology based on the need to get back to rational thinking. Nowhere do we need this more than the area of weight control. How often do we see situations as all or nothing? “If I can’t stick to this diet to the letter, I will chuck the whole thing.” How often do we make mountains out of molehills and announce the end of the world if just one thing goes wrong? “ I blew it today. There’s no use, I might as well eat the whole bag.”
Fortunately the gluttonous orgies of the Roman Empire have long since been replaced by the wiser belief in the daily philosophy of : non esagerare, don’t overdo it. While the ancient Romans enjoyed laying around the table (on couches) for 5 or 6 hours, in a stuffing -vomiting ritual, modern Italians have a healthy skepticism towards overindulging in anything. Meals are still best enjoyed as a social event, but Italians make sure they consume high quality foods in the right amounts that satisfy their hunger. Once a meal is done, they typically do not refuel until the next one. The act of eating is much less pleasurable if reduced to an all day grazing ritual. Italians opt for moderation, and my own research on Italy-US body weight comparisons validates their approach.
Our bodies and minds don’t do will with excess. Homeostasis is a natural physiological phenomenon that helps us to survive. Excess in food, sedentary behavior or even negative thinking, throws our homeostasis mechanism out of balance. Think of moderation on a spectrum. If you have been sliding towards the edges of the spectrum blow, think about reeling yourself back into the middle of the range—the area of moderation and good health.
The Non-esagerare Mindset
Too Little Too Much
You want to try and stay as close to the mid-line X as you can, when it comes to any behavior related to weight control. The X is the non-esagerare, or moderation zone. It is the healthy point at which you neither deprive nor overindulge yourself. You simply live well, and watch the weight start to normalize as your behaviors do. Slight deviations from the X always average out, and are nothing to worry about. Not to worry about an extra indulgence here and there, just go a bit to the other side of the X for the next few days to make up. If you notice a pattern at either extreme of the spectrum, however, it is time to take action.
Here is an example. Loretta takes a walk on most days during her lunch hour. On the non-esagerare continuum for exercise, she would place herself on or close to the red X. She is getting a good, moderate amount of activity in every week. Maria, on the other hand sits at a computer all day, then comes home and sits in front of the TV all night. On a weekly basis, she gets very little daily exercise. She would be toward the left (too little) of the non-esagerare continuum for exercise. Dina has gone in the opposite direction. She goes to the gym twice a day and takes a short run at lunch. She feels guilty when she sits down, and constantly worries about how many calories she burned off each day. She would place herself toward the “too much” side.
Either “too little” or “too much” of food or exercise is not healthful. On the other hand, if you simply keep yourself within the normal range each day, you won’t have to deny your self anything, and eventually your weight problem will be history, without much fanfare or sweat on your part. A common impression is that Italians seem to enjoy life as if they haven’t care in the world. Moderation has a lot to do with it, because excess not only causes stress, but also requires way too much effort to correct. Living in balance promotes serenity.
I have never met an Italian who felt compelled to finish a whole tray of biscotti, on the rationale that since she already ate one, and “blew it” anyway, so why not go for it and start over tomorrow? Italians live by a down-to-earth practicality, especially when it comes to fitness and well-being. A few extra pounds? Cut a little bread from your supper this week. Just tweak something here or there and get back to good common sense. “Does it make sense to dive into last night’s leftovers at 10 0’clock this morning?” “Does it make sense to eat a whole layer cake just because I had a fight with my cousin and I’m upset?” If the answer comes up in the negative, just turn around and walk away. Practice strengthens the non-esagerare muscle.
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