5 Dolce Vita Tips to Help You Slim Down and Gain Confidence

 

Pomodoro.jpg

 

Countless studies link poor body image with excess weight and obesity. Our society certainly stigmatizes those who are overweight, and women especially come to internalize these messages until they feel disgusted with the way they look. We all know that body image issues plague us from the time we enter adolescence but did you know that women over 40 become increasingly dissatisfied with their physical appearance as they continue to age?

Two powerful strategies to boost your body image confidence –especially as we age are as follows:

  1. Stop trashing yourself verbally and focus on what you appreciate about your body every single day. Yes, we may have a new facial wrinkle or a bit of extra fat around the middle, but think of your body as the precious vehicle which allows you to enjoy an exquisite meal, breathe in the healing salty ocean air, witness a neon sunset, and hug the ones you love.
  2. Eat a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, greens, beans, fish, capers, olive oil, nuts, tomatoes, herbs, and garlic. It is not a bad thing to want to be as fit and healthy as possible but you don’t have to follow any diet craze; you must simply be willing to make some moderate changes in lifestyle so you can be as fit and health as YOU can be. Chose healthy foods at each meal and your weight will gravitate closer to where it needs to be. I once gave a talk for Dr. Riccardo Dalle Grave’s Italian physicians conference on eating disorders and obesity. Dalle Grave emphasizes the concept of “reasonable weight”; the weight that is right for YOU.

Finally, Italian women, even when they want to lose a chili, are NOT fans of restrictive diets and frenzied hours at the gym. Here are FIVE tips they DO adhere to. If you want to lose a few pounds and improve your health, perhaps you find these ideas helpful too.

  1. Learn to Enjoy COOKING! We all enjoy a night out at a restaurant now and then but eating out too often is a recipe for packing on the pounds. Authentic Italian cuisine (and I don’t mean carnival foods like fried dough or pasta swimming in oily jarred sauce) is healthy, light, and according to research, can also protect us against certain diseases. The most delicious Italian dishes are simple and fresh. They don’t require a lot of time and once you get into the habit of cooking and eating this way, you will enjoy it so much you won’t want to stop!
  2. Cut Your Typical Portions in Half: Italians eat smaller portions than we do in the U.S., despite not having a book that immortalizes them for it, like their French and Japanese counterparts. 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 ¼-1/2 less than we normally put on our plates without even noticing the difference. 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.
  3. Don’t Eat in Between Meals. My friend Giovanna made one thing clear to me as we sat together on the piazza Santo Spirito in Florence, dangerously close to one of the best gelatterias in all of Italy—Vestri. “Tre. tre TRE!” She said emphatically when I had inquired how Italian women maintain their figures. Italian women eat three meals a day period, she told me, except for maybe a late afternoon coffee break that might be accompanied by a small biscotto (when not trying to lose a pound or two) or a fruit, to tide her over till the 7 o’clock dinner hour. Because the Mediterranean way of eating is rich with vitamins and minerals from an abundance of fresh produce, it satisfies hunger so there is no famished feeling between meals.
  4. Cut the Sugar. Italian women are rarely found to gorge themselves on cannoli one day, and eat nothing but a salad for the week that follows, to make up for it. No extremes, no ambivalence as to what to do.       Interesting were the headlines on the cover of an Italian woman’s magazine that I once 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 woman’s well-being. If you examine the magazines at the checkout counter 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!
  5. Pull back on the Bread and Pasta. Italian women tell me 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 dish 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. Pasta, likewise, is not heaped in high mounds on one’s plate; rather, a couple of forkfuls would be the equivalent of what Italians commonly consume at a meal, according to Chef Lidia Bastianich whom I interviewed on my radio show, earlier this year.

What do YOU do when you want to lose a few pounds? Which tips in this article appeal to you? Let’s start a conversation by commenting below! Or, you can write to me RaeleenMautner@gmail.com

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Article ©Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D., LLC

Why You Should NOT Avoid Hard Work

Pasta fatta in casa

When did this culture become so instistant on having everything come instantly and easily? Instant is a box of potato flakes,which when mixed with water turn into something that is supposed to at least look like the real thing. Easy is driving up to a fast food window and gobbling down a homogenized burger with one hand while driving home with the other.

When we expect things to come easily and instantly we become frustrated and irritated when suddenly faced with a challenge, whose resolution is neither instant nor easy. We panic, throw our hands up in defeat, and feel like we have failed, because life is just too hard.

I beg to differ. You are neither a loser, or  a quitter –just a victim of a cultural mindset that presumes that everything we desire should appear before us, without having to do anything to earn it.

Happiness can be earned through working at it.  True self-esteem is a BYPRODUCT of hard work and the feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with it.  Maintaining a fit and health body is also a combination of “working” out, or “working outSIDE” (on your garden, lawn, snow shoveling, etc), and good old-fashioned home cooking. This last point is worth highlighting, as home cooking is really the foundation of a vibrant physical body–and it even affects your mood!

So when did eating in and cooking at home become viewed as tasks of oppression to be avoided like the plague? My grandmother kept a second kitchen in her cellar, where she made her own sausage, breads, pasta, and braciole. On the other side of the cantina was the wine cellar. Her sons crushed grapes and poured the precious liquid into large wooden barrels. In a third part of the cellar was where she kept the fruits and vegetables which she canned from her garden. These homemade products did take  “work”, but never was it looked upon as anything other than a source of pride and accomplishment—and an investment in everyone’s good health. A by product of hard work, or “lavoro sodo”, as I mention in my book “Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy” (HCI) is that while you are so immersed,  your problems stay far away.

There is no need to be overwhelmed at the thought of turning the clock back to simpler (albeit more labor-intensive) times. This week, try reconnecting with just ONE task of yesteryear. You might start with this simple home-made pasta (pasta fatta in casa), from Elodia Rigante’s “Italian Immigrant Cooking”). You will be amazed at how simple it is, and how euphoric you will feel while preparing this delight, and afterwards getting all of those compliments from the people you have invited to your table to enjoy it with you.

Oh..and do invite me to dinner sometime, so I can personally be the “judge” of how it came out 🙂 Buon appetito!

 

Basic Pasta Dough
4 c. all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 4 eggs, 1 Tblsp olive oil

Instructions:

Sift the flour and salt together and pile on a pastry or cutting board. Make a well in the center and place th eggs and the oil in it. Work the eggs and oil into the flour with your fingers until a firm dough is formed. knead the dough until very smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a cotton cloth and let it rest for 1/2 hour. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Roll out each piece as thin as possible on a floured board–the thinner the better. Cut into desired shapes (spaghetti, linguine, fettucine, lasagna noodles), depending on what type of pasta you intend to make.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of oil, and throw in the fresh pasta. Stir the pasta immediately to make sure it is all separated. Because it is fresh, it will tend to stick together. It will take only a few minutes to cook.

NEW:–Do catch my new advice column in The Italian Tribune! You can send me your questions here: raeleenmautner@gmail.com 

NEW:  Listen LIVE to my PREMIER of “The Italian Art of Living Well” Monday’s @ 7AM  88.7FM or live stream www.wnhu.net

Traditional Italian Cooking: Here’s to Your Health!

gREENS

An article published in the Corriere della Sera this past week reported that The Italian Mediterranean diet was recently put to one of the most rigorous scientific tests ever. Italian researchers from the Istituto nazionale dei tumori IRCCS di Milano, led by Dr. Franco Berrino examined 47 thousand participants with respect to their risk of colon and rectal cancer. This was the largest European study to examine the relationship between eating and cancer. Participants were followed for 11 years, and those following the classic Italian Mediterranean way of eating (vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil, fish, greens, etc) were found to reduce their risk of colon cancer by 46% and rectal cancer by 59%.

Unfortunately, Italians, have been slowly gravitating away from their own traditions. Journalist Luciano Benedetti observed that Southern Italy—where the Mediterranean way of eating originated, may be the worst offender in leaving their own healthy alimentation behind. Sicily’s consumption of red meats and fatty foods, for example,  have soared.  Perhaps they could use the return to simple Italian traditions I advocate in my books: a reminder that while progress is important, there is also deep value in the healthier treasures of tradtion.

I love to cook the way my Italian family has always cooked. For me, cooking is more than just a way to come up with some “grub”; it is a holistic experience, as well as an embrace from the people in my past. I love to surround myself with beautiful Italian music and perhaps a great glass of Montepulciano, as I work with the life –giving freshness of gorgeous greens, red and white legumes, juicy red tomatoes, deep auburgine eggplant, fragrant parsley, basil and garlic—and of course a bottle of extra virgin olive oil.  I place a few objects of beauty around me as  I cook (in this photo a hand-woven basket from my zia Cristina of Castelpagano and in it a plant from my dear friend Susan, and sometimes, if I am lucky, I can get a family member or friend to cook along with me. I love the finished product because I know it optimizes good health for me and those whom I feed. The aroma fills my kitchen with the welcoming sensations of  love and good cheer.

It doesn’t take fancy cookbooks (in fact my grandmother Angelina—probably the best cook of all times in my opinion—never had a cookbook in her kitchen!), or studied talent. Instead, cooking the Mediterranean way takes a willingness to become one with the experience of cooking for health, cooking with love, and viewing cooking as a tribute to the solid foundations laid down for us through tradition.

Let this January be the month you get back to healthy eating. Gradually increase the time you spend making good food at home as you decrease the number of times you whip through a drive-thru. Experiment with new Mediterranean recipes and make the entire event enjoyable  from preparation to consumption. Add ambience with some beautiful music (Gianni Morandim, Il Volo, Il Divo—there are so many great songs to choose from) and some of your favorite family heirlooms surrounding you. Invite a friend or two over to cook with you if you choose.  Notice how much better you begin to feel physically, and the sense of satisfaction  you gain for having taken the time and energy to make  your health a priority.

You can start with this delicious simple greens recipe from my father, Marino (note : those on blood thinners or with certain medical conditions should always check with their physicians about eating greens). It is simple, basic, quick, and nutritious. Buon appetito!

Marino D’Agostino’s  Simple Greens and Beans:

(makes 4 side dish servings or 2 main meal servings.)

This makes a wonderful side dish to a small slice of poached fish or lean meat, or you can eat it as a healthy main dish with a slice of crusty whole grain Italian bread and a glass of wine (doctor permitting!). Enjoy.

Ingredients:

1.       Bunch kale (or other organic greens).

2.      2 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil

3.      Dash crushed red pepper flakes

4.       Cloves garlic, minced

5.      1 can red kidney beans or white canellini beans (rinsed and drained)

6.      Salt and pepper to taste.

 

Procedure:

  1. Trip and thoroughly wash greens. I like to tear greens into bite sized pieces and place in a big bowl of cold water with a drop of vinegar. Pick up the greens with your hand so that any sand stays on the bottom of the bowl. Place in a colander and re-rinse each leaf, to make sure there is no remaining sand on the greens.
  2. Place greens for one minute into a pot of salted boil water, then remove, and lay out to dry.
  3. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. When garlic just starts to turn golden add the dampened greens.
  4. Stir greens until just wilted.
  5. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Greens2

An Unlikely Holiday Nutritional Boost

Growing up,  at holiday time, our home was always filled with the sweet aroma of my mother’s Italian Christmas cookies baking in the oven (non ti preoccupare, I will post recipes in the coming weeks). The food at holiday meals was always beyond scrumptious , the desserts heavenly. Yet by the end of the hoilday season, you couldn’t help but notice a hint of physical or mental depletion. Overeating perhaps…or the end of a happy hustle and bustle of endless company, yearly events that become special and are to be celebrated to the max, the sadness of those no longer with us, the stress of ancillary tasks related to the season.

My own solution  to holiday–or ANYday blahs–would eventually come in the form of  a high-powered blender, into which I could liquify various fruits and vegetables, tweak the recipe for my specific needs that day (eg mushroom extract for immune system, sunflower seeds for zinc,  Vitamin D3 to make up for the lack of sunlight of  New England winters, etc), and drink it once a day. I found this is a great way to get my greens (Kale, spinach, parsley, broccoli, arugula, etc–(check with your DR if you are on blood thinners), to get my raw portion of veggies (NOTE: you should also consume some cooked), and to get the fiber in these powerhouse foods, that most juicers strip away.

Several brands do the job quite nicely. I use a Vitamix, and have found it to be a durable , reliable investment. With the latest news coming out about the real risks of “energy” drinks, I can tell you that a blended fruit and veggie drink–one per day—will give you all the energy you can use, in a natural way. There are so many ways you can put these drinks together, to make them taste delicious and give you the nutrients to prevent mental and physical burnout throughout the holidays, and ideally, throughout the year as well.

I take a blended drink on most days. It is fun to experiment with different combinations, like the one I made this morning

Raeleen’s Friday Morning  Green  Raw Boost:

(Note there are no specific measurements–everything to personal taste)

–2 stalks broccoli

–handful Kale

–a few sprigs parsely

-handful of arubula

–green apple

–bunch of sweet red grapes

–1 majool date (pitted)

–tablespoon flaxseet

–teaspoon of sunflower seeds

–one dropperful of seaweed tincture (the benefits of seaweed mentioned in many publications)

–filtered or spring water to desired consistency.

Put everything in and blend for about 1.5 minutes.  When I drink this , I can almost feel it perking up every cell. No commercial, dangerous energy drinks here.

Best of all,  I definitely don’t feel so guilty when the struffoli tray appears 🙂

 

Semplicita’: Live Simply, Be Happy

Courtesy: Trattoria Pesce Pasta (Loved it!)

Last evening I was seated at a “holding table” in a fancy restaurant (which shall remain nameless) in the city, waiting for a seat to free itself in the main part of the restaurant.Glitz and glamor encircled me, from the gilded stilettos of the female patrons to the glimmering  cascades that  came pouring down from the celing. The bass on the stereo system was turned up to a defeaning vibrato and  diners were shouting over the sound to hear themselves talk.  Suddently I felt overwhelmed by the bombardment of stimuli. I had to walk…and just kept walking. My explorative passeggiata  led me to  a quaint and lovely  pathway through the village, and eventually to an unassuming –and might I add authentic–trattoria on Bleeker Street (Trattoria Pesce Pasta) , posting a host of Zagat ratings  in its window. When one door closes… It was very much like the kind of trattoria I always seek out when I am in Italy: Little tables covered in crisp white linens, squeaky-clean wine glasses waiting to be filled, family-style welcoming from the staff and owner, interesting looking patrons leaning in towards each other  engaged in philosophical conversation.

Quiet simplicity can be the the most life affirming experience of all.  Who needs a constant bombardment of lights flashing, noise blasting, animation going nowhere?  Sometimes all we need to recharge  is the opportunity to kick back and enjoy  the peace and quiet of little simple joys.   My preference last night: “Spaghetti aglio ed olio, del vino bianco un ‘insalata di ruchetta, un po’ di pane e un bel caffe’ alla fine.” Spaghetti with oil and garlic, some white wine, arugula salad, a bit of crusty bread and a great espresso to top it off.  What could be better? A simple yet amazing meal, in an atmosphere that elevated the soul. I felt my stress levels plummeting  and my creative juices flowing as I leisurely soaked in the quiet celebration of semplicita’.

What will YOU do this week to tune down the “noise” that pollutes your space of  inner peace and distracts you from living the simple , sure-footed path in life?

Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

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If this post inspires you, please let me know, with your comment, your share, your like, or your email.  Your feedback is what keeps these posts going!

* If you haven’t already explored other parts of this website , do check out my upcoming Lemons into Limoncello Italy Retreat (May 2013)and the October talks I will be giving in CT for Italian Heritage Month.

*You can stream in live at 7AM to The Art of Living Well 88.7FM or www.wnhu.net. Great information on improving the quality of life, with an Italian American segment featuring ideas from my upcoming book “Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy (HIC), which will be out next May.

How to Re-Create The Communal Table Experience

Photo Courtesy: San Francisco Chronicle

In Italy-and increasingly in other parts of the world–it is common to enter an eaterie and be seated at a long communal dining table. You know no one, and they don’t know you, but in the course of the eating experience you find yourself making delicious small talk with new acquantances, perhaps trying out each other’s wine choice, discussing their menu selections and in some cases even exchanging business cards after the final espresso, with the promise of future connections. My most recent experience at the communal tavola all’ italiana was in the beautiful city of Firenze. I was alone in my quest for a great bistecca, but by the end of my meal, I was even more satisfied with the feeling of having just broken bread with potential new  friends.

My “Lemons into Limoncello”  living-well philosophy centers around two main concepts: Stengthening your inner resilience for life’s unexpected challenges , and filling in the between times with mandatory, life-affirming joy. The communal table is one pocket of joy that truly makes life worth living. Many restaurants in the US are now offering communal dining experiences, but I’d like to encourage you to create your own. Here is how.

Choose a public park or facility that has outdoor picnic areas. You may have to reserve them in advance. Send out impromptu invitations to at least 10-15 people whom you know, and make two requests:

1. Bring a potluck covered dish (or beverage, paper products, etc) , and

2) Bring a friend or family member.

Put the picnic tables together or bring portable chairs that you can set together, and make sure everyone is seated next to at least one person they don’t know.  By the end of the event, you will have increased your social network, staved off some of that loneliness that many are prone to from time to time, and increased self-confidence, in your ability to socialize by making new acquaintences.

Eventually you can also hold Communal Table Event Themes–such as all single (and all bring a friend), or all Mets Fans, or an Italian Recipe Exchange Table. The possibilities are endless, as will be the happy feeling in your heart.

Please don’t let the summer go by without holding one of these fun community dining experiences. Be the organizer of joy, Italian-style!

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Simple Old World Advice for Staying in Shape: “Non esagerare!”

 

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

|—————————————–X—————————————–|

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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I love to hear from my readers. Do drop me a line and let me know about the challenges YOU are struggling with. What challenges are you struggling with? What losses have you experienced, that have changed your life? Write to me: raeleenmautner@gmail.com