Since before I ever moved to Italy I always knew that I would run into some serious girl competition, but I never realized it would be against older women! Let me tell you, Italian women have it together when it comes to their weight, and from what I’ve seen they don’t even try. For a long time I was so confused on how they stay so thin and why many American women are overweight. It can’t possibly be just from walking more I thought to myself. Don’t Italian women have hormone changes that affect their weight, busy schedules, or depression that make them gain a few extra pounds? I used to be very confused, but now it is all very clear. There are SEVERAL reasons they are thinner, it is not just in their genes to be beautiful Roman women with goddess looks and locks to kill. I’m going to break down my epiphany into headings so it’s easier on the eyes.
Food: what they eat, when they eat it, how long they eat it…hence it’s important
Yes it’s in the food. As I mentioned before, I used to live with my in-laws for 7 months before I got married. I would follow Fabio’s mom around the kitchen every day and take mental notes on how she prepared food. I slowly started to realize that Italian cooks choose to miss or just miss some main, staple, American ingredients: mayonnaise, cream, salad dressings, pre-packaged seasonings, pre-made dinners, many canned goods, and butter. This was my number one observation. They cook without these things very often. When I would look through my recipe book and make something American I realized that it always contained mayonnaise, canned something, and butter! Well guess what, preservatives are in cans, and packaged seasonings, and those make you gain weight. If it preserves the food you better believe it will preserve you. Since I realized the pre-packaged seasoning thing I stopped using them and decided to just use fresh spices and combine them. Instead of using butter I use olive oil for everything. Instead of using canned things I just deal with the fact that I have to eat vegetables that are in season.
Eating vegetables in season has benefits. If it’s in season this means you can buy your veggies from the market and it will most likely be organic. In Italian supermarkets you will have dry periods with certain vegetables and fruits missing because they sell what is in season. This is highly annoying but it also makes sense. One benefit Italians have is that everything they eat is organic. They are not a mass producing country and most of their veggies and fruits come from their own farms. One exception to this is tropical fruit like avacados and mangos which I’ve seen come from Peru. Eating organic is just natural. Thank God it’s affordable in Italy, in America it is not.
It’s not just what you eat, it’s how you eat
One cultural thing about Italy is that Italians value family life and food so much that the whole country shuts down from 1-5 just to eat and relax. Of course there are exceptions to everything, but this is the bigger picture I’ve seen since here. Because they have so much time for lunch it allows them to eat at home, and actually cook a good meal instead of eating out or having fast food and eating it so fast. Fabio’s mother takes about 40 minutes to make lunch everyday which is always a pasta dish, meat, a side, and coffee afterwards. Her pasta dishes usually have an oil based sauce or a tomato sauce. She does sometimes make a sauce using cream, such as tuna sauce with speck or carbonara. The good thing about the oil and tomato based sauces is that it really isn’t that heavy. The cream is what makes pasta dishes heavy if you cook with cream. Her meats are usually grilled or cooked in the oven, rarely fried and never made into a casserole with cream. The other trick Italians have with pasta is that they eat it for lunch, rarely for dinner. Pasta gives them the fuel they need for the day (because the coffee doesn’t hack it in my opinion). For dinner they usually eat a lighter meal than lunch. In America we do the opposite! We eat a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner! Even though we eat at an earlier time in the States, we usually don’t do much to burn off our dinner after we eat it…so there is the problem. Anyways, during this four hour lunch break people can relax and actually enjoy their food by eating at a normal pace not being rushed. On my last visit home to the States I noticed that there was no real eating schedule. Some days we had a lot for lunch and then some days we skipped lunch altogether based around our busy schedules! Some nights we had dinner at 6:30, other nights at 9! Our bodies deserve consistency and not having it probably throws off hormones and most certainly metabolism.
They aren’t known for being organized people, but they have a serious order to eating
I was criticized once because I drank coffee at a restaurant while waiting for my meal to come. I drank coffee because I was so tired and needed to wake up! What happened was I ended up eating nothing really because I was so full from the coffee (and the cream). My husband told me he thought it was strange that Americans would have cocktails with their meals and coffee before the meal. I had never really thought about it! Since living in Italy though, I’ve started to notice an order to eating and drinking. The order of eating is
4. fruit and nuts
5. digestive drink
6. coffee with dessert
I’m still not really sure why they eat their salad after their main meal, but they do. I thought it was crazy when someone asked me after my meal if I wanted any fruit. I was like “why would I want fruit when I’ve just eaten enough for a week?” Anyhow, this is their food order. They will drink wine or beer with their meals because it enhances the flavor of food, but never cocktails and certainly not coffee!
What else makes Italians thinner than the average American?
I noticed at the gym that the majority of women did not have the same routine that I did: running, weights, a mixed agenda given to me by the owner. Instead most of them gravitated toward the classes which I felt did absolutely nothing but warm me up. However, the women doing these classes were pretty fit. I occasionally saw women jogging, speed walking, plus taking the class, but many did not partake in my variety workout unless they were younger. This made me come to the conclusion that a lot of fitness had to do with their eating and cultural lifestyle. Italians do indulge in sweets, don’t get me wrong! However, the sweets they eat are no where near our super sweets like snickers bars, moose tracks ice cream, cakes stuffed with caramel + oreo cookies + pre-made frostings overloaded with sugar. Their sweets are always pastry-like, their cakes are filled with creams, not frostings. This does make a difference. They also indulge in a variety of beverages like sodas and alcohol. But there is a difference in that as well. In Italy people drink 8 oz. beverages everywhere, even at home. You will never see a restaurant give someone a 32 oz. glass of sweet tea (or 16 oz.) or a grande latte. Also when it comes to Alcohol Italians consume so much less than the average American. There are two things about this that I want to say. First, I would say that beer is more common than wine in the US for all types of occasions just because it’s cheaper and more casual. Beer however has many more calories than wine and most Americans drink lots of beer often. Wine in Italy is more common contrarily, I would say that Italians drink more wine than beer for all types of occasions like dinner, holidays, celebrations (except soccer) just because it’s plentiful and such a huge part of their culture. Second, Italians in general don’t drink like Americans. That’s the number one cultural bashing thing people say about Americans, is how much we drink. At a bar you can see people drinking beer after beer after beer, or shot or drink, in Italy people are generally more conservative in that area. So, they consume much less in what they drink.
Another main drinking difference is in their coffee. As most people probably know Italians drink espresso. Espresso is consumed with sugar and that’s it. Did you notice there is no cream here? American coffee has sugar plus cream. If you drink 3 coffees a day you’re drinking 3x the cream that an Italian doesn’t drink. Let’s say you put 1 oz. of cream in each cup, that is 21 oz. (2 cups) of cream a week. Over a year that is 1,092 oz. (8.5 gallons) of cream just from your coffee. That’s pretty gross if you think about it.
They also walk more and lead a less stressful life which has been proven to decrease weight gain. This helps them maintain their weight I guess. Because of their work schedules they are allowed to eat at home, not rushed, no stress. They can relax and be rejuvenated. They walk more because cities in Italy are built for people to walk around without needing a car.
So my main observations on why Italians are generally much thinner than Americans are: totally different ways of preparing food, eating fresh foods, eating organic foods, taking time to eat healthier at home, eating at a slower pace, eating and drinking in a logical order, drinking less amounts of everything, eating less sugary unnatural desserts, walking more, and having a balanced life/work schedule leading to a less stressful life. If I moved back to America I know that I would never be able to eat organic foods because of the cost. However, I would stick to the other things that they do such as: using oil based salad dressings made freshly from home, staying away from pre-packaged anything and instead making it myself from scratch (b/c it’s cost effective and healthier), cooking for myself always, balancing my life, eating less cream and butter, consuming less in beverages unless it’s water, and staying away from sugar loaded sweets.
Hope everyone is as enlightened as I was when I figured out their secrets.
If you’re interested in transitioning to Espresso either for weight control or caffeine control I would recommend the Traditional Mocha Coffee Maker used by every old-fashioned Italian household. In fact the Bialetti “Mocha” as Italians call the machine is readily available in the US and is an authentic product from Italy. One cup of espresso has 3x less caffeine than a traditional cup of coffee. Start today and change your life.
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