Lessons from Italy…
Eating Carbs, Drinking Wine, Sipping Coffee & Those other little ‘secrets’
(Part 1 of 2 Part Series)

Good morning! I just got back from three and half glorious weeks in Italy where I ate a lot of great food, saw some amazing places and got to catch up with family I haven’t seen in over 15 years. We had our share of adventures and excitement along the way let me tell you! (more on that in part 2)

As I traveled I ate a lot of food. Did I say that already? OK seriously I ate a lot of pasta too, and fat and fish and gelato… well, you get the picture. But as I sat there in the piazza or on the beach enjoying my coffee or gelato and I looked around I would also notice… “Wow, there aren’t really that many really overweight people here! As a matter of fact, while not everyone had a buff bikini body, most people on the beach were in relatively descent shape, of normal weight and happy (maybe even a little too happy:) to show off their ‘sexy’ bodies.

So as I do I got reflecting on what ARE the differences in how they live, eat and move and what can we take away? I know there are lots of great little reads on this and the Mediterranean diet but I wanted to talk about these specific things because THESE are things I get asked about all the time as a Personal Trainer and as a Health Coach. These are also the things that for many of us, keep us fat, tired, moody and anxious so… read on to enjoy my little lessons from Italy.

Warning this is a little long but if you have 5 minutes, it’s worth the read and reflection.

1. YUP. They EAT CARBS. Lots of them.
So the question I always get from clients is: Everyone says ‘Carbs are Bad’ for you. I am terrified to eat them. Should I eat them at all?

The question then becomes: How on Earth can they Eat all those CARBS!?
Here is what I noticed: Yes they eat way more carbohydrates in the form of pastries for breakfast (not a fan of that one), pastas for lunch or pizzas and lots of veggies. Way more than I do at home or suggest BUT

– Gem #1: They eat WAY SMALLER PORTIONS. In most local restaurants when you order a ‘primo’ piatto which is usually a pasta or rice, it is very small. I would suggest it is actually 1/4-1/3 of what most restaurants serve up here in North America and what you serve up at home. So step #1 is … if you are going to have carbs, go smaller!
– Gem #2: Although supermarkets are becoming more and more popular, MOST of their carbohydrates are WHOLE foods. We are talking about some fruit – usually as dessert or in the afternoon, lots of vegetables and yes – bread and pasta. My takeaway on this is QUALITY and WHOLENESS. If most of your carbohydrates are coming from whole foods, they are going to have a totally different effect on blood sugar levels, energy and fat storage vs processed foods which are lower in fibre, protein and vital nutrients.
– Gem #3: This is a biggie. Yes they eat more carbs but in general, at least where I was… they drive a lot less and walk a lot more. That means ok if you eat a small plate of pasta and then walk it’s different than eating a huge bowl of pasta with processed sauce and then sitting for the next 5 hours. Are you following me? The bottom line is we do need carbohydrates to fuel us but how much is really a question of what we are doing the rest of the day. If we are not moving, we need a lot less to keep the engine running! An athlete will need significantly more energy than someone who sits at a desk all day.

2. They Drink Wine (at most meals even)
So the question I always get is: Italians Drink lots of Wine so It must be good for you! Does that mean I can drink wine and lose weight?

OK let’s break this one down. Wine, or alcohol, in and of itself is not really the issue. But here is what I know:

– Gem #1: They don’t drink wine if they are not eating something. Most of the time, wine is served with a meal. Unlike our North American “Cocktail Hour” of 5 o’clock wine or sipping on a glass or two or three while we catch up with a friend, wine is paired with food. This was a huge takeaway for me especially because I am guilty of this one. I have to say I enjoy a glass of wine but I DID notice that at the pool, at the beach or before dinner – it just wasn’t common to see people sitting around drinking.
Another note on this one is alcohol on an empty stomach is a killer on the blood sugar, metabolism and mood. To reduce the effects of alcohol on your system, always pair it with a bit of fat – which again is something I saw as a way of being.
– Gem #2: They drink WAY LESS. At meals, it’s one – maybe two small glasses. I didn’t see too many 9 oz pours going on (except for mine on occasion) and while there was always a bottle on the table amongst friends, a little went a long way. They sip longer, drink less volume and really enjoy it with their food – not on it’s own.
– Gem #3: They don’t NEED it. It’s not an ‘upper’ or a ‘downer’. They drink to complement the food, not because they need to ‘de-stress’ after a long day.

3. They LOVE, LOVE, LOVE their “Coffee” and going to the “Bar”
So the question is… Why do I have to cut back on coffee? I always get stuck on the coffee part I have to be honest. I love it. BUT I know I also have a tendency to ‘need’ it too often if I have too much! Here’s what I saw

– Gem #1: There is very little to no ‘takeout’ coffee. People go, they meet up and chat and enjoy sitting for a few minutes while they have their coffee. I chuckled as I thought about us… frantically driving through another Starbucks to grab our 2nd or 3rd cofffee of the day as we are rushing to a meeting or trying to squeeze one in… anybody guilty here? I am. Drinking caffeine when you are stressed, in a hurry or anxious is never a good combination.
– Gem #2: They have 1 in the morning and then an espresso in the afternoon. Its two small (very small) espressos per day from what I noticed. Maybe 3. They love their espresso. The thing is, 1 ounce of espresso contains between 30-50 mg of caffeine vs 1 oz of drip coffee has about 8-15. With most of us drinking 12-16 oz coffees or more that can be 8-10x times more caffeine! So… next time you’re craving an afternoon java… sit, relax and enjoy your espresso or cappuccino with a friend.

4. They EAT what’s LOCAL.
While I missed some of the variety we have at home, one thing is for sure – local fresh food tastes amazing.

– Gem #1: This has already been stated but worth repeating. Whether it’s fish, meat or figs – they eat what swims, grazes or grows in their region. I think this is so simply nourishing. Even as I traveled from the North to the South I could see the different choices in the meat selections: In Tuscany they are known for their steak while in the south it was fish, fish fish! Eating what is fresh and local allows the menu to change with the seasons as well and to fully TASTE the flavour burst of a ripe tomato or a fig when it’s in season. I am convinced this is one of the MAIN reason people who go to Italy are always talking about the food. For once they are eating whole, local, fresh food and can taste how wonderful it is vs the bland, unripe, imported food that fills the usual shopping cart and has to be seasoned to death!
– Gem #2: There are no GMO foods. Genetically Modified Foods are banned from Italy and much of Europe so here we are back to Gem #1.

5. They Drive less and WALK. A. LOT. MORE.
One question we always get is: How much do I need to workout in order to be FIT? Can I sit at a desk all day, in a couch when I get home and know that my 30 minutes, 3 days a week is going to do the trick?

Sorry. The answer is no.

Let me rephrase it. Maybe. But you would basically need to have some HIIT workouts that hit every muscle group, got you way out of your comfort zone, broke a solid sweat AND then ate really clean – mostly veggies and lean meat. And then… yes, this might work for you.

But most of us don’t want to do that. Here is what I saw

– Gem #1: They may not work out like crazy but they WALK a lot. I really believe that while this does not give them a toned, strong body, it does keep them in a healthier weight range. It also helps to burn off some of those carbs they are eating (in smaller portions)!
– Gem #2: I saw little old ladies climbing stairs & hills with BAGS of fresh food. Moving your joints, walking is just great injury prevention. I didn’t see a lot of wheelchairs, walkers or people who looked like they were in crazy pain moving. They are there, but not in the amounts we see here. The bottom line is they KEEP moving. Age is not an excuse to stop walking up the stairs or to the market. Movement is lubrication for your joins, increases circulation and PUMPS OXYGEN (aka LIFE!) through your body.

So as we wrap this up, thanks for taking the time to read and I challenge you to reflect on these 5 lessons from Italy. I would love to hear from you! Which lesson do you know you could practice more in your life? What small step can you take this week to live a little more “Italian”? As for me, I am not going to drink on the run 😉

Please comment, share or post your thoughts below. Until next time, stay strong and live each day fully in a body you love.
– Christine Line