When I arrived in Italy, I was preparing my stomach for major expansions in order to make room for all the gelato, pasta, cheese, and pizza I was planning on eating. And I did eat all of that food, and more, but the outcome was completely unexpected.
1. Embracing the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is tricky to pinpoint in one definition because such a wide variety of people from different cultures and geographical locations follow it in varied ways. Without getting too technical, there are nine core values that the diet follows, according to nutrition professionals (specifically my awesome MedDiet professor):
1. Abundance of plant-based food
2. Emphasis on minimally-processed, fresh food
3. Olive oil = principle fat
4. Small amounts of dairy, daily
5. Fish, poultry, eggs in low-moderate amounts
6. Low intake of red meats (complete removal could cause elimination of good iron sources)
7. Regular physical activity
8. Wine in moderation (yes, please)
9. Enjoyment of food and sharing of meals
It was pretty easy to jump on board with these guidelines because not much else was even available to eat. The grocery stores were tiny in comparison to what we have in America, and most Italians just get their shopping done at farm stands for better quality.
SpoonTip: If you want to try the MedDiet at home, it's actually much cheaper than what you probably spend on food normally.
2. Fresh, Local, Homemade Foods
Fresh, local, and homemade pretty much sums up all the food you can find in Italy (and yeah, I made that pizza with my own two hands in a wood fired oven). The streets are lined with vendors selling fruits and veggies, meats, cheeses, pasta, you name it.
Meals at restaurants are made to order, and even the meals we ate at home were made by yours truly and my friends. The ingredients always come from close by, and you can really tell by the quality and flavor.
One thing that really surprised me was the color of egg yolks; they were a deep, bright orange, which I had never seen before. Eventually I learned in class that this has to do with the diet of the chicken, and of course, they were more well-fed in Italy than in the American meat industry centered around mass production.
3. Smaller Portions
Okay, so I say smaller portions, but there are always 3-5 courses served at any given dinner. The smaller plates of food made it a lot easier to pace myself, so I wasn't full after eating one plate. At first, I just wanted more food, but after a while, I realized that this way I could try a little bit of everything (which I did).
4. Longer Meals = Eating Slower
In Italy, sharing meals and spending time with friends and family is huge. We often spent three to four hours at one meal, which at first was hard to sit through, but by the end everyone looked forward to. Spending a longer amount of time at meals makes it easier to pace yourself and eat slower, which is better for digestion.
5. Walking...Literally Everywhere
This was one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle that helped me lose weight. At home, I work out a decent amount, and I spend my day walking from class to class across campus. But the kind of exercise I got in Italy was completely different.
I didn't work out once the entire time I was there, but I walked everywhere. There was no access to cars, and they're actually kind of useless in that environment because everything is so close together. I got used to walking to school, walking to the grocery store, walking to get gelato every night, walking to swim in the river. I walked for most of my day, and it really did make a huge difference in the way I felt and looked.
I've become a huge supporter of mild cardio over longer periods of time, as opposed to a high-intensity workout for an hour at the gym.
6. Wine, Of Course
Drinking wine is a part of daily life in the Mediterranean, but it's more of a social event, rather than slapping the bag and trying to get drunk as fast as possible like it can be in the US.
I learned a lot about wine, not only in class, but visiting vineyards and getting to taste the wine my landlord made in his cellar. Moderate amounts of wine can be beneficial to health, so go ahead and sip on that glass of Pinot during your movie nights, ladies.
7. Go Ahead, Eat Dessert
I kid you not, I could barely make it a day without downing a cone of gelato (or two). Though I wasn't trying to lose weight, it's important to keep in mind that everything in moderation is okay. So don't feel bad about chowing down on your favorite dessert, 'cause it's better to enjoy a little than to be craving it all the time, amiright? Presumably, I wasn't shy about trying all the tiramisu, cupcakes, cannoli, macarons...You name it, it was in my mouth.
Ultimately, my take home message would be eat what you want, try everything in sight, get some exercise, and especially enjoy your time abroad.