If I could live out of my pocket, I would. Trying local food, traveling to new places, and meeting interesting people makes my soul happy. However, during the night, heavy food, and a few drinks often followed holiday let my body feel a little yes. So, after traveling to Italy this fall, I was surprised to come home softer and more energized. How about eating unlimited pasta, gelato, and cheese and actually feeling… better?
It turns out that this is a great experience for gals visiting the Land of Romance and Wine (AKA Italy). Although many popular dishes reflect Italian cuisine such as pasta and pizza, Italy is one of the healthiest cities in the world. But you don’t have to live there to reap the benefits of Italian life. Here are five health hacks I learned from Italian women that I’ve started incorporating into my life since arriving home. Trust me—they make a big difference.
1. Live an active life
Raise your hand if you’re guilty of pounding your fists in gym class only to sit at your desk the rest of the day. While some movement is better than no movement, living is busy is much better than exercising for just one hour a day. In Italy, I don’t always exercise, but I go everywhere. Most of the Tuscan towns we visited didn’t allow cars in the town, so we explored the beautiful cobblestone streets on foot.
Although it was difficult for us to move there as we were on vacation every day, my husband and I brought one habit with us: passeggiata. La Passeggiata is the Italian tradition of going on a fun evening out. The purpose of this walk is not to break a sweat, but rather to catch up with your loved ones. We’ve found that this quiet time after the work day allows us to reconnect and increase our daily movement more quickly.
2. Enjoy carbohydrates in all their forms
Before Italy, I would fall under the lie that carbs are the enemy, so my diet would revolve around veggies and protein, leaving me emotionally and physically unsatisfied. My lack of enthusiasm for my “healthy” diet and the level of strict restriction I put myself through set the stage for massive carb cravings and late night cookies.
When we arrived in Italy, I removed all my restrictions on food. I am determined to allow myself to fully experience all the food Italy has to offer. I started my morning with a ham and cheese croissant with an unlimited portion of fruit and ended my day with a plate of pasta and a glass of wine. Contrary to what the diet industry claims, I was not left feeling sluggish and constipated. Instead, my energy improved, and allowing myself to eat foods that I once considered limited eliminated the urge to overeat.
Now that I’m home, I focus on cooking foods that make me feel good both physically and emotionally. For me, that means including carbohydrates in every meal. If you’re still worried that carbs will undermine your health goals, you should know that nutritionists have debunked the myth that carbs cause weight gain.. In fact, restricting one food to lose weight can backfire.
3. Eat locally sourced food
The scattered Tuscan towns and places are intimately known to the Italians as agriturismos. Small places tucked away in the rolling hills of Italian farming provide food and shelter for visitors. The one we stayed in produced the wine we drank every night. Others we visited produce their own olive oil and eat produce grown on their own land or from nearby farms. These meals usually include homemade pasta with simple ingredients, local vegetables, cheese, meat, and truffles they were chasing that morning.
As Americans, we don’t often stop to think about the type of food we eat. We seek hyper palatability first and foremost, which leads to an excess of salt, sugar, and unhealthy cooking oil. However, in Italy, local ingredients take center stage at every meal. Since the ingredients are fresh, the food is delicious without the need to add fillers. This leads to a tastier and healthier meal. Since we got home, I’ve focused on buying as much as I can at my local farmer’s market. This has encouraged me to get more creative in the kitchen and greatly increase my fruit and veggie intake.
4. Make your food delicious
If you’re like me, you scroll through Instagram while eating breakfast, work on your computer while eating lunch, and binge-watch Netflix at the end of the day for dinner. Although it’s tempting to multitask while you eat, it can work against your fitness goals. Research has shown and looking at the screen while eating can lead to overeating, plus you don’t think enough to let your digestive system rest.
Italians approach eating in a variety of ways. You won’t see them eating in front of a laptop at lunch or watching TV at dinner. They come to us with honor in the United States. No food on the go or distraction. Instead, Italians eat long lunches and dinners, taking time to enjoy each meal and meet friends. I don’t always have the time to devote an hour of enjoyment to each meal, but I’m starting to know my food. This means that there will be no more doubts during meals and focus on what I eat. When the weather is nice, I will eat my meals outside, and in the evening, I can light a candle and turn on my favorite Spotify playlist to accompany my dinner.
5. Do something fun first
I fall into the productivity trap sometimes. An eight-hour workday easily turns into a 12-hour workday, and Saturday morning becomes an opportunity to squeeze in a few hours of writing. While I love my job, being overworked makes me feel frustrated, tired, and depressed. But when I returned from my trip to Italy, I noticed that my energy and enthusiasm for my work had increased.
The Italians have perfected the art of relaxation. Long lunches, evening walks, and returning with a few friends and a glass of wine are not occasional treats. They are principles. A healthy lifestyle can help reduce stress, ultimately making you happier and more productive when you need to be. Now, I prioritize pockets of fun throughout my day, which can be like reading a good book or turning on my laptop for a chat with my dog.
… and I’m more than happy