Something you may or may not know about me is that I studied abroad in Italy for a semester in Business School, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was immersed into the Italian culture, stayed on course to graduate college in four years, met new friends from all over the world, and grew more than I could have ever imagined.
This recent article from Huffington Post, “7 Things Americans Can Learn From Italians”couldn’t be more on point with what I experienced while living in Paderno del Grappa, Italy. Reflecting on my journey, there is so much symbolism between the path I was on as a student in the CIMBA program, and the path I am on now as an Eating Psychology Coach IT. It is a prime example of how new life experiences make you grow as an individual, and allow you to find what you are truly passionate about.
So here is my Eating Psychology Breakdown of Huffington Posts’ “7 Things Americans Can Learn From Italians”.
I have heard numerous times, “Why are Americans so fat, and Europeans not?” They eat more cheese and bread. They drink wine daily. They definitely don’t workout as much as “we” do. So what’s their secret?
1. “Eat slowly, locally and with others.”
Italians are not trying to “Live in the Fast Lane” as so many American feel obligated to do. Americans work through their lunch hour, take a bite of food, and begin typing ruthlessly again to meet their deadline. We believe that ‘time is money’, and that’s the most important thing. We forget to take care of ourselves, and feel like work should come before our well-being.
One of the most important things to improve your metabolism and your overall relationship with food is to eat slowly. What’s more memorable, gathering your friends together at The Melting Pot (a recent three hour experience of mine that will never be forgotten), or shoveling pizza down in front of the TV by yourself? I mean really… the eating experience can be so powerful! Like anything with such energy, it can be extremely empowering or terribly heartbreaking.
2. Drink a little bit, but not too much.
I’m going to be vulnerable here, I drink too much.
Growing up in Western Kansas, it’s part of OUR culture to let loose, real loose. That includes binge-drinking, “country cruising”, lake partying, eating our 4th meal, and passing out god knows where. Haha, judge all you want, but I still wouldn’t change it for the world. My best memories were those times, well, the bits and pieces that I do remember.
Thankfully, I have grown quite a bit, and though sometimes I do drink more than I should still, I have seen significant growth in the this area of my life. It has been tough work, though. I’m learning how to let loose by using my personality, and not an altered mindset.
Italians love their vino. But they don’t overdo it. Here in America, there’s a culture of binge-drinking. In Italy, a bottle of wine is shared among friends or around the dinner table. Stumbling around drunk in Italy is not viewed favorably. (I learned that one the hard way ; ) Italians like to drink, but they know how to keep it classy.
3. You should indulge a little every now and then… perché no??
There are so many delicious treats in Italy — rich gelato, mouth-watering pastries, decadent chocolates. Much like the philosophy on drinking, Italian culture has a “perché no?” take on treats. “Perché no?” translates to “why not?” The idea is to treat yourself by having a little bit of something tasty (because, why not?) but not having so much that you’re gorging yourself. Take Italian gelato shops for example… the normal size of a “coppa” (cup) would look tiny compared to the average size of a cup of ice cream in America.
Yes, yes, yes! Through my Eating Psychology Coaching Program, I have learned how IMPORTANT it is to keep these small pleasures in your life. Don’t deny yourself these wonders because of added sugar or extra calories. These lovely beauts surprisingly will help you feel balanced with no deprivation. The poison comes in the amount, not the actual richness of it. So….. dark chocolate with your next cappuccino? “why not.”
4. Stop hurrying, start relaxing.
Life is less hurried in Italy. People don’t rush around with to-go cups of coffee, but rather sip their espresso at the “bar” (aka coffee shop). Meals tend to linger, whether they be at restaurants or at home. Pedestrians tend to meander. There’s significantly less emphasis put on being on time — rather, the emphasis falls on how that time is spent. Many Italians take a siesta of sorts — a break during the day, from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m., to eat lunch and relax.
There is a way to actually slow down time, within the same amount of time. For example, being late running around the house in the morning for five minutes will feel a lot different than meditating for five minutes. Find simple strategies throughout your day to be MORE productive, by actually slowing down instead of speeding up. Try these for 5 minutes the next time you feel anxious: deep breathing, a walk around the block, stretching, calling a best friend, or mindfully eating an apple.
5. Having family nearby is the best thing ever.
Families in Italy tend to stay in the same area, rather than moving around. Grandparents often care for grandchildren, siblings remain close and extended families are huge and welcoming. While it’s more common in the U.S. to go away for college and settle down somewhere other than where you grew up, it tends to be the opposite in Italy. Having family nearby is deeply valued in Italy. Having nonna(grandma), aunts, uncles and cousins drop by for dinner during the week or having a weekly extended family meal every Sunday is common and brings everyone together.
I recently made the move to Denver, CO, and a big part of that decision was to be close to mi familia in Atwood, KS, a mere 3.5 hours away (including one pee break : ) Before that move, I had a lot up in the air, I could have basically moved anywhere I wanted. With a summer of traveling the West Coast under my belt, the warm coastal climate was hard to turn down. When it came down to it, relaxing into the opportunities that arose and following my heart lead me to Colorado. As my Facebook status said this morning, “Isn’t it a good day when you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be?!” Why yes, yes it is a good day.
6. Gather and spend time outdoors.
Part of the great communal feel of Italy comes from the fact that people tend to congregate outdoors. Friends will meet up at a piazza and hang out there, rather than in a home. Piazzas are vibrant, outdoor hubs where tons of people gather, children play and tourists roam, creating a lively atmosphere. Similarly, many Italians do most of their shopping at a mercato, outdoor markets where vendors sell everything from food and wine to clothing and leather goods. In America, we have malls — which are great. But there’s nothing like wandering a mercato, sampling the fare and interacting with other locals.
As one of my mentors, Marc David, continuously reminds me, it is SO important to get into nature. It’s easy to be consumed by the city lights, electronics, or the comfort of our own home. There’s a renewed energy when you are outside, breathing the fresh air, watching the wind blow the leaves, and living like the animals we truly are. Ya, I sounds like a thumpa hippy, but hey, take your bike out on a trail and tell me I’m wrong.
7. Maintain a “bella figura.”
Bella figura literally translates to “beautiful figure” — but it’s more idiomatic than that. The idea of maintaining a bella figura is more like the idea of maintaining a good public image. Italians don’t get drunk in public, eat while they walk or wear pajamas to the dinner table because it would have a negative impact on their image. Bella figura is more than just looking good, it’s a way of life that emphasizes aesthetics and good behavior.
This one is great reminder for me personally. I can be caught in workout clothes, no makeup, and hair up on many days of my week. I remember how underdressed I always felt in Italy, and couldn’t imagine dressing up everyday as the Italians do. When it comes down to it, how do you want to take care of yourself? How will you express yourself today? If you’ve been feeling frumpy lately, take an extra 10 minutes in your morning routine to take care of yourself, and feel the difference.
I hope you enjoyed this post, if you Italian, American, or somewhere in between, we can all learn something from each other. Being open to new cultures and making your own can make you a more rounded person, that will attract many differing individuals.