I had a mini rant about this on my Facebook page last week, but today I thought I’d write a whole post about it. I’ve been in Rome for two weeks now and, with each day that has passed, I’ve become increasingly aware of how vastly different Italian life is to that in other cultures.
I have travelled all over Europe, and my observations in most of these countries are the same: locals eat all the foods we are taught to fear (bread, pasta, cheese, cake, etc) and most have never step foot inside a gym, and yet they are all extremely thin.
I’m sure you have heard of the book French Women Don’t Get Fat, but the message can really be applied across most of Europe. Yesterday was the first time I saw an overweight Italian person in two weeks. In fact, I would estimate that 90 to 95 per cent of the Italian population has a BMI of 20 or below. .
In contrast to the carb-loving, exercising-hating European countries, you have countries such as England, America and Australia which have billion-dollar fitness industries and yet ever-increasing rates of obesity. More training- and nutrition-related blog posts and magazine articles pop up on my newsfeed than I have time to read. And it’s the same old crap time and time again.
I swear to god, if I have to read one more post about whether IIFYM or bodybuilding-style dieting works best, or how many carbohydrates are really necessary for fat loss, or what combination of protein, carbs and unicorn blood is most ideal for hypertrophy, I will scream.
People in European countries don’t count calories, they don’t know what macros are, and they don’t couldn’t tell you what an anabolic window is. To focus in on Italians for a minute, let’s consider that these people have repeatedly been voted the most beautiful in the world – a title which is well deserved, in my opinion.
The vast majority of Italians look like supermodels with very low levels of body fat. They do not go to the gym, they eat carbohydrates at every meal and they drink alcohol almost daily. They break a lot of dieting “rules”, such as eating dinner at 11pm.
So what is their secret? From my observations, it seems that it comes down to three main things:
1. Exercising portion control
The portions here are moderate. They are filling, but often smaller than what you would be served in England/America. Also consider that a lot of the pasta and pizza dishes are vegetarian, or contain very small amounts of meat, which means that you are only looking at 500 to 600 calories per meal, as opposed to the 1000+ calorie bombs you would receive in an English restaurant.
2. Only eating quality ingredients
You literally cannot walk anywhere without seeing someone eating pizza. It is a daily way of life. When most people think of pizza, they think of the deep pan pizzas oozing with toppings and cheese from chains such as Pizza Hut. The pizza here is very different; it is almost always on a thin crust and topped with only the freshest ingredients, which are used sparingly.
An Italian breakfast is typically croissants or Nutella on toast. It is impossible to find somewhere that serves eggs for breakfast, not that I’ve ever made it out of the house at a reasonable hour to find out for certain 😉
When Italians eat out, they typically indulge in dessert. They do not ban sugar from their house, and they enjoy sweet treats without a second thought – often on a daily basis. Yet, again, their “junk” food is high-quality. They are not polishing off packets of potato chips and M&Ms.
3. Eating when hungry and stopping when full
Most people don’t eat breakfast until a couple of hours after waking up, when they feel hungry. Even then, it is something small. There goes that theory of eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.
Snacking is a foreign concept here. Italians wait until they are hungry to eat, and they do not eat according to the clock. This might mean they only eat twice in a day, but that is perfectly fine. They do not worry about eating every three hours to prevent drops in their blood sugar, or about losing their post-workout anabolic window.
As for exercise, they walk everywhere. I am completely used to this after living in London for so long. Some Italians play sports, but going to the gym is still a relatively new concept. Whenever I try to explain my training regime to an Italian, it is always met with “but why?” Haha.
I have been embracing my inner Italian. Despite having eaten pizza or pasta every day since I’ve been here, and gelato every second day, I have lost 3.5 kilograms since I arrived (which, admittedly, is partially due to water weight, reduced stress levels and a generally well-functioning metabolism).
I eat breakfast at around 11.30am, lunch at around 5pm, and dinner between 10pm and midnight. I do not snack in between meals, and I make sure every meal is foodgasm-worthy.
Last week I went to the gym three times, and took three rest days in a row. I was too busy seeing Rome and eating tiramisu. I didn’t second-guess it or feel guilty. If I have to choose between seeing the Colosseum and fitting in my fourth workout for the week, it’s an absolute no-brainer.
Although I have no plans of giving up the gym completely, I have accepted that, for the foreseeable future, there are other priorities in my life which take precedence over getting my pump on. I won’t work out in every city I visit, and I don’t care. Finding (good) gyms is a massive headache which I’d rather save for the cities I stay in for a month or longer.
I recently read a post from an American blogger who is an IIFYMer, which talked about how flexible her diet is. She claimed to be so free and recovered for not taking her food scale with her when eating out, but still tracked – and purposely overestimated – her consumption of sashimi to ensure she didn’t go over her macros.
I do not think that is healthy at all. If you took a food scale to a restaurant in Italy, you would probably be committed to a psychiatric hospital. Just sayin’.
There is so much more to life than stressing over working out and eating clean. I wish more people had the opportunity to experience other cultures and realise that it doesn’t have to be so hard. As I said in my other post, maybe if people just chilled the eff out and ate to their heart’s content, the world would be a better (and thinner!) place.
Have you ever followed a European style of eating? Have you ever experienced success breaking some of the traditional diet rules?