by Shelley Cannioto
I have been lucky enough to travel and live overseas for a number of years. I loved almost everything about it and was fascinated to compare attitudes, lifestyles, and habits of other cultures to what I had always experienced in America. I met my husband while I was living in England. He is Italian so I moved to Italy shortly before we were married. Italians have a knack for always looking beautiful and slim despite having a passionate love of food!
My first holiday season was one of wonder, to say the least. In Italy, Christmas is not actually the largest ‘feast’. They have seven (SEVEN!) food-centered holidays in total which begin on December 8, then you have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Santo Stefano (Dec. 26). You rest a few days before celebrating New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The last feast is on January 7. I felt like I was suffering a delicious but uncomfortable death! All the mamas and nonnas spent days preparing their most delicious dishes and fully expected you to enjoy every morsel. We spent several hours around the table talking, eating and laughing. It was amazing. But I started to wonder if any of my clothes would fit after all of these multiple course meals. Each meal typically consisted of a charcuterie plate, pasta, risotto, meat, vegetables, bread, fruit, nuts, desserts, and alcohol!
Sadly, I was not blessed with a fast metabolism and have to watch everything I eat. I was curious as to how these slim people could eat like this and not really gain weight. Italians not only pay very close attention to how much they eat but also to the quality of their food. They opt for fresh food almost 100% of the time, which is important to note.
However, I would say the trick to ward off weight gain is how they eat after the holidays. Six days a week you will find live cooking shows on TV, which usually last a few hours. This was not a surprise since Italians love to cook and love to eat! After the holidays on January 8th, I turned on the TV not really looking forward to watching two hours of cooking. I was tired of eating, I was tired of food, and I was well overfed. But there was nothing else to watch so on the TV went. That day a dietician was introduced to the audience. I would learn over the next few years that she is a regular on the program every January. She gave advice daily for one week. What she taught changed how I approached the holidays. She said that it is important to give your body and digestive system a break. The break is temporary, lasting only a few days and you can decide how long you need. During those days, focus on eating basic foods. For instance, eat simple things like toast or plain yogurt for breakfast, minestrone or other broth soup for lunch, fruit for dessert, herbal teas, and a lot of green vegetables. The meals should be light and easy to digest. Also, you are less likely to be tempted to overeat.
I love the simplicity of the approach and typically use this in my life. This attitude helped me to change my habits during and after the holidays. Rather than eating food I may not want, I focus on what I do want and try to choose things that were fresh. I do not beat myself up over what I did eat or how much I ate; instead, I chose to start afresh with lighter foods that I enjoy just for a little while. Celebrations are important! But so is balance. We may not be able to avoid gaining a little weight in the holidays, but I see no reason to let that weight stay with me and think there is a pain-free, healthy way to avoid it.
Shelley Cannioto Contact
Shelley Cannioto is originally from Memphis but suffers from a bad case of wanderlust. Soon after graduating from college, she had the job offer of a lifetime that took her to the United Kingdom for six years. While there she met her husband Stefano who convinced her to move to Italy. They have a four-year-old son, Matteo, who keeps her active and alert. Shelley has worked in Pharmaceutical Sciences at UTHSC in Memphis for three years.