If I could live out of my suitcase, I would. Trying local food, visiting new places, and meeting interesting people fills my soul with happiness. However, the late nights, heavy meals, and few too many cocktails that usually accompany vacations leave my body feeling a bit blah. So, after visiting Italy this fall, I was surprised that I came home leaner and more energized. How could eat pasta, gelato, and unrestricted amounts of cheese and actually feel…healthier?
It turns out this is a pretty common experience for gals who visit the Land of Romance and Wine (AKA Italy). While many popular diets demonize Italian staples like pasta and pizza, Italy is one of the world’s healthiest countries. But you don’t have to live there to reap the benefits of the Italian lifestyle. Here are five wellness hacks I picked up from women in Italy that I’ve started incorporating into my life since I got home. Trust me–they make a huge difference.
1. Live an active lifestyle
Raise your hand if you’re guilty of busting your butt at a workout class only to sit at your desk the rest of the day. While some movement is better than no movement, living an active lifestyle is far healthier than only exercising an hour a day. In Italy, I didn’t maintain my usual structured workout routine, but I walked everywhere. Many of the Tuscan towns we visited didn’t allow cars within the city, so we explored the picturesque cobblestone paths by foot.
Although it’s challenging to move as much as we did on vacation on a daily basis, my husband and I did bring one habit home with us: la passeggiata. La Passeggiata is the Italian ritual of going on a leisurely evening stroll. The goal of this walk isn’t to break a sweat, but rather to catch up with loved ones. We’ve found that this moment of calmness after the workday gives us a chance to reconnect and easily increase our daily movement.
2. Enjoy carbs in all their forms
Before Italy, I’d fallen for the lie that carbs are the enemy, so my meals would solely revolve around veggies and protein, leaving me emotionally and physically unsatisfied. The lack of enthusiasm I had for my “healthy” meals and the level of intense restriction I put on myself set the groundwork for major carb cravings and late-night cookie binges.
When we got to Italy, I removed all of the restrictions I had set around food. I was determined to allow myself to fully experience all the cuisine Italy had to offer. I started my mornings with a ham and cheese croissant with a side of unlimited fruit and I ended my days with a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine. Contrary to what the diet industry says, I wasn’t left feeling sluggish and bloated. Rather, my energy improved, and allowing myself to indulge in foods I used to deem off limits eliminated the urge to binge eat.
Now that I’m home, I focus on cooking meals that make me feel my best physically and emotionally. For me, that means including carbs at every meal. If you’re still worried that carbs will wreck your wellness goals, you should know that dietitians have debunked the myth that carbs cause weight gain. In fact, restricting food groups in order to lose weight may actually backfire.
3. Eat locally-sourced foods
The Tuscan countryside is scattered with intimate Italian getaways known as agriturismos. These little retreats tucked away in the rolling hills are working Italian farms offering visitors dining and lodging. The one we stayed at produces its own wine that we enjoyed nightly. Others we visited produce their own olive oil and serve meals using ingredients grown on their property or sourced from nearby farms. These meals often included homemade pasta with a simple sauce, local veggies, cheeses, meats, and truffles they’d hunted that morning.
As Americans, we don’t often stop to think about the quality of food we eat. We look for hyper palatability first and foremost, which leads to an overconsumption of salt, sugar, and unhealthy cooking oils. However, in Italy, local ingredients take center stage at every meal. Since the ingredients are so fresh, meals are delicious without the need to add filler ingredients. This leads to both a tastier and healthier diet. Since we got home, I’ve focused on purchasing as many ingredients as I can from my local farmer’s market. This has encouraged me to get more creative in the kitchen and drastically increased our fruit and veggie consumption.
4. Romanticize your meals
If you’re anything like I was, you scroll Instagram while eating breakfast, work on your computer while shoveling down lunch, and curl up to Netflix at the end of the day for dinner. While it’s tempting to multitask while you eat, it can work against your wellness goals. Research has shown that looking at screens while eating can cause overeating, plus you are just not fully mindful to allow your digestive system to relax.
Italians approach eating differently. You won’t find them eating in front of a laptop at lunch or staring at a TV screen during dinner. They approach meals with a reverence we’ve lost in the United States. There’s no eating on the go or while distracted. Instead, Italians have long lunches and dinners, taking the time to savor each bite and catch up with friends. I don’t always have the time to dedicate an hour of enjoyment to each meal, but I have started romanticizing my food. This means no more screens at mealtime and focusing on what I’m eating. When the weather is nice, I’ll enjoy my meals outside, and in the evenings, I may light a candle and turn on my favorite Spotify playlist to accompany my dinner.
5. Prioritize leisure
I occasionally fall into the productivity trap. Eight-hour workdays easily become twelve-hour workdays, and Saturday mornings turn into an opportunity to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing. While I love my job, overworking leaves me uninspired, tired, and depressed. But after returning home from my trip to Italy, I noticed both my energy levels and excitement for my career rise.
Italians have perfected the art of relaxing. Long lunches, evening strolls, and kicking back with a few friends and a glass of wine aren’t occasional treats. They’re the norm. This balanced approach to life can help reduce stress, ultimately making you happier and more productive when you need to be. I now prioritize little pockets of relaxation throughout my day, which can look like reading a good book or ditching my laptop for a snuggle session with my dog.