Healthy Living

6 Italian Girl Wellness Hacks I Learned in Italy That Improved My Life

living la dolce vita
written by MICHELLE KING
italy wellness girl"
italy wellness girl
Source: Dupe Photos
Source: Dupe Photos

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 in the fall, I was surprised that I came home more energized. How could I eat pasta, gelato, and cheese on repeat 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—from enjoying carbs to living longer—of the Italian lifestyle. Here are six Italian girl 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. Build movement into daily activities   

Italians know better than to take one HITT class and be sedentary the rest of the day. Rather, they incorporate physical activity into their daily routines, like walking to the store and tending to their gardens. 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. I easily reached 10,000 steps a day, and I noticed walking after eating improved my digestion.

Although it’s challenging to walk 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 making this moment of calmness after the workday a habit gives us a chance to reconnect and easily increase our daily movement. 

2. Enjoy carbs in all their forms

Before Italy, I’d bought into the misconception 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 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 big bowl of fruit, and I ended my days with a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine. Contrary to what diet culture tells us, 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. When entire food groups, such as carbs and dairy, are excluded, there is a higher chance of constipation, energy loss, reduced bone strength and density, and low immunity.  

3. Experience farm-to-table dining

The Tuscan countryside is scattered with agriturismos, 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 and gathered that morning. 

As Americans, we don’t often stop to think about the quality of food we eat or where it comes from. 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 flavorful without the need to add filler ingredients, which 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 farmers’ market, and it 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 cue Netflix at the end of the day for dinner. While it may be second nature and 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, it gets in the way of you being fully mindful to allow your digestive system to relax

Italians approach eating differently. You won’t find them eating lunch on the go or staring at a TV screen during dinner. Instead, Italians have long lunches and dinners, often with many courses, 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 meals. This means no more screens at mealtime, focusing on what I’m eating, and implementing an aperitivo and antipasti (think: wine and a charcuterie plate) every now and then. When the weather is nice, I’ll dine alfresco, and when I dine inside, I light a candle and turn on my favorite Spotify playlist.  

5. Embrace dolce far niente

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 dolce far niente—literally, the sweetness of doing nothing. Taking the time to appreciate long lunches, evening strolls, and kicking back with a few friends and a glass of wine aren’t occasional treats for the natives—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. The result? I return to my to-dos—be it work or household chores—with a renewed perspective. 

6. Prioritize quality time with friends and family

Longevity isn’t purely determined by genes; the social connections you maintain can play an equally important role. A 2017 study showed that fostering strong social connections reduces stress, enhances mood, and increases longevity. And Italians only further prove what research has demonstrated. Take Sardinia, Italy, the first Blue Zone community (where people not only live longer, but also enjoy a high quality of life in their old age) to be identified, for example. Sardinians put family first and gather every afternoon to laugh with each other. Bottom line: Whether it’s laughing together, la passeggiata, or extended meals, Italians prioritize weaving a strong sense of community into their daily lives. 

As for how I adopted the Italian way of socialization into my own life, I now look forward to my walking dates with my husband, alfresco meals spent with friends that last hours on end, and striking up conversations with my yoga students after class. After all, social health is self-care too.