The Italy Diet: Just Don’t

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERACan I tell you about the time I went to Italy and it was the beginning of the end of my terrible diet?

About a year after I had vowed to get my “best” body ever, I was ready to take a three week vacation to Italy. I had dreamed of going to Italy ever since I was in high school and now it was finally happening.

The itinerary included Venice and as many towns in Tuscany we could fit in, with Sienna and Florence as the main events.

There was only one problem: how the hell was I going to stay on my diet once I was surrounded by so much wonderful, non-diet-approved Italian food?? The “Points” value of all that cheese alone was incalculable. In my regular life, I was walking around in a mild to moderate state of hungry most of the time. I was also a strict pescetarian at the time, for reasons which are still unfathomable to me because they had nothing to do with my health or my love of animals.

If you are thinking right now, “What’s the big deal? Everyone eats what they want on vacation!” then you, my friend, have not been to a Weight Watchers meeting. When someone declared gravely, “I am going on vacation,” we would all nod in sympathy and rally around the person with suggestions of how they would be able to stay “on plan” and not gain weight. Then the leader would say, “But of course, enjoy yourself. It shouldn’t be all about the food anyway,” and what she really meant was, keep dieting.

And when someone came back from vacation, having gained a few pounds because it is so miserable to diet on holiday, the confessional would take on the proportions of a mental health crisis. Between the pre-vacation panic and the post-vacation guilt, you’d wonder why anyone on a diet would bother to go. Ironically, sometimes the vacation is the reason we wanted to lose weight in the first place!

But I digress. Off to Italy I went.

In Venice, I woke up to a breakfast of brioche and chocolate spread. Did you know chocolate spread was a thing in Italy?! I didn’t! I spread the chocolate over all of the little breads and pastries salaciously. Was I allowed to eat this? Do they even have Weight Watchers in Italy*?? I was convinced that none of the Italians I had seen on the street the day before would hesitate. So I ate it and then wished for more. For three days in Venice, it came.

Quickly I learned that in Italy, pizza is not considered a junk food. It’s just food! Vegetables were abundant on menus everywhere – but not just sad, fat free affairs. No! Roasted eggplant, peppers, mushrooms and zucchini swam in rich green olive oil. Ohhh, my diet! I ate them anyway. I would starve back in America, but in Italy, it seemed wrong to even consider it.

In Tuscany, I dined in a castle where I ate delectable, tender tuna marinated in – you guessed it – olive oil. I ate pasta of every kind, in marinara, oil, pine nuts, cheese – too many “Points” to count, so I gave up. I even tasted my companion’s wild boar sauce – and to this day I regret that I wouldn’t let myself order a helping of my own.

I had an entire meal of chocolate – a Nutella crepe, hot cocoa of gooey chocolate lava. I remembered thinking, this is it, I’ve given up on diet food, I’m just going to eat chocolate for every meal now (as a now well-fed person, this does not actually sound appetizing). The death knell of my diet began to toll. Real food is beckoningGelato

Oh yes, and I ate gelato. Everyday.

I couldn’t believe Italians were eating food like this every day…but they were! All the time! And they weren’t worried about it!

I still worried and obsessed over every bite. I still worried about what the scale would say when I got back. This did not add to the enjoyment of my vacation.

I came back from my Italian holiday having gained only 2 pounds (and the sad fact doesn’t escape me that I can tell you exactly what my weight was before and after vacation 12 years ago). But in the following months, having tasted heaven, it became more and more of a private hell to maintain such a low body weight. At the same time, I wanted to eat more of the healthy (yes, healthy, this is the Mediterranean Diet you know!), scrumptious foods I had eaten in Italy without turning it into a diet-friendly abomination. These two endeavors could not be reconciled with each other, and over the next three years I inched up 10 pounds (and of course, I would gain more after I really gave up dieting for good. WORTH IT.). Italy had won. As it rightfully should have.

I will go back to Italy someday, not on a diet. I don’t imagine gorging on everything I see because, being adequately fed, I no longer have that need. Nor will I worry about every bite I put in my mouth. I simply know I’ll enjoy whatever foods I want and eat as much as I need to feel satisfied. I know I will sometimes eat gelato just for the hell of it (but probably not every day as that no longer sounds appetizing). My focus will be on a lot of other things, too, that I probably missed the first time when I was there on a diet, hungrily worrying and obsessing about food every second.

*they don’t

Coming soon: Podcast!

I’m super excited to announce an upcoming collaboration between the awesome Aaron Flores, RDN and myself: The Dietitians Unplugged Podcast! Topics will focus on Health at Every Size®, Intuitive Eating and body positivity. The podcast will be available on both our sites as well as iTunes. Watch for the announcement soon!