Known for their excessively long lunches, luxurious beach holidays, and shameless promiscuity, Italians truly live a sweet and unapologetic lifestyle. Italy is a fantastic place to learn how to slow down and savor the delights of life. What is most fascinating however, is the longevity experienced by this indulgent culture.
Sitting at the dinner table my boyfriend’s grandparents at eleven o’clock at night, we share stories and I watch their tenderness towards one another. Both in their late eighties and practically perfect health, you see that their joy and wellness does not come from following every dietary rule there is or limiting wine to one glass per night.
Their health comes from living a full life – finding love, holding family at the core of life, and taking time in their daily rituals. They take vacations, drink wine, stay up late and eat bread (and pasta!) at every single meal. They grow gardens and cook extensively, ride bikes, and enjoy the natural beauties of the country. I’m quite sure guilt doesn’t even exist in Italy – indulgence is to be enjoyed it and every sweet moment savored. Everything is done in moderation but also with passion.
Living holistically means living in harmony with your surroundings. A truly happy and fulfilled life does not come from limiting yourself through diets or pushing yourself through extreme workouts. It comes from a community of loving friends and family, enjoying the beauty that surrounds us and giving thanks for the many joys that life has to offer. Here I offer a few simple tips I learned from my truly holistic Italian family.
1. Take your time – Slow down, savor the goodness in life and live in the present. Don’t think about your next task, meal or deadline. Take time to listen, taste, smell and enjoy each detail of every experience you have.
2. Eat whole foods – One of the many perks of technology is that we now have access to processed foods that make cooking and eating a lot faster. Unfortunately what we now know is that these convenient meals are costing more than they save as they are filled with dangerous chemicals and fattening sweeteners. This is why it’s so important to base your meals around whole foods. Growing your own garden is the most amazing way to get back to your roots, to self-sustain and to have fresh foods ready for every meal. Just a small herb garden can be so healing in itself. I recognize that this is a luxury and many of us do not have the space or time, so the next best thing is to take your time at the farmers market or grocery store choosing whole grains and veggies for your meals. A wholesome and nutrient rich meal should be filled with bright fruits and veggies. If pasta or delicious local cheese is part of it, all the more to enjoy, just make sure to balance.
3. Cook your own meals – You don’t have to be a great or creative cook to eat delicious meals. Dishes like sliced tomatoes or asparagus in olive oil, salt and pepper is a fantastic addition to a meal. Decide what veggies you and your family enjoy and go from there. Cooking and eating well doesn’t have to be complex. A great rule of thumb is to cook once and eat twice – prepare something that can be stored and fixed for dinner that night or lunch the next day. It saves you time and money and means you don’t have to worry so much about every meal.
4.Eat your largest meal at lunch time – Between twelve and two P.M. our digestive systems are working at their full potential, so this is the best time to eat a lot as our bodies can process and utilize nutrients and energy most efficiently. Many people hesitate to do this as they don’t want to feel sluggish afterwards, but if you eat low glycemic load foods such as vegetables and whole grains I assure you this won’t happen. Feel free to enjoy a coffee or desert also, as your body can process it well at this point in the day. A lot of us eat a large meal for dinner but this puts a toll on our bodies as the evening is for winding down and re-energizing for the next day, not spending extreme amounts of energy digesting a calorie dense meal.
5. Incorporate physical movement into your routine – Because gas is so expensive in Italy (almost $10 a gallon!) and things are so close, most people find it much more convenient to ride their bikes or walk. This has a double benefit as it gets the heart rate up and pumps fresh blood throughout the system, improves brain function, and keeps one looking fresh and feeling young and energized. Staying active doesn’t mean pushing your body to the limit five days a week in a gym; many studies show that thirty minutes of gentle movement a day proves to have positive effects on most people. Simply using the stairs instead of the elevator at work, taking your dog (or going with a child or friend) for a thirty minute walk in the evenings, riding your bike three days a week instead of driving has excellent effects on your physical and mental health. Find what works for you and commit to it.
These steps may seem simple but the point is to simplify your routine. As the burdens of work, family and responsibilities build up over time, life gets in the way of living. Our bodies and minds suffer as a result and time flies by without notice. It’s time to slow down, bask in the sweetness of life and nurture our souls. Choose one of these ideas and see how it feels. Once you incorporate one positive change into your lifestyle, many other good things come effortlessly. Good luck and let me know what works for you!