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I ponder this question every time I’m there.

Certainly the portion sizes are much smaller than they are here. And the food is most definitely tastier… but you’d think that with the food being so much fresher and more tasty that it would be easy to overeat. So how do they stay so slim?

One thing I really noticed when I came back to Australia this time was the bombardment of food and diet analysis in the media. First this diet is supposed to be better. Then they demonise fats. Then that diet is better. Then its not fats, but carbs that are the enemy. There’s the Paleo bandwagon. The Gluten-free bandwagon. The Clean-Eating bandwagon… take your pick. It seems that every day there’s some new slant on losing weight and staying slim.

I don’t see that in Italy. I see people just eating real food. And enjoying it. Taking real pleasure in it.

Example 1. In Italy, one morning at my favourite bar, I saw a group of ladies meet up for a morning coffee. A couple of them were wearing gym clothes, perhaps they’d been playing tennis or walking, but they weren’t sweaty. Another lady arrived on a bicycle, and two others joined them on foot. It was about 11 o’clock in the morning. I was going through my vocabulary list, sipping espresso and people watching… I noticed they all started with an espresso, but as the hour wore on they went straight to Prosecco. It wasn’t even midday! You’d never see that in Sydney!! It would be unthinkable here. I watched carefully… they only ordered one each and made it last, (some ordered mineral water too) then they went about their day.

In contrast, I often go for a 7km walk with friends here in Sydney, but I’m almost certain that if I suggested going for a drink (an alcoholic drink) afterwards they would look at me sideways, I would be relegated to the pile of sad alcoholic chubsters and pointed in the direction of AA. Which is kinda strange, because we all enjoy a drink on the weekend.


this was lunch one day in Venice. The panino was tiny but delicious. Truffled mortadella and a glass of unfiltered Prosecco.

Example 2. We were in a pizza restaurant in Rome. It was lunch time, mid week. Sitting across the aisle from us were two young women, I’d say in their early 20’s. Clearly Italian, not tourists. They ordered a pizza, and when it came, they reached for the olive oil (locally produced, fresh, and unfiltered) and drizzled it over the top. Unthinkable. I’m almost certain that any young Aussie woman would shun the extra olive oil with a barge pole (see my earlier comment about fat being the enemy).

So what did I do? I too, drizzled my pizza with olive oil… and you know what? it was delicious. The oil was cloudy, peppery, earthy and completely brought that pizza to life.

Here, in Sydney, if I’m eating out during the day, the usual dish that my friends (and I) would choose is a salad, with no dressing. Maybe with grilled chicken or fish. Or soup. No bread. No flavour. No life. Its just sad. Never with a glass of bubbles or wine because we have to drive everywhere and can’t risk a drink.

Are we such a bunch of puritans that we can’t enjoy real flavourful food without fear of gaining a kilo or being labelled alcoholics? Or is it just because our days are ruled by the car? Or is it cost? Or do we all save our calorie splurges for the weekend?

Here’s the thing. I notice when I eat out in Italy that the food is so fresh, so tasty and flavourful that there’s just no need to eat too much of it in order to feel satisfied. One can feel satisfied with a much smaller portion because it is so delicious. Its possible to have just one glass of prosecco or wine and stop there, because its deliciously satisfying.

In Italy its possible to sit outside in a lovely piazza or in a lovely bar and drink a glass of Prosecco with your meal without having to step into a windowless pub, a place made for men. And the other big thing I noticed is that this kind of pleasure is taken in combination with the daily walk or after cycling into town. The lovely Italian ladies I saw were all doing some form of exercise, all working it into their every day lives. When I go for a hike (or to the gym) I have to drive there because thats where the gym is located, or thats where the dedicated walking or cycling paths are, and so that I can run my errands afterwards, but it kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?

There are certainly more gluten-free options available than before, but on the whole Italians don’t seem to demonise any particular food or drink. They don’t seem to jump on the latest fad diet. I notice their portions are much smaller than ours, but generally of much higher quality. They just eat real food. Good quality food. Not loads of it. And no junk. Why would you bother with artificially flavoured junk when real food tastes so much better?

I’ve tried to incorporate these things I noticed into my life here. I try to source the best possible ingredients that I can afford, and to incorporate exercise into my every day life, and ditch the car when I can…. but its tough. Our landscape is dominated by the car and the supermarket. It can be very difficult to source locally produced unprocessed food (like the unfiltered olive oil I tried) here in Sydney. And we have designated places to exercise which we must drive to. But its interesting to note the differences and to learn from them.

It makes me wonder about the so-called Mediterranean Diet the media talks about. I think its more than just the constituent ingredients that makes the diet so good. It has to do with building towns that are conducive to easy walking or cycling, that have easy access to fresh local produce at frequent farmers markets. Towns that have nice places to gather with friends. Its interesting that scientists think its all to do with constituent ingredients or even just the diet ~ because I think it ought to be called the mediterranean lifestyle… and unless we rebuild our cities it will never really be replicated in the new world.

what do you think?