I’ll be the first to admit it: I love carbs. Call it a casual enjoyment or an all out obsession, I’ve never met a pasta or a piece of bread I haven’t liked. So, when I decided to come to Italy, I was ready to dive headfirst into a carb-fest like no other. Little did I know that one of my favorite activities (eating copious amounts of cheeses and pastas) would turn into one of the biggest struggles I’ve had abroad. As it turns out, eating nothing but pizza and pasta every day isn’t the dream that I expected it to be. Rather, it’s been something of a jumping off point when taking my diet and overall wellness into consideration.
It is universally known that Italian culture is centered around food and Italians take pride in what they eat and cook. If anything more than crumbs are left on your plate after a meal or (gasp) you ask for a container for leftovers, the employees of the restaurant take it to heart and may even be insulted, thinking you didn’t enjoy your meal or don’t appreciate the quality of the food (even though you always do). I’ve found that this happens quite often, at least for me, because my eyes are bigger than my stomach.
While the gnocchi and the basket of bread on the table both look equally delicious, there’s only room for so much. Mangia, the locals encourage, eat. But the longer I remain in Florence, the harder it seems to partake in the culture of food. In Italy, having multi-course meals that span for hours on end isn’t uncommon, and you often see people just sitting down for dinner as late as 10:30 at night. It’s inconceivable to Americans, who eat early and quickly, but for Italians it’s the norm. This change in the eating culture has been quite an adjustment. No longer am I craving pancakes at 9 in the morning, but rather I want brioche at 7, or pasta at 1.
It seems my days are centered around food, which I’m beginning to take issue with. While eating lunch, my roommates and I talk about where we’re going to go to dinner in five hours, not appreciating the pizza right in front of us. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I think about the carbonara I’m going to eat later, or the margherita pizza I had last night. I’ve eaten more prosciutto in the last two weeks than I have in the rest of my life combined. It’s a beautiful thing, being surrounded by such amazing, fresh, high quality food, but it has made me reexamine my view on carbs. While I still enjoy digging into a huge bowl of pasta, I’ve realized how important it is to take a step back and look at not just how the food tastes, but how I feel after eating it.
Italian food is heavy. It seems to solely be based on carbs and sauces. While this is right up my ally, eventually I start to crave vegetables which has never happened before. That said, I always end up asking myself , “why would I ever order a salad when there is spaghetti with homemade Bolognese sauce, or fresh baked bread, or even hearty Tuscan soup that could be ordered instead.” Alternatively, I would much rather go out to a restaurant and have a delicious meal cooked for me (I like to imagine that a seasoned Italian nonna is stirring up the fresh sauce for my rigatoni) than go grocery shopping, waste precious time cooking, and ultimately eating food that barely tastes half as good as what I can just by at a restaurant. However, the longer I stay in Italy, the longer I realize that this lifestyle is no longer sustainable. Though I haven’t seen much of a weight gain (this may have to do with the 12 miles I walk a day), I have noticed a distinct change in feeling.
It’s not that I have ever eaten that healthy in the U.S., I am a college student, obviously, but I felt more willing and equipped to cook myself relatively healthy meals; that is, I feel fine throwing vegetables in some rice or eating a salad with some chicken without feeling like I’m missing out on the wonderful food three blocks outside of my apartment door. When I’m in Italy, eating carbs on carbs, I feel a weight in my stomach. I’m the exact same size as before, but I feel twenty pounds heavier, like I’m bloated all the time. After a few weeks of this, I realized I couldn’t keep up eating the way I had (a pastry for breakfast, a large meal of pizza or pasta and, of course, gelato). So I marched to the store and bought myself some leafy greens and did the unthinkable- I ate a salad. In a world filled with pizza and pasta, I ate lettuce. Since then, my friends and I have begun doing this a few times a week, and I have already noticed an improvement. I don’t feel sick all the time and honestly, it makes authentic Italian food taste better when I’m not eating it constantly.
Obviously anyone would prefer to dig in to a giant bowl of pasta rather than a plate of carrots, especially in Italy. It’s not as if I’ll stop eating pizza or pasta, and I don’t think I’ll ever consume carbs at a normal rate. However, when instead of feeling constantly tired, overstuffed and obsessed with food, I’ve realized I need a change. Even inserting some green beans or broccoli into my diet with pasta still made me feel slightly better about my health. That said, despite all of this veggie talk, no one would ever be able to quell my excessive gelato consumption- and why would they want to?
Cover photo caption: Summer-Gelato from La Carria, my favorite gelato shop in all of Florence (courtesy of Jenn Tran)