Italy can be a very dangerous place to travel. And, no, I’m not referring to violent crime or natural disasters. It’s that steaming plate of pasta, those cream-filled cornetti and the irresistible assortment of antipasti.
I hear it time and time again. “I know I’m putting on weight, but this food is so amazing!”
It’s true, the food in Italy can seem irresistible. But it’s also really aggravating to pack on a few pounds during a vacation. To add fuel to the fire, those fashionable Italians tend to stay so slim. How do they manage that while being surrounded with all that fabulous food? Well, I’ve discovered some their secrets over the years, plus my own years of travel have taught me a few things about how to stay in shape while you’re away from home.
Here are some of my favorite ways to avoid putting on vacation pounds, and (even better) to feel healthy and energetic throughout your trip while still enjoying the incredible foods that Italy has to offer.
- Order the Secondo with a Contorno. Contrary to popular belief, not all Italian meals include pasta. In fact, where I live in the region of Umbria, grilled meats and fish – and loads of vegetables – are staples in the local diet. When you’re dining out at a local trattoria, the many choices of antipasti, primi and secondi can be confusing. Sometimes people go straight for the pasta dishes because they are the most familiar, but consider ordering a secondo of meat, fish, game or poultry instead. Add a contorno (side dish) of vegetables (grilled or roasted are my favorites) and you’ve created a protein-based meal that will power you through another afternoon of sightseeing, without loading you up with those gluteny carbs.
- Eat Like an Italian. All-you-can-eat is a vulgar concept in Italy. Even though Italians might enjoy multiple courses during a Sunday pranzo (lunch), the portions are typically very moderate, and the lunch will likely last all day long – sometimes into the evening hours – with plenty of time in between courses to relax, talk and take a walk or two. Although some restaurants cater to large-portion-loving Americans, trattorie in rural areas (those off the beaten strada) serve moderately sized, delectable portions to all. So you’ll leave feeling satisfied instead of overly full.
- Walk Like an Italian. Italians walk … a lot. They walk to – or through – town, they walk to see friends, they walk their dogs and they walk just for the sake of walking. They even have a name for a late afternoon walk – la passeggiata. Plus, the only way to really see those charming medieval villages that dot the hillsides throughout Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio is to walk right through them. For a real kick, bring along a pedometer to keep track of your steps, or better yet download a pedometer App to your phone. (There are many good ones.) You’ll probably be stunned at the end of the day about how much ground you’ve covered – and the number of calories that you’ve burned!
- Apples, Nuts … and Even Dark Chocolate. Those are my personal won’t-travel-without-them foods. I travel nearly everywhere – in the car, on airplanes, on hikes – with a bag of nuts, an apple and a couple of squares of dark chocolate. Even if my husband, Luigi, and I are off to have lunch in one of our favorite villages, the nuts, apples and chocolate still come along. That way if the restaurant is closed for no apparent reason (happens more than you might think) we can nibble on our snacks instead of getting overly hungry and grabbing the first junk food that comes along, Of course water is a must, as well. Lots of it. We don’t go anywhere without a bottle or two of water!
- BYOB – Bring Your Own Breakfast. Going out for breakfast in Italy means stopping by the local bar for a quick cappuccino or espresso, accompanied by a pastry of some sort. But when you’re starting out on a day of sightseeing, that’s probably the worst way to do it. A breakfast with a protein is a must and I’ve fallen in love with protein shakes. The protein powder travels well in ziplock bags, portable blenders or manual shakers are easy to find, and you can add berries and chia seeds to your morning shake so you have plenty of fiber – a must when traveling! (I travel with chia seeds because they’re packed with fiber and omega-3, but don’t need to be ground into meal like flax seeds do.)
These 5 favorite ways to keep off the extra pounds while traveling are a simple yet effective way to stay healthy and fit as you travel through Italy. Plus, feeling great while exploring villages and sites off the beaten strada will make your visit all the more special – and oh-so unforgettable!
Pamela Haack is an author, specialized travel consultant and founder of Off the Beaten Strada where she creates and hosts custom retreats in central Italy for travelers who wish to be immersed in the history, culture and traditions of the region.
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