Why Are The Italians So Skinny? (and how you can adopt their strategy)

Deora Salvalaggio

The moment you step off the plane in Italy you’re struck by one thing almost immediately.  Everyone is skinny.  I mean really skinny.   How can this be?  Doesn’t everyone look like Tony Soprano?  Nope.  Not at all.  Those images you’re probably making in your head are Italian-Americans not Italians in Italy.  Big difference.

Why are many Italian-Americans huge and many Italians from Italy thin as a rail?  It seems that when you mix the American part, with the Italian part, things get larger.  Kim and I just got back from a week in Vegas.  Vegas is an obvious cross section of America so these differences became glaringly obvious.  In walking around the casinos we couldn’t help but notice how massive everyone has become.  I was recently talking to a pilot friend of mine who said that one of the reasons the airlines had to limit the number of  bags on flights was because the average weight of passengers has gone up 20 pounds!  Seat belt extensions didn’t even exist a few years ago, now they have at least a dozen on every flight.

Here’s what’s so confusing to me about this.  Isn’t the  “let’s slow down for hours and eat pasta” an Italian thing?  The Italians are the ones that have like 5 courses right?  How are they pulling this off?  What about their neighbors, the French?  Don’t they eat cream so thick that it would choke a donkey?  Do they have special DNA that repels fat?  Is it all that cigarette smoking?  What is it?

Jet Set Body

If you spend some time with our Mediterranean counter parts you’ll observe a few things. Their eating habits on the surface may appear to be unremarkable, but if you dig deeper you’ll notice some significant differences.

1. They fill up on salad with almost every meal.

2. The portions are 25% less of what ours are.

3. They never snack or grab something as a quick bite in the kitchen (they eat as a family at specific times).

4. They only eat what’s fresh and never processed. It’s all about family, friends and whole food. Most Americans eat food from a box rather then from the earth.

5. They use olive oil in almost everything (helps fill you up with little downside).

6. For dessert it’s almost always fruit and nuts (rarely Gelato).

7. Fast food is almost non-existent in the culture (many McDonald’s have had to close down).

8. Meal time is a sacred event. You take your time, have great conversations, stories and laughter. Meals are eaten slowly, which means, you’re not forced in to a rushed indigestion coma and have plenty of time for digestion.

Food is so fresh in Italy that often times there isn’t even a menu in restaurants. The waiter will tell you what’s fresh and in season and create something each day around that. When the courses come out it does not look like the size of Maggiano’s portions. It’s more like the size of your fist.

So what do you think?

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11 Responses to Why Are The Italians So Skinny? (and how you can adopt their strategy)

  1. Stephanie says:

    I think you are dead on. All the things you’ve mentioned are things I have tried to adopt in my lifestyle. Even though I do think those eating habits are more difficult to attain in American society, it is doable. But it takes effort and consistency. My life is so busy that sometimes it is easier to buy prepackaged or preprocessed foods, but what are we giving up for that extra time we are saving by not buying whole, natural foods and preparing them ourselves? Our health! Is that worth it? I think every american should be asking themselves this question.

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  2. Trina says:

    This is so true! I visited Venice & Greece this summer and it was the best cuisine I’ve had. my stomach actually had to adjust when I returned home. The food in Italy was so fresh. I need to move to Italy!

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  3. Mikey says:

    Whole foods yum. Living abroad for the past 4 years, one thing that strikes me when I go home to the USA is the size of our food portions and individual foods themselves. An onion, for example, is 3 times bigger than than ones I find in Europe? This can’t be natural! haha

    One thing I would add to the reasons for staying in good shape is the amount of walking tends to be higher. Living in Amsteradam, sure I have bikes to get around, but none of my friends would hesitate or complain to go out if it meant walking for 15-20mins. Maybe my friends back in the Atlanta-area would feel the same (although I think not) but getting around is almost impossible without using some sort of wheels….things are just too far!

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  4. James Clark says:

    I agree with all of your observations. I would also add the drink choices to the mix. You wont find Italians drinking buckets of soda like that you get at 7/11. Also the coffee in America (or the coffee flavored beverage would be an better description) are so big and that you have to add lots of sugar to flavor it. Compare this to the Italian habit of having many espressos throughout thr day.

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  5. Giovani says:

    Hey I am from morocco and I really love ur videos and blog .. Very helpful very rich of info .: thank you and keep it coming

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  6. J. says:

    That´s Mediterranean way of life, not only Italian.

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  7. natan says:

    Nice start to European life.
    Also, the fact that you take your time to eat synchronizes your appetite and your food intake. Knowing that it take about 20 min for your brain to send you a sign that you’re full, you now easily understand that rushing up on your meals makes you eat way too much. It has always been the fast food strategy.
    Finally, you have probably noticed that we do dress differently than in most of the US, except NYC, fashion is an essential of the Italian/French culture in which weight is a crime. Just try to be slightly overweight and dress properly…..good luck.
    From France with Love.

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  8. Mila says:

    I am so glad I read this article!!

    I would love to change my lifestyle to that of an italian after reading this. I mean, I do eat salads, fruits and snacks (bruschetta with tomato and garlic mmm!!) but not with the family. It’s more like a time to refuel the body than it is to spend time with the ones you love and talk about everyday doings.

    As for the westernised society, I’m not american but it is sort of like that here in australia too. Big portions of food.. (Not as big as america though.. their portions are ridiculous!!)

    My personal opinion of Australia, (to why we rank top ten for the country with the most obese people) is because we are a very relaxed, easy-going, beer drinking nation (personally, I dislike beer with a passion). Not only that but I mean, we take worklife and life in general in stride. We don’t rush or aspire to expecting too much to soon.

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  9. Nabil says:

    The “mediterranean lifestyle” is seriously very healthy compared to processed lifestyles most people follow. It’s not only the food,but also simple personal habits that most people have in these regions that make a difference,since they have a very healthy diet with minimal overeating,they’re more active and go out more for fresh air,physical activity etc…
    Lebanon has a lot of fit people because of the basic lifestyle they have,the food,cooked with olive oil,a lot of salads,fruits and of course,grilled food instead of fried. Climate,is a huge factor,the better the weather,the more people would want to go out unlike in many other tropical countries not too far from this region where the heat and humidity tend to drain the energy out of even seasoned athletes! Fashion is a huge part of it,so they are sensitive about their looks which is also a part of many other mediterranean cultures…many cultures do not have this inherently. For example,in India,where I live,only very recently have people started question their way of life,in urban areas at least,but it has taken over leading to radical changes in the way people eat,work etc.
    Living healthy seriously helps in becoming a balanced person!

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  10. Mark says:

    Until the cost of real food becomes affordable for the middle-classes, this will be a pipe-dream. Real food is a luxury in America. We have a two-tier food system in America. The bottom half buys their unhealthy, cheap, processed foods at Walmart, and the top half shops at alternative stores, such as Whole Foods. I’m generalizing here, but I’d wager everything I own that it’s true most of the time.

    Healthy dry goods in America are fairly inexpensive, which is good. Whole wheat pasta, beans, oatmeal, etc. The problem is the cost of produce. Mediterranean countries have an abundance of fresh fruit. It is often served as dessert. They also have the perfect climate for growth.

    Honestly though, the real issue is that Americans don’t move as much anymore. High-caloric, processed foods are no match for increased physical activity. No gym memberships or expensive equipment are needed. Just walk more. That’s it. Italy doesn’t have as many fitness enthusiasts as America, yet they manage to keep the weight off. Walking more is key.

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  11. Joe says:

    I haven’t been to Italy, though I hope to some day, but I have been to Spain and Portugal many times, and a few times to France, and I have been immediately struck by the same observation as soon as I get off the plane… and as soon as I get back to the States.

    I think all of the observations about eating habits in the Mediterranean are spot on, but especially the one about eating being a social activity. There is another interesting statistical result being pondered around the blogosphere about how Italians spend the least amount of time on their computers of all the OECD countries (Spain is also way down there). I don’t think it is a coincidence. Spaniards and Italians would much rather walk around, see and be seen, and interact with other people face to face as opposed to eating out of a box in front of their keyboards.

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