Observations from eating in Italy

I’m just back from three amazing weeks holiday in Italy. Wow what a place! I fell in love with everything about the culture, food, people, landscape, history, art… so many wonderful things.

Of course being on holiday in any country offers only an observer view, but from the place of traveller there were a few things I noticed about the Italian attitude toward food that I loved – so I wanted to share them.

I’m not suggesting the Italian people don’t have their share of disordered eating behaviours and clinical eating disorders - some research suggests eating disorder rates are as high in Italy as the rest of Europe. Sadly it seems that problematic eating behaviours can be found in every cultural group and every country.

There were however many wonderful things I noticed about the Italian food culture, here are a few of them:

1.     When possible, share your meals with others.

Communal meals and shared plates are a big part of mealtimes in Italy. The Italian style (as with many traditional cultures) is to have shared plates in the centre of the table, allowing everyone to help themselves to a variety of foods. Of course, this requires a pretty good sense of internal appetite regulation, and for some having their own plate of food pre-served is a helpful way to ensure they’re getting what they need – but for those who are able to share meals in this way, it can be a real celebration of mealtimes.

2.     Savour, taste, enjoy, and celebrate food.

Italian food is beautiful, colourful, textural, and appetising on so many levels. It’s a food culture where people take pride in the way food is presented, right down to the way a few tomatoes, cheese and basil can look spread on a plate. The experience of eating can be so much more enjoyable when we engage a number of our senses at the same time, with food that’s pleasurable in appearance, smell, taste, texture, and maybe also enhancing mealtimes with pleasurable sound (music or nature).

3.     Eat regularly and moderately.

Having a variety of foods available on a regular basis can help reduce the fear or stigma associated with any particular foods, and avoid the ‘all-or-nothing’ response we can experience if we consider any foods to be ‘forbidden’. Pasta and pizza are a great example – these foods are enjoyed regularly in combination with a variety of other foods, so there’s a natural balance that's facilitated by that variety.

4.     Enjoy fresh, seasonal, local produce whenever possible.

A traditional approach to Italian cooking focuses on taking great quality ingredients and not interfering with them too much, to highlight the natural qualities of the ingredients. The food is often very simple and as a result, full of flavour and texture.

Exploring different foods and ways of eating can be such an enjoyable and integral part of travel, and a great way to experience a different culture. For some people who struggle with this kind of flexibility in eating, an impending holiday can provide great motivation to work on developing a more flexible and free attitude toward eating.

Psychological and Dietetic Therapies can provide helpful tools to do this – contact us if you would like to find out more.

Blog written by Janet Lowndes, Director and Principal Psychologist at Mind Body Well