12 Healthy Ways to Eat in Italy and NOT Gain Weight

Two Italian pizzas with cheese and vegetables

If you worry about gaining weight in Italy, you are not alone. There are so many foods to try that it seems impossible not to put on a few pounds. But don’t worry, I did some research to help you eat whatever you want and still stay slim.

Most people don’t gain any weight when on vacation in Italy. You are likely to remain the same or even lose some pounds. The food is served in smaller portions, and you will have lots of walking. Remember that weight gain depends on your body composition.

There are still many things you can do to avoid getting fat in Italy. So, I encourage you to keep reading if you want to learn these strategies.

1. Be Mindful With Wine

Drinking too much wine can actually make you gain weight. A single glass of red wine has around 80-120 of empty calories. So, it is best not to drink more than 1-2 glasses per day. If you exceed that amount, you may feel bloated and not enjoy your trip at all.

Also, you shouldn’t drink wine before having a meal. A 2007 study says that it will cause you to eat 25% more food. The best practice is to take wine after or throughout your dinner. Your body will absorb the alcohol faster, and you will feel a little less hungry.

It is very important to know what kind of food goes with wine. As a general rule, you should avoid drinking with salty foods. They only get along with sweet wines, which can have more than 45 g/l of sugar.

Make sure only to pick DOC and DOP wines as well. They are made with ingredients from the region. If you choose one with the IGT certification, it may use lower quality grapes.

2. Don’t Order Every Course

You will find five sections in Italian menus when eating at restaurants. However, don’t feel compelled to order every course. No one will blame or criticize you if you just get one. The portions are smaller than in the USA.

Nutritionist Giorgio Donegani suggests the “all-in or all half” rule. Basically, you should share your courses if you want to try everything. But if you’re going to eat an entire portion, you should only order a main course (primo or secondo). In this case, you can choose between an appetizer or dessert.

If you want to share your courses, simply say “un piatto vuoto per favore.” Otherwise, you could tell the waiter, “uno in due persone.” It is not weird to split meals in Italian restaurants. You can check out this post for more useful Italian words and phrases.

How to Order Primi Piatti and Antipasti

First courses or primi piatti include pasta, rice, and soups. You can eat them as a stand-alone meal if you want. Most of the time, a plate of Spaghetti alle Vongole should be enough for the rest of the day. 

If you want to lose or keep your weight, it is better to eat the first courses for lunch. This will allow you to have time to consume energy. You may not be able to burn calories if you choose to eat primi piatti at night. It is fine to eat pasta for dinner as long as it is lightly seasoned.

Also, you should avoid eating the bread or grissini that you find on the table. You will fill up before having the actual lunch. It is not a very good idea to eat pasta and bread in the same meal either. 

You can eat antipasti before pasta or meats. However, it might be too much for just one person. So, it is best to have someone to help you finish the plate. An appetizer can include vegetables, meats, seafood, and cheese. 

Spaghetti with seafood and fresh tomato sauce

How to Order Secondo and Contorno

Main courses or secondi piatti are portions of meat, fish, and chicken. They are a better choice for dinner than primi piatti. Usually, secondi are lighter than the first courses. This is because proteins will not turn into sugar and fat during digestion. 

If you order a second course, make sure you also have a Contorno. Most restaurants don’t include side dishes in the price. But you may want to pair some vegetables with meats to aid digestion. It is still recommended to avoid eating red meat too late.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vegetables help reduce the energy density of foods. You will also feel full faster due to their water and fiber. So, remember to have at least an Insalata Mista with your Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

3. Walk 10,000 Steps a Day

Walking 10,000 steps a day can help you manage your weight on vacation. On average, you can burn 400 to 500 calories, depending on the intensity. You will still need to find a balance with food, but it is useful to set that goal. A recent study shows that weight gain can’t be prevented just by walking.

Don’t feel intimidated by that number. You are likely to walk at least 7,500 steps a day in most cities. Most places are easily accessible on foot. If you like to go shopping like me, it is also a great opportunity to buy items. You could visit a designer outlet or a street market to get crazy discounts. 

Also, you will spend a lot of energy when taking public transportation. Whether you catch the train or a bus, you will get a decent amount of physical activity. Often it is exhausting to get around with luggage in Italy. I recommend you bring some comfortable shoes for walking.

If you want to track your steps, you can use your phone or buy a pedometer. It is an excellent tool to stay motivated and push your limits. You can get yours for an affordable price now on Amazon by clicking on this link.

4. Manage Your Breakfast

You have heard that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day.” However, you may intake more calories and sugars than you need. The typical Italian breakfast consists of brioche and cappuccino.

It is fine to have a cornetto and cappuccino in the morning. Many people will find it even lighter than their typical breakfast. But make sure you put a limit of one or two days a week. You can choose to get healthy foods such as yogurt and whole grains. It can get disgusting to eat croissants every day too.

Also, you should avoid ordering a cappuccino after noon. It is a drink full of calories and energy. Instead, you could order a small cup of espresso or caffè macchiato. People may laugh at you if you drink cappuccino after 11:00 PM.

Croissants with powdered sugar and cream
Who wants one of this?

5. Know The Place You Eat

If you want to not gain weight, make sure to choose your restaurants carefully. Probably, the best options are trattorie and family restaurants. Most of them only use seasonal and local ingredients. Trattorie usually follow the authentic Italian tradition.

Apart from calories, it is equally important to check the quality of what you eat. Some restaurants use cheap and off-season ingredients. They may have additives, preservatives, and pesticides. These substances can lead to weight gain.

Remember to see the menus and reviews ahead of time. You should avoid looking for restaurants when you are hungry. If you leave it for the last minute, you may fall into a tourist trap. Here are some tips to help you spot bad restaurants:

  1. Avoid eating near tourist attractions: Bad restaurants are usually located near tourist places. If you want to find a real one, you will have to go to a neighborhood. You will get a better quality meal for less money. It is well worth walking those extra miles.
  2. Be aware of pushy employees: Tourist traps have to push people to get clients. You will find a worker outside trying to get attention. Good restaurants don’t need to do that as the reviews speak for themselves.
  3. Watch out for locals: One of the best ways to know if a restaurant is good or not is to see its clients. If there are only tourists eating Fettuccine Alfredo, it is best to visit another one. Most travelers don’t eat at the same place more than once.
  4. Avoid multi-language menus: It is not a good sign to find menus in more than two languages. Usually, real Italian restaurants only have English translations. Be careful if you see pictures on it as well.

If you want to know how safe it is to eat in Italy, make sure to check this post. You will find all the food safety laws and some tips to avoid getting sick.

6. Drink Sparkling Water Instead of Soda

Sparkling water is an excellent drink to pair with meals. Unlike sodas, it doesn’t have calories and added sugars. You can drink sparkling water moderately without any problem.

Studies show that sparkling water can be beneficial for your stomach. It may enhance the feeling of fullness and relieve constipation. Others say it might increase hunger in men, but there is not enough data to prove it. Carbonated water is still a better choice than sugary drinks.

Make sure to choose “effervescente naturale” ones. They have more minerals than natural water. Also, I recommend you get sparkling water in a glass bottle if you can.

7. Change Your Mindset

You don’t need to feel bad when you eat gelato or cheat on your diet. At the end of the day, you are in Italy to experience the culture. How many times will you have the chance to do it? Will it make any difference in your overall appearance? Probably not.

The most important thing is to not stress out for every meal you eat. In fact, it does more harm than good. Your brain releases cortisol when it detects a potential “threat.” According to researchers, this hormone can make you fat in several ways.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you should eat like a horse. It is still recommended to have a bit of self-control on vacation. But let yourself enjoy your trip and realize that you won’t follow your daily routine. 

The chances are that you won’t see any significant change in your figure. And if you do gain some pounds, it is not a big deal. You can always lose them once you get back home. Also, remember that flying often causes water retention on your body.

8. Choose Your Gelato Wisely

You will never find gelato like the Italian ones anywhere in the world. It is a must-try food for tourists, no matter their weight. Even locals can’t live without eating gelato at any time of the year.

If you want to get a fresh gelato, make sure to pick the ones with the label “Gelato Artigianale.” You can eat them with no problems, even if you are on a diet. Genuine gelati have fewer fats and don’t use vegetable oils.

It is not easy to find a 100% genuine gelato in Italy. Most producers use semi-finished products as a base. So, you will have to do a little bit of research to get a real one. If you are not sure about the ingredients, you can always ask for them.

Also, it is a good idea to get both fruit and cream flavors. For example, you could combine gusto fragola with nocciola. This will help you find a balance between sugars and fat. You can eat gelato as a snack or after a meal.

Gelateria with brown gelati

9. Take Advantage of Public Fountains

Drinking water has a lot of benefits to your weight and overall health. According to a 2014 study, it can help you boost your energy and burn more calories. Some research shows that water can also reduce the risk of heart attacks when traveling.

It is crucial to stay hydrated when getting around Italy. The temperatures in summer can reach up to 105 °F. But at the same time, you don’t want to spend your whole budget on it. Some street sellers and kiosks may charge you €5,00 for a small bottle of water.

I recommend you use public fountains as much as possible. You will find many of them in most large cities. If you can’t find one, you could go to a park or use an app called Fontanelle D’ItaliaIt is a game-changer for tourists.

Tap water is mostly safe to drink in Italy. Usually, it will be cold or at room temperature. As for chlorine, it won’t affect your health since its levels are very low. The law sets a limit of 30 mg/l, one of the lowest in Europe. You will see the sign “Acqua non potabile” if the water is not drinkable.

10. Prefer Healthy Snacks

Packing some healthy snacks can go a long way in Italy. You will probably end up hungry by the middle of the day. So, it is best to stay away from junk food such as potato chips and cookies. These snacks will only fill the space of other delicious meals.

There is no such thing as having an early dinner in Italy. Most restaurants are not open until 8:00 PM. Tourists often get surprised when they see everything closed. Then they desperately go to a fast-food restaurant. 

Some examples of healthy snacks are nuts and dark chocolate. Also, Italy has a great variety of fruits during the summer. My favorite ones are albicocche, ciliegie, and prugne. These fruits will fill you up until dinner and are very handy.

If you are going to eat an “unhealthy” snack, make sure to do it right. Don’t waste your time with things that you can easily find in your country. Instead, take a look at the best street foods of each region. If you plan to visit Bari, make sure to click on this link to learn more about the local cuisine.

Sandwiches and fried snacks

11. Adopt Italian Eating Habits

Italians don’t put heavy condiments in their food. Unlike in other countries, they prefer to feel the actual taste of the meal. You are very unlikely to see someone putting ketchup on pasta. Usually, condiments are only used with junk food or on special occasions.

As for olive oil, people use it to enhance the flavors of the food. According to a recent study, extra virgin olive is a perfect ally to avoid gaining weight. It can help you accumulate less visceral fat and increase your satiety. You just have to use it in moderation.

Also, you don’t have to give up grated cheese altogether. Putting some Parmesan on your pasta can help you fill up faster and make the dish tastier. Obviously, you risk getting fat if you overdo the portions. It is recommended not to put more than two spoons on your meal. 

12. Don’t Rush at Restaurants

Eating in Italy is not a rush but a time of leisure. If you sit in a restaurant, you can stay there as long as you want. The waiter will never bring your bill unless you ask for it. A dinner can even last up to three hours.

It is no secret that fast eaters tend to gain weight quickly. Researchers say you need about 20 minutes to know that you had enough food. If you eat slowly, your brain will have the time to receive fullness signals. This will help you not overeat and feel satisfied for longer.

Also, you may want to avoid checking your phone at restaurants. In a 2019 study, people ate 15% more calories when distracted. If you like to take photos of your dishes, you could do it before eating. Each course comes separately to give you time to finish.

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