Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weight Management Gelato Style

The first time I traveled to Italy I was 19. I recall marveling at marble fountains, being seduced by sculpture and impressed by massive stone architectural creations while touring through Rome and Florence. But perhaps as memorable as Michelangelo’s larger than life David (, with which I fell in love, was the smooth and creamy gelato. Twice daily I would indulge in such intense flavors as nicciolo (hazlenut) and espresso, midday and late evening. 

In fact, I would purchase a scoop regardless of the hour, whenever I had an excuse to pass through the famous square the gelateria occupied. I had purchased it fearing I’d never, ever, see gelato again. It was now or never, as gelato doesn’t travel well in luggage. This, by the way, was the early 1980’s.

During my recent trip, however, I was older and (somewhat) wiser. I had gelato only twice in 7 days. (Okay, I did share some bites of my husband’s on a third occasion, I admit, but does tasting just a bite on those tiny plastic spoons really count?). It was not because I was watching my weight (I was not), but because I trusted this time; I knew it wasn’t my last chance to get this fabulous Italian ice cream. Boston has great gelato, as does NYC, which I visit not infrequently. In fact, you can even purchase some good stuff from the supermarket these days—at least where I live (check out Whole Foods). Or, as I’ve done, you could make it at home with an ice cream maker.

But back then, I harbored many a diet thought. As a teen, I had dabbled in the Scarsdale Diet, and wasted my time at Weight Watchers (Now you understand my vengeful post! (

My thoughts about food and eating and my body have changed enormously over these years. At the age of 19 and by the end of college, my BMI was out of range and it was not okay—I was sedentary and hardly fit—and I was rather disconnected from my body’s signals and needs. And I was not a large-size person from early childhood, genetically predetermined to exceed the BMI charts, justifying this above average size.

I’m older and wiser now at 48. On my return trip to Italy, I savored the rich and flavorful, slow cooked meals of the Piedmont, filled with mushrooms and truffle oil—but I didn’t fear it was my last supper; I lingered over multicourse meals, filled with flavors I adore. And I stopped when I had had enough—even though it was delicious. 

I skipped desserts when they seemed unnecessary, but took advantage of the aforementioned gelato when I needed a snack.  I sampled many a local Pecorino cheese in Tuscany and savored the hearty Tuscan Ribollita soup filled with beans, bread and vegetables. We enjoyed divine meals artfully prepared with local ingredients, served by Italians passionate about their culinary art. 

Among the very best meals was at La Coccinella, located in the small town of Serravalle DiLonga in the Piedmont. Fabulously prepared fish, as you can see from this photo. But like the gelato of old, I will never forget the dessert lovingly prepared with local hazelnuts, a delight of textures and flavors I can never duplicate.

I write this not on behalf of the Italian tourism department—no one is advertising for your clicks here. Nor, to brag about my travels I feel fortunate to have taken, along with my husband who enjoys great tasting food as much as I. Rather, it is my hope that this will inspire you. 

You may never care about great olive or truffle oils, perhaps. And traveling may be the furthest thing from a reality for you right now. But enjoying food can start at home, wherever you live. Sure, it may require some prep time (although good gelato, like fine chocolate, could easily be obtained and consumed). It requires you to start asking yourself “what do I feel like eating?”, when you are hungry, not just “what am I supposed to be eating?”, yearning later for the very items you’ve prohibited yourself from having.  It necessitates giving yourself permission to eat now, and again later—even if what you choose to eat later is ice cream. Because when you know you have permission to eat it again, you can stop when you’ve had enough. You’ll begin to trust this is not your last chance.

And after doing this for some time, and really trusting your body, you’ll note something strange. Sometimes, there may be times when you’ve truly had enough gelato, and there’s nothing more desirable than a fresh, juicy piece of fruit. And that’s ok to eat too.


  1. your post is a reminder to me of what i find almost impossible to do. i treat every meal like it's my last, sometimes even when it's not very good. and the end result is that i'm overweight, and uncomfortable in my skin. but how do you change 40+ years of behavior? anyway, i think i'm going to favorite this post and keep coming back to it. thank you.

  2. Yes, I'm still at the point Maryse is at, but what you've said, Lori, is still exactly what I am needing to hear right now. And I need to get it through my thick skull that this is something that I've got to do day after day after day. It seems so simple to somehow manage to just eat for a day, but the next day and the next - I find myself thinking, "Oh, but I've already done all this already. Surely I'm not going to have to do it all over again?" But, yes, I have...until it becomes automatic, just a part of me. You know, sometimes I wonder whether the goal of mindful eating isn't mindless eating, because that's what I'm after: getting my mind out of the way while I feed my body. If I could just stop the thoughts and get on with it, where's the problem? But I let my thoughts run the show. Talk about reaping the results of having eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

  3. Yes, it takes time, as well as patience, practice, compassion and support. Once you start, you have your own positive experiences to help sustain the change; at this point, it's simply a leap of faith.
    @Jan loved the comment about the goal is really mindless eating--very true for the restrictive eaters among you. Sometimes, you need to just do it, as I wrote in a recent post!
    Thanks for commenting!

  4. I like Jan's comment too! Mindless eating is a good thing for restrictive eaters - as long as you can deal with the consequences after :-P
    But I would like to move towards a point where I can start to think about foods I like. Even while I was reading your post I could feel that I was blocking out these thoughts as they make me feel hungry and I'm still afraid of that.
    But as you say it will take some time to trust my body.

  5. Someday, I hope to trust my body. I hope that I will have faith that my body will tell when it is okay to eat something. I've trusted ED for so long that I honestly don't trust myself without rules. Someday, I will eat gelato!


  6. Some nitpicking first. It's nocciolo. And ribollita. I'm a grammar nazi even in Italian.
    Being not really a poor student but rather a person who'd eat carrots and then buy a book for the equivalent of three or four lunches, I didn't have much of that slow-cooked Italian food but you had me long for Florence anyway. Le sigh.

    I'm one of those who eat as if this piece of food was their last. Guilty as charged.

  7. I was in Italy when I was 17, and despite being at a sticky point with my ED, I definitely had gelato about twice a day. It is one of the miracles of food chemistry (natural chemistry, not implying it's engineered). But this post really made me think: I loved the gelato (still do), but I do think part of it was that there was this amazing food, and part of it was that I was away from home and my normal rules and rigid routine, and wanted as much of it as possible before I had to go back to "real life," knowing the restriction and rigidness that would await me at home.

    Really insightful post, as always!

  8. First, thank you Liisa for being a language nazi (there's no auto correct for Italian!)

    Love these comments! Here's a challenge to try at home. Buy 2 quarts of gelato, one flavor. Find a small dish, like a tea cup size or smaller (think small ramekin size or custard dish). Scoop yourself some gelato, as a snack, when hungry. Sit and eat it, in the kitchen, without distraction, exploring the texture, the flavor, the temperature, even the smell. Use a distraction after eating, outside of the kitchen. Remind yourself that you can always have more tomorrow. When the first quart is gone, buy another. This helps reassure you that it really will always be there!
    Then, let us know how it went.

  9. I really like this post a lot. I know that I do a lot of compulsive eating which I continue to work on and struggle with. However I've also noticed a pattern of denying myself something that is "bad" that I truly crave and in the meantime I eat everything that's not nailed down and seriously over eat. I'm going back and reading various posts you have to find ideas to work on this.

    1. So glad these past posts are getting read and appreciated! Thanks for sharing.