I know things are beyond hectic right now with the hustle and bustle of the holidays and all that jazz, but please take a time-out and read this. Put down that 99-cent burrito and stop and smell the basil before you have yourself a heart attack!
The following “weight maintenance” concepts are a part of a blog I contributed to gravywars.com and the book “Fattitude” back in April. It focused on a few specific areas highliting the proper way to mangia as a paisan. Not really a “diet,” but a lifestyle, one that does not compromise taste or flavor—or your personal sanity. I found it fitting to share it here for two reasons…
The first is that people often ask me how I can maintain my weight when I’m always cooking and eating—which I’ll gladly explain. The second is that after recently reading Teresa Giudice’s book, “Skinny Italian,” it became clear to me that she shares my sentiments on proper, BALANCED eating when it comes to Italian food. I feel it’s my duty to spread that message further. She’s so dead-on about how the overly heavy, commercially-processed Americanized Italian (ie: Olive Garden) stuff is so far off from the fresh, simple, herb-infused real food of our culture. Her points about balance in these meals where you have your pasta (but also your veggies, salumi, cheeses, etc.) always together, is something I’ve been preaching forever!
Yes, we Italians make huge meals, but if you take a nice mixed plate from all these wonderful food groups and aren’t just sitting there shoveling in ONLY the spaghetti, you will never gain weight. I promise. I haven’t. I think now with the holidays here it’s actually the perfect time to discuss this, because this time of year—oddly to me—is when people pack on those extra pounds. But these holiday meals are actually the perfect example of how a meal is SUPPOSED to be. All you have to do is eat EVERYTHING! I don’t mean EVERYTHING, I mean a LITTLE of EVERYTHING. I know from time to time, I post recipes that may be somewhat overindulgent. But as a whole, when I cook (and eat), it’s all about following some easy guidelines.
It’s a pretty basic concept that when you eat too much, you gain weight. Anything in excess is bad. This aint brain surgery. Most people know their limits and balance in other areas of their daily lives, but too many don’t seem to know them (or care to know them) when it comes to food, thus you have the obesity epidemic in this country.
Is food so addicting that one just can’t resist stuffing their face until their stomach hurts? I don’t get it, is it a good feeling to be so full you have to change your pants? I really don’t think that’s the case, what I think has happened is that far too many Americans just don’t take the time to actually eat the way we are supposed to eat—in this go-go age of fast food and drive-thrus, we shove whatever garbage we can down our throats—and we shove far too much down in an attempt to “re-fuel” our energy and keep ourselves going. But in the end, that costs us more time (and sanity) when we find ourselves in a position where we are now overweight and have to go on some complicated, strict, difficult diet. There would never be any need for the dreaded “D” word, if we just simply went back to basics and didn’t get ourselves to a place where we needed to fix a problem.
The problem is not food. The problem is how it’s mistreated and transformed into a pre-packaged “convenience” item with additives, and then how that junk is so improperly and overly consumed. A meal should not be like putting $10 regular into your car. You shouldn’t be getting your dinner at 7-Eleven. There is no way to deal with the obesity epidemic in America other than to change our perception of food and to enjoy it properly. So, this is not about eating nothing but ricecakes. It’s about eating homemade meals, and taking your time to stop and smell the basil. I cook delicious Italian comfort food classics, day in and day out. Whether it’s seafood, veal, chicken, macaroni, you name it—I mix things up and always maintain my weight. The key is balance. The key is enjoying extra virgin olive oil, basil right out of the garden, spinach, pistachios, lemons, cheeses (real cheese—not a “cheese product”), cured meats from the deli (not the pre-packaged stuff loaded with fillers). Where and how you shop is where it starts.
If one only eats a giant bowl of spaghetti every single day, they are obviously gonna blow up from all the carbs. When folks are amazed at my slim stature, I’m amazed at them for not grasping the simplicity of balance throughout the course of your week, your day, and your every meal. See, it’s not just about gobbling up a ten pound bowl of spaghetti as fast as you can, it’s about having a complete dinner spread with meat, vegetables, and things from all food groups...and portioning the meal to where you are eating the proper amount of each food and taking your time doing it. That’s how they do it in Italy, and all over Europe. America will probably never have the two-hour afternoon “siesta” that they have, but Italians in Italy are not at all overweight. I was there, I saw this with my own eyes. And I sense that that’s the same throughout the continent.
As adults, we should be smart enough to know that we can treat ourselves to an indulgence from time to time and have control and enough sense to know that overall, we should follow the 2,000 calorie-a-day recommendation. It’s the same idea with drinking. Wine is beautiful. Invest in a nice bottle of red and white and keep it in your house. Have a glass or two a day. Don’t get sloppy drunk by downing an entire box of wine. Boxed wine? Really? They don’t do that in Italy, thus there are more alcoholics here than there are over there. It’s a fact. You know, if one balances every meal to include foods from all the food groups, you will be at that daily calorie recommendation without even knowing it. A piece of bread or two is great. Not six pieces. Same deal with pizza. Order two slices and a salad in the pizza parlor, not four slices and no salad. The latter will make you bloated and tired and overstuffed, while the first is actually more food—yet it’s more with less carbs and calories. It’s a much more balanced meal, which will make you feel better when you are done.
Back to the spaghetti dinner…Ok, with the spaghetti you got your carbohydrates, but just a big heaping of pasta is not a balanced meal. Besides the macaroni, you should always have your meatballs (of course), which give you your protein, and in my house there’s always an antipasto platter consisting of various salamis and other meats, an assortment of cheeses (there’s your dairy), and even more various items like roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, giardiniera (a mix of marinated carrots, cauliflower, olives), not to mention whatever fruit is in season from grapes, clementines to figs, plus nuts and lots more, followed by a wholesome garden salad. Your body needs not just starch, but also dairy and protein and iron and all the vitamins found in fruits and veggies. There’s a reason that there are food groups, don’t neglect any of them—ever!
Just pace yourself and build your plate accordingly—portion it out so that you got a little of everything—and if you don’t go for second helpings, then you can treat yourself to dessert. And you’ll appreciate it more. You should be conscious enough to know that if you do have that second bowl of spaghetti, there’s lots more carbs there (which in turn, is lots more sugar), so it then makes sense to not have dessert. But, if you skip that second helping, it’s perfectly OK to have a cannoli with your espresso.
This is so easy to comprehend, meals should be done in courses and when you are EATING food slowly and with love, and it’s food that was PREPARED slowly and with love, you are doing yourself good and respecting food. Food is wonderful and delicious and should be treated so, and that can only happen when you respect it. But, you can only do that if the way it was prepared and presented is with respect. Most people only seem to practice the idea of eating a variety of different things on holidays, and that’s actually when they gain the most weight. Why? Because they overdo it with everything.
Thanksgiving is the perfect example of the way a meal should be balanced out and served. In my house, every meal is like Thanksgiving, so when that day arrives, it’s really nothing different for me. And with every meal, I build my plate with the proper serving of everything on the table and savor it. Where’s the race? Taste your food! If more people did that, the plate wouldn’t empty so fast and need to be refilled.
Look, I know we are inundated with Golden Arches on every street corner but pretend they don’t exist, or at least treat that order of fries as a very rare indulgence. It’s never too early and it’s never too late to follow this mentality when it comes to food. You can also implement it into everything else. Your life will be more fulfilling. I guarantee it.
Teresa Giudice and her husband Joe own and operate Giuseppe’s Homestyle Pizza in Hillside, NJ. We recently met them both and enjoyed a delicious slice at her book-signing party.