I really do love being Italian. I love being Italian because the food that surrounds you at all times is delicious. And, when I say at all times, I really mean all the time. Italians eat when we’re happy, when we’re sad, when someone dies, to celebrate a birthday, to let a stressful day go, to use as ammo during a fight in a fit of rage, to celebrate weddings, the list goes on and on. Needless to say, this has led me to have a rather unhealthy relationship with food over my lifetime. Food has always had an emotional attachment and I never learned to have balance. My dieting was either all in, completely dedicated and one hundred percent on tract; or, I was completely off the wagon. There was never such a thing as a cheat meal because having bad food would cause me to slip into a month-long binge of terrible food, which would completely destroy all of the results I saw from being on the wagon.
I even took it a step further, I decided I wanted to compete in bodybuilding. This was one of the best and one of the worst decisions of my life. It forced me to stay on the wagon for longer periods of time, but the yo-yo was more extreme. I would do strict dieting on clean and measured food for six weeks, compete and then eat pizza, ice cream, pasta, burgers - you name it, I would eat it. I would literally make myself physically ill from eating. I wish I could say this happened once, but it was more like six different occasions. In the spirit of being honest, the last time I did this was about a year ago. It was in leaning over the toilet and praying to the porcelain gods that I decided this was no longer going to happen. I had to learn how to stay on diet, eat healthy food and occasionally have unhealthy food without falling off the reservation. Essentially, I decided it was time to have some balance and exercise this moderation thing I’ve heard so much about.
Another great, yet dreadful, reason why being Italian is awesome, is that the food has some of the largest portions you have ever seen. There isn’t one chicken cutlet in your chicken parmesan dish, there’s three sitting on top of a dense nest of spaghetti smothered in tomato sauce and covered in cheese. Regardless of whether it is healthy food or a cheat, there is no need to feel absolutely stuffed to the gills and so overfull that you can’t take another bite. Gluttony is a fun sin, but is this worth it? I feel uncomfortable for at least an hour afterwards and the next day isn’t much better either. Portion control is something I acquired from weeks, months and years of measuring and weighing food into meals specifically meant for my size. I began to understand what my body feels like when it’s time to stop eating. After the next cheat meal, start to pay closer attention to how you are feeling. Can you breathe after a cheat? Or, is this more of an unbutton the pants moment? Learn the portions of food that is suitable for your body and apply them to cheat meals. It’s easy to get carried away because dieting can really suck, but this isn’t the last supper! There’s going to be more cheat meals and more fun to be had. Remember that cheat meal-ing is about what you are craving and not about the volume you can consume.
Family dinners and holiday dinners in an Italian household requires courses of food. There’s soup, salad, appetizers, main meals…seven courses, two buffets and a dessert later, you’re ready for the elastic waist pants and a food coma. Not only is this a huge red flag to try and attempt portion control, but mixing sweets and fats on a cheat meal is excess. Moderation is the theme of cheat meal-ing and this means picking one or the other. What is it you really want the most this week? Is the juicy burger accompanied by crispy fries really doing it for you? Great! But, that’s all you’re having. There isn’t a need to add sweets. The purpose of the cheat meal is to keep the cravings at bay and maintain diet the rest of the week. Accordingly, you must choose whether you want to have fried and/or fatty food OR the sweets. Coach yourself into the knowledge that there is another cheat meal coming shortly and the sweets will be even better when you still fit in the skinny jeans! I never said moderation was going to be fun…
Dieting is a struggle for most people that I know. This is why it is necessary to keep the cheat meal as simple as possible. By simple I mean you are not allowed to make decisions when there’s a brownie or a pizza staring you in the face. This is when having family around or a wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband comes in pretty handy. I happen to drive my fiancé nuts when I tell him that I do not have a healthy relationship with food. He says, “what does that even mean?” Well darling, it means that you are going to cut the size of brownie I tell you I need before I change my mind because that’s all I’m allowing myself to have. It means that when we get pizza, I eat two slices while you take one for the team and eat the rest. Follow me? I’m not trying to imply that you need to pawn the bad food off on other people; but, if there’s someone in your life that can help lead you away from temptation, cease the opportunity! For those single folks, do not eat your cheat meals at home - eat out. Order exactly the amount of food that you intend on eating and not a single morsel more. If more is present, throw it away before you start eating. These are some useful tricks of the fat-kid trade…
I’d like to say that dieting has gotten easier for me, but it hasn’t. What I’ve learned is to appreciate good food when I have it, know more is going to come and it’s better to feel good rather than more of it tastes good. Staying away from situations that cause me to regret food decisions has helped immensely and being less extreme with dieting has had an even bigger positive impact. My journey with using moderation in dieting will continue to be a learning experience and something I will strive to perfect over my lifetime with this Italian family of mine!
By: Samantha DiSabello