In Italy, “La Bella Figura” does not completely relate to having a beautiful body or figure, but it is somewhat linked. La Bella Figura is an approach to life – a philosophy. It means to make a good impression in every aspect of your life; how you present yourself from your clothes to your attitude to your home to your body. So you see? The body is included in this philosophy, but is only a part of the equation. Since I am focusing on the allure of the female body, let’s discuss the beautiful figures of the Italian women.
Look at these statistics. According to the OECD, in 2012 the obesity rate for Italian women was 9.5%. Even the famously thin French women have an obesity rate that is higher at 14.6%. In the United States the number is 36.6%.
Those are the stats. What you see around are different body types but they all have one thing in common: they are fit.
So how are they doing it? Why do I see all these slim women eating croissants for breakfast and pizza for dinner?
There have been many books written on this subject, maybe not specifically related to Italians, but the message is in essence to the same: eat whole foods, manage portions and move. But here are some specifics as they relate to the standard Italian woman.
1. Diet food does not exist.
In the United States you will find every kind of diet food imaginable: low-fat, non-fat, low-carb, etc… And it is all prepackaged diet food. In Italy there are no light potato chips or fat-free cookies. And there are certainly no frozen, prepackaged diet foods. Low-carb foods do not exist.
2. Food/mealtime is satisfying.
Number one and two go together. How can chemically altered food possibly be satisfying? Why not just boil some pasta and make a quick marinara sauce that includes a little olive oil, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and basil?
3. Italian women do not snack.
Think about this one. If you are eating satisfying, well-balanced meals, you are not going to be hungry or get cravings throughout the day. Italians just don’t eat in between meals.
4. Italy is a totally food-centered society, but few seem to be fixated on food.
Food and diet are constantly being discussed on TV and in magazines in the USA, but usually how it relates to losing weight. Food is the enemy. While we are fixated on this aspect of food, Italians are more fixated on food as a pleasure and for nourishment. Food is their friend – their good friend.
5. Mealtime is shared.
In the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” the neighbor of the main character invites her to dinner because, he says, “It’s not healthy to eat alone.” Mealtime is not only a time to eat, but also a time to share with family or friends. It is a social event – even every day dinner. The focus will be on quality food, but also conversation and laughter.
6. Italians drink lots of water.
Water is the drink of choice for Italians. In fact, Italy has the third highest per capita consumption of bottled water in the world. They will normally drink water with most of their meals. You will see them drink a beer or a coke if they are out eating a pizza, but for the most part, water is their go-to drink. Contrary to popular belief, they are not consuming gallons of wine. Wine is usually reserved for dinner and they will drink one glass, maybe two. Also, they will rarely drink wine if they are not eating. Wine is meant to compliment food, not to relax.
7. Italian coffee has no calories.
A morning cappuccino has approximately 80 calories and is made with whole milk. Low-fat or non-fat milk options do not even exist. The size of the cappuccino is about a third of the size we are used to in the United States. But again, it is satisfying. Italians do not drink cappuccinoafter 11:00AM, therefore, the coffee they drink the rest of the day is calorie free apart from sugar that is added.
8. Italian women are active.
As with most Europeans, they walk everywhere. Of course this has a lot to do with geography and perhaps the possibility of walking to the grocery store is just not an option. The distances are too far. But apart from walking for daily activities, they walk just for the pleasure of it. Go to any park, lake or city center at 3PM on a Saturday and there you will find Italians out in droves, just taking a stroll.
9. They lose their pregnancy weight with ease.
You know the headline on every tabloid after a celebrity has a baby: “Celebrity X loses all her baby weight after two months, how do the celebs do the impossible?” Well, I have to say the Italian women do it too – effortlessly I might add. The weight gain guideline for the average woman is 20-30 pounds, not 25-35 pounds. Most women gain no more than 25 pounds when they are pregnant and after two months are back in their regular clothes.
10. Italian women are comfortable in their own skin no matter their size.
This is obvious right away. Even the women that need to lose a few pounds are out on the beach in their bikinis playing with their kids, talking with their friends and having fun. No one is staying home because they feel fat or all covered up at the pool.
Italian women are just like women all over the world. They gain weight too. They go on diets as well. But even a diet seems so matter of fact to them. Not like some huge sacrifice. When they gain a little weight, they simply “cut back.” But it never seems like a big deal. They know what they have to do and they do it, always in keeping with la bella figura of course.