I Ate Like An Italian Girl For Two Weeks—Here’s What Happened

When you look at an Italian menu, it's typically carbs drenched in olive oil or heavy cream and topped with cheese. Yet many Italian women stay slim, even as they age. Why? I decided to find out.

By Carmen Schober5 min read
Pexels/Nadin Sh

When it comes to being healthy, my approach has always been to find what works and makes me happy at the same time. So, a style of eating that includes carbs and cheese but also promises to keep off excess pounds definitely piqued my interest.

That's why I committed to two weeks of eating like an Italian girl and tracking the results. Here’s what I discovered...

The Principles of Italian Eating

Obviously, first and foremost I needed to nail down exactly what eating like an Italian really means, so my research began. As with all things online, there's no perfect consensus on the subject, but I scoured Pinterest for various "Italian" and "Mediterranean" food blogs to find the most agreed-upon elements.

After a lot of reading, I found eight guiding principles for making my own Italian meal plan.

Next-to-No Processed Foods

Most meals in Italy are made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Ultra-processed foods (a staple in the standard American diet) are not really a thing. Not yet, anyway. Sadly, processed foods are creeping across the globe, but for now, Italians still have a much smaller variety of processed foods in their grocery stores and restaurants.

Thankfully, I shop at ALDI, which has a great variety of organic food that meets European standards, so minimizing processed food is something I already do.

Food over Nutrients 

Italians eat food for its flavor, not for its macronutrient breakdown. This means no calorie counting, which is great news because I've never been good at that. Numbers make my eyes glaze over. While many Americans often think in terms of "protein, vegetable, dairy, and carbs," Italians don't have the same approach. They think "fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and some good bread, yum."

As one food blogger put it, for them, food is just food, and they eat it because it tastes good. Pretty sure this is a mantra I can live by.

One Food at a Time

While typical Italian breakfasts and lunches are simple, dinner tends to be eaten in courses, one dish at a time. In fact, a traditional Italian dinner can have as many as 10 courses! And it's usually one food per plate, one plate at a time. We Americans like to put everything on one plate, but Italians eat in sequential order, typically starting with bread or pasta before moving on to meat or fish (typically four ounces or less), followed by a vegetable.

This sounds like it could result in eating more food, but the portions are much smaller than what we're used to in America. Eating a little slower curbs excess eating, too.

Okay, Smaller Portions...but How Small?

Here's a good way to illustrate the difference: When you order food at an American restaurant, you're almost always given enough to share with another person. A typical Italian portion is half that size, so it's not tiny by any means, but you're also not eating for two.

Pizza is the exception, but since the ingredients are a lot less processed, you're still consuming fewer calories. It's also sprinkled with cheese rather than drenched.

Sweet, Light Breakfasts

Breakfast is sweet and simple, often a cappuccino or espresso with a dollop of whole milk foam (Italians are not into milk alternatives) coupled with a pastry. Some of the common Italian breakfast pastries I found sounded downright decadent (like a cornetto, which is like a croissant filled with chocolate, jam, or pistachio cream), but surprisingly they were less "heavy" than a plate of eggs and bacon or a breakfast sandwich, thanks to smaller portion sizes.

It's also worth noting that eggs are an ingredient in Italy, not a meal. Serving meat at an Italian breakfast is also considered weird. You might be wondering if they get enough protein, but remember, that's American thinking! The Italians are unbothered.

What's a Snack?

I also learned that Italians generally avoid eating between meals. This is because meal times are a bigger deal in Italy. Many people make plans to eat with others, so they don't just grab food whenever they're hungry. Apparently, there's almost a taboo around eating outside normal meal times, so many Italians don't do it, even if they want to.

If they absolutely must have a snack, it's typically something very small, like a piece of fruit.


Water is the Italian drink of choice, with minimal sugary or calorie-laden beverages. Mineral water (with no ice) is popular, too, and provides some extra health benefits. And, similar to the no snacking thing, Italians typically don't drink anything besides water between meals, not even coffee. If they do need a little caffeine jolt, it's a simple espresso with a dash of milk rather than a sugar-filled Starbies. If Italians are going to have something to drink with their meal, it's likely going to be wine but in moderation. Beer and heavy drinking in general are not popular in Italy.

Obviously, this eliminates a ton of calories, but, again, that's not why Italians do it. They just want to focus on the flavors of their food.

Simple Home Cooking

Many Italian dishes are simple and vegetable-heavy, with meat as the side dish and not the star of the show. Their food system is largely built around what's seasonal, local, and fresh, something the United States is slowly catching on to. Most people in Italy also frequently cook at home and keep their recipes simple and don't even require an oven. For example, a typical homemade Italian sauce has five ingredients: salt, water, tomato sauce, olive oil, and garlic.

No added artificial ingredients or preservatives necessary.

My Italian-Inspired Menu

Since I live smack dab in the middle of the United States in cow and corn country, I had to improvise a little, but I took these principles and created a meal plan with a heavy focus on unprocessed food, simple pairings, and unbothered Italian vibes.


Breakfast: A homemade espresso with a tiny bit of cream and a piece of ALDI sourdough toast with grass-fed butter.

Lunch: A small Caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and olive oil, no basil for me because it tastes like dirt) with half a piece of sourdough.

Dinner: Feeling enthusiastic and extra today, so I made homemade pizza because ALDI has a super easy-to-use premade pizza crust. Restrained myself on the cheese and had a small glass of red wine. Other than that, mineral water all day.


Breakfast: Espresso with cream and sourdough with blackberry jam.

Lunch: A simple pasta with olive oil, garlic, and chili flakes, with a side of sautéed spinach. 

Dinner: Grilled salmon with a lemon and olive oil dressing, accompanied by roasted vegetables. Mineral water all day again but this time I added some lime to change things up.


Breakfast: Espresso with cream and a chocolate chip cookie. Close enough, right?

Lunch: Leftover salmon and veggies with a piece of sourdough topped with cottage cheese.

Dinner: 4-ounce steak filet and fresh spinach with tomatoes and olive oil. I have no problem scarfing down an 8-ounce filet, so I was worried I wouldn't feel full enough, but the spinach helped quite a bit. I also had a piece of this chocolate, which never fails to make me happier. Just mineral water again, this time with lemon.


Breakfast: Espresso with cream and sourdough with butter.

Lunch: Cottage cheese, a slice of turkey, and a piece of pineapple. And my mineral water, of course.

Dinner: Ate at my parents' house and coincidentally they were having spaghetti and green beans. Went heavy on the beans and lighter on the pasta and enjoyed a small piece of birthday cake, too.


Breakfast: Espresso with cream and leftover birthday cake.

Lunch: Skipped lunch. Not ideal, but surely the Italians understand. I did drink a ton of mineral water, though.

Dinner: Went out to dinner and ordered an 8-ounce steak and shared it with my husband. Picked broccoli over mashed potatoes and enjoyed a small glass of red wine. Split a creme brulee.


Breakfast: Spent Saturday morning at the local farmers' market, buying fresh, seasonal veggies. Ordered an espresso from a food truck but added my own cream to keep it on the lighter side.

Lunch: Tuna on a piece of sourdough bread and a slice of tomato.

Dinner: Grilled chicken with peas, but more peas than chicken. Another piece of ALDI chocolate and some of my favorite summer wine.

The Results?

In the spirit of more relaxed Italian eating, I didn't stick to a precise formula for the full two weeks, but that gives you an idea of how I structured most of my meals. By the end of the two weeks, I'd lost about two pounds, which isn't groundbreaking, but it's also not unremarkable considering how many carbs and desserts I enjoyed.

What I Loved

Simplicity: Italian meals are balanced, focusing on whole foods, fresh produce, and moderate portions. Nothing was complicated, aside from maybe making the pizza, but that actually pretty fun. And sticking to espresso, water, and wine was not hard for me.

Mindful Eating: Since I was tracking my results, I found myself eating more mindfully and enjoying the flavors more intensely, which felt very Italian.

Less Snacking:  I really didn’t feel the need to snack except for that occasional piece of dark chocolate, which kept my overall calorie intake in check.

Active Lifestyle: Most Italians walk a lot, which I don't, but I do exercise for at least 45 minutes six days a week (kickboxing, pilates, or a treadmill workout), and I did end up losing weight rather than gaining it.

This suggests that a relaxed Italian style of eating works well for those with an active lifestyle.

Closing Thoughts

Eating like an Italian girl for two weeks was easy and fun. It reinforced my belief that enjoying food doesn't have to be restrictive or obsessive when you just focus on enjoying healthy portions of whole foods. It's a delightful way to approach eating that I'll continue to embrace, one delicious bite at a time.

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