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August 2, 2010

What I Learned From My Summer Vacation

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

I just returned from two weeks in Italy with my family. It wasn't our typical summer vacation, and it was truly the trip of a lifetime.

Twelve of us traveled together, including my children and my mother, whose parents left Italy as teenagers, met in the United States, and married here.  In addition to visiting the Vatican, the ruins in Rome and Pompeii, and the coastal area and islands near Sorrento, we had a chance to venture (it took more than two hours to go 28 miles along winding roads) to my grandmother's town, which was a real treat for all of us.

And then there was the food!  Of course, nearly everything we ate was delicious.

To be honest, because I am careful with my calories, I was worried about gaining weight in Italy. As far as I can tell, I had nothing to be concerned about.  Every meal - all of them in the hotel or restaurants - was so satisfying that I wasn't looking for as many snacks (my downfall is picking between meals) two hours later. I thought about calories a lot less, and ate only until I was full.  We walked about three to five miles a day, so that helped keep the weight at bay, too.

I've been to Italy before, but this time, I was struck by how inconvenient it is to eat between meals. There are no convenience stores or drive-thrus where you can grab fast food, and highly-refined snacks such as chips, crackers, and sugary treats and beverages with hundreds of unnecessary sugar calories, such as 32-ounce sodas.  When I got hungry between lunch and dinner, I munched on fruit, largely because there was little else available. OK, I did have gelato a few times! And it was delicious.

So, as a dietitian and food-lover, what did I learn from my trip to Italy?  Nothing that hasn't already been said a thousand times and documented in the scientific literature, but here are some lessons that are worth repeating, and adopting.

Take the time to eat delicious food.  We, including yours truly, often "inhale" our food because we think we're too busy to do otherwise. We mindlessly munch throughout the day, never feeling truly satisfied. That dissatisfaction may be the result of eating too quickly, but it could also be the result of inadequate intake of filling nutrients like water, fiber, and protein.

Listen to what your body is telling you.  Studies suggest that Europeans rely more on feelings of fullness to determine how much to eat, rather than external cues, such as when their plate is empty.  It's tough to break the associations we have with external cues, but serving yourself smaller portions on smaller dinnerware is a good start to curbing calories.  Mindless Eating, Why We Eat More Than We Think ( ), by Brian Wansink, PhD, is an entertaining read about how to become more mindful of your food intake.  

Don't fear fat. I ate a lot of cheese and olive oil when I was in Italy, and I truly believe the fat in these foods contributed to feeling full on relatively small portions of food. The Institute of Medicine recommends that 20% to 35% of your daily calories come from fat, which amounts to 44 grams to 78 grams on a 2,000-calorie eating plan. 

Keep it balanced.  A very low fat diet may leave you wanting for food most of the time, but going overboard on fat isn't the ticket to weight control, either.  Meals and snacks should provide a balance of fat, carbohydrate and protein, a nutrient found in Hood Milk and Simply Smart Milk,  and Hood Cottage Cheese, that helps you to feel fuller for longer. Include protein at every meal and snack to increase eating satisfaction.
Posted by The Answer Mom 8.2.10

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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