Ten years ago if you had told me that the holy grail of weight loss and healthy eating was pasta, red wine and gelato, I would have laughed in your face. But after years of inexplicable weight gain, digestive illnesses, depression and constant tiredness in London, to my surprise this is exactly what I found in Florence.
Probably like practically everybody, I love Italian food. But little did I know that it contained the answer to my problems—I had tried every wellness fad going. The Tuscan diet of fresh salads and vegetables, excellent olive oil, unadulterated traditional bread and the odd glass of ruby-red Chianti succeeded where all others had failed.
I moved to Florence by accident in 2008. My Florentine adventure started with a chance meeting, followed by an unexpected redundancy from a high-flying job and soon I found myself queuing for a taxi outside Florence’s train station, clutching the address to a friend’s holiday apartment. I felt like a piece of flotsam washed up in the Renaissance gutters.
Eleven years later, I am still in Florence. The combination of the golden Tuscan light, the beauty of the Renaissance town, its voluble people and, perhaps most of all, the produce market healed me.
What I learnt about living and eating in Florence I have shared in a book called Bella Figura, a nod to the Italian philosophy of making everything beautiful. A sort of Mediterranean mindfulness, my Bella Figura method governs everything from how to walk (with head high, not buried in a smartphone) to how to dress (with style rather than fashion), as well as how to stay as slim as Italian women (statistically one of the slimmest in Europe) while enjoying a little wine and gelato.
Everyday Italian “super” foods
Extra-virgin olive oil: Fights dangerous stomach fat and reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes. Make like Sophia Loren who uses EVOO to cook with and also on her skin and hair, even in the bath.
Cappuccino: Real coffee made from good beans (without the syrups and extras) has more antioxidants than green tea.
Pasta al pomodoro: Pasta with homemade tomato sauce has the exact mix of good fats (from olive oil) and lycopene (from cooked/tinned tomatoes) to make it a superfood.
Parmesan: The cheese with the highest calcium content, hardly any lactose and linoleic acid, which amps the metabolism.
Gelato: Traditional homemade gelato has 30 percent less fat than regular ice cream.
How to eat
Bella Figura is more about what we put into our bodies than what we don’t: we detox our cupboards, not ourselves. Natural and whole foods are key. Italians take pleasure in their food and so should we. Eating in front of a screen is not only less pleasurable, but makes overeating easier.
How to drink
Drinking to excess will pile on weight and stress the skin as well as causing internal damage. In Tuscany, wine is thought of as a food and taken with a meal.
Festina lente: in haste, slowness
There’s practically nothing that can’t be improved by slowing down, even climbing the stairs deliberately can lose you an extra pound a month. Once a week, contemplate beauty without any purpose other than pleasure. When I arrived in Florence, I was advised to “let the beauty heal you”. It did. The Bella Figura method can do the same for you.
Bella Figura, How to Live, Love and Eat the Italian Way is out now.
Visit www.kamin.co.uk for more details on Bella Figura workshops and experiences in Florence