I just returned a few weeks ago from a whirlwind trip to Italy. I have been craving a visit especially since my father’s death two years ago, to connect with family and offer them some closure with his passing as well. So, when a two-week window opened up in June… I grabbed it.
My intentions were to rest, eat well, not stress and just reconnect with my loved ones in Venice, Naples and in Rome. As I know I feel better and do better following certain ways of eating, I also had the honorable intention of following those guidelines and sticking as closely as possible to the way I eat at home…. no gluten, no sugar, lo-salt, less dairy, organic veggies, fish, etc…. All of this however, with one exception: Gelato.
On this point I was clear even before I got on the plane. There was going to be Gelato in my life for the next two weeks and not the commercial kind you find on the main drag… but the Artigianale (Artisanal) Gelato made by the families who have been passing along those recipes and using the finest ingredients from generation to generation: Chocolate, Hazelnut, Pistacchio, Frutta Di Bosca, Tiramisu– you get the idea.
Armed with this plan, I ventured to the airport, not suspecting the learning that was about to unfold for me. Over the next 14 days, Gelato would become my sacred teacher and create a gateway to self love, to family ties, to surrender, and to acceptance of what is. My journey began with the Daily Ritual not only of what there was to see and who there was to visit… but when and where we would find the ultimate Gelato. Dairy is simply different in Italy and milk is often much better tolerated but I don’t think that had anything to do with the digest-ability of it… I suspect it had more to do with mindset and choice to seek out and allow this simple pleasure and to share this ritual with others that made it all go down so smoothly and be so satisfying.
Turned out the Gelato experience opened up many questions to consider.. what if? What if it is about the quality ingredients… non GMO? Biologica (organic). And, what if the positive experience had more to do with the conditions… eating in a relaxed state at no particular time and listening to what the body wanted and how much… and what if it was about with whom you were sharing the experience? It also did not hurt that I was in a place on the planet where my family roots sink deep into the earth…
Most people I speak to who go to Italy and eat with pleasure, rarely gain weight or have other problems with the food… Isn’t that alone food for thought?
Soon after my arrival and my first Gelato lesson, I was given my next experiment. Gluten and I don’t usually travel well together. But what do I say to my cousin who I had not seen in 30 years who had already prepared hand-made pizza for the first night we were in Venice? I said, of course… and so the gluten resolve melted away… and while I waited for the sky to fall.. guess what? I was fine.* I let go of the fear that hours of gluten lectures and articles have instilled in me and just decided that this food made with love and shared in the finest company was going to nourish me in a special way!
Joshua Rosenthal, MScEd, founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, first taught me about Primary Food… those things in life that nourish us that are not on our plates… Primary food trumps secondary food (what you are actually eating) every time. People who fill themselves up with the Primary food, do pretty well despite anything else they might eat. Sometimes people who are ultra careful about every bite they put in their mouths are some of the unhealthiest people we know.
One coaching tool I use often is to put two opposing ideas on a continuum and find the functional sweet spot in the middle where we can find moderation and that which serves us. Too far out on any extreme end usually puts us off balance…but in the middle we can find what works for us. All or nothing thinking or eating does not serve us or our clients*.
Now I am not saying, as health and wellness professionals we abandon the science we know. But I am saying the pasta my 87-year-old aunt made for me the day I was leaving to come home was a meal that I shall never forget. She shared the precious recipe and I promised to Skype her for her guidance when I had a chance to make it myself. So once in a while, you may still find me “putting the water on” (the Sunday signal in my growing up days that once it was boiling, we’d toss in the pasta and dinner would not be far behind).
As we wellness coaches are (most of us) foodies, one thing we know how to do is how to connect with others over food and celebrate, with gratitude, the abundance of the earth and an appreciation for the careful and loving preparation of all there is on the planet to nourish our bodies and please our senses. These are beautiful gifts not to be overshadowed by worry and stress or self-criticism.
When I give workshops about sugar or other health conditions… there is typically the tentative hand that goes up in the back of the room of the fearful person who asks… “What about ice cream? What is your position on ice cream?”
My answer is always the same.
“Ice Cream,” I say, “is a spiritual decision.”
And so it is.
* Of course, this may not apply to those with severe allergy or other health conditions that have zero tolerance for certain foods.