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Maintaining Healthy Habits in Florence, a Foodie’s Paradise

by Catherine Slabaugh
Maintaining Healthy Habits in Florence, a Foodie's Paradise | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Florence, Italy

This past summer I went through a 6-week time period in which I seriously took control of my body and my health. I’ve always been an active person and I eat fairly healthy, but I wanted to lose a few pounds before studying abroad. So, I began carefully counting my calories and being very conscious of what I ate/drank each day (in a healthy way, promise) and I worked out just as I have been every day. I lost around 4 pounds, gained muscle, and felt confident and healthy. 

And then I moved to Italy. Carbs exist here, gelato exists here, and gyms exist too (but are expensive). Thus, I needed to adapt my eating and workout routine for this new lifestyle.

Disclaimer: Being healthy takes many different forms and looks quite different for everyone. In no way do I mean to shame those who indulge or have different habits than I do! I’m sure you’re loving life and your taste buds are constantly thrilled. These are the tips I’ve found most helpful for myself. Yes, I do eat gelato, and no, I don’t exercise every day, but implementing these small lifestyle changes into my daily routine here have helped me feel healthy and happy.

Here are the ways I’ve been staying healthy while studying abroad in Florence:

1. Walk everywhere.

Now this tip is one you can’t really ignore. Florence is the most walkable city I’ve been to and you have to go out of your way, and spend a good amount of money, to not walk the city. Put some comfortable shoes on track your steps for the day! Each day I’ve been abroad I’ve walked more than 10,000 steps, and most days I walk more than 15,000.

2. Produce is yummy here.

Every day I try to have at least two servings of fruit and two serving of vegetables, and it’s not hard to do here. Shopping at the local grocery stores, I’ve learned that the produce in Italy is extremely fresh and inexpensive. Last week I purchased a 6-pack of peaches for under 2 Euros! Eating fruit for breakfast and for a mid-day snack is a sure way to get in some healthy sugar. Additionally, salads are really unique and different here. I try to have a salad for either lunch or dinner every day and I can honestly say that I haven’t been disappointed! Most salads are quite diverse and include an array of cheese, nuts, and other vegetables. They’re more expensive than a panino or pizza would be, but to me the few extra Euros are worth it.

3. Gelato only a few times each week.

One of my more disappointing tips is to limit your intake of gelato. In Florence, you can’t walk more than 20 steps without running into a gelateria. Every stand claims to be the best and the cheapest, and honestly I haven’t been disappointed with any gelato I’ve eaten so far. This can be a dangerous black hole to go down. It’s accessible, inexpensive, and quite delicious after a long, hot day of class or work. But sadly, gelato is not a bundle of kale, or a bag of carrots. Try limiting it to just a few times a week, or less. It’ll make those times you do get it much sweeter!

If you are looking to get your gelato fill in once a week or so, be sure to check out Amorino for the most photogenic gelato in Florence! For a healthier option, order their fruit sorbet or their green detox gelato.

4. Gyms cost money, but running the city is free.

I’m someone who loves going to the gym. I love the feeling after working out and it’s become a crucial part of my daily life back at home. However, getting a membership while here in Florence wasn’t in my budget and because of this I knew I wouldn’t have access to a gym. So, I’ve learned to get creative! I’ve found that the easiest form of exercise here is running, specifically in the morning. I typically run at around 6:45 AM while the city is empty. Stores are being restocked and some people are heading to work, but the tourists are nowhere to be found. I love running along the river down to the biggest park Florence has — it’s refreshing to see grass every once in a while! The city is full of stairs that are wonderful for cardio and calf work, and I’ve stopped on the side of the road to do squats and lunges far too many times (yes, I get stares). My roommates and I also invested in some inexpensive dumbbells for arm workout, we split the price and it was under 10 euros per person! Having a gym would be much easier and a lot more convenient, but I’m learning to make do!

Running and working out outdoors sure has it’s perks! Here’s a typical Florence sunset over the Arno river. The sunrise views are just as gorgeous!

5. Grocery shop for breakfast and eat at home.

Breakfast doesn’t really exist in Italy — at least not in the sense that we know it as. For a typical Italian, breakfast includes coffee (really a shot of espresso) and a pastry. I don’t know about you, but my stomach surely won’t be filled by a single croissant and a little caffeine. I’ve found a few places that sell breakfast sandwiches and fruit in the morning, but they’re usually more expensive and honestly not worth it. As such, I’ve begun making my breakfast at home! Grocery stores here sell pre-hardboiled eggs that are wonderful for the morning, lots of inexpensive and filling fruit, and protein bars. It’s a filling breakfast that eliminates those pesky empty carbs pastries have. 

6. Always carry a water bottle.

I quickly learned here in Italy that water at a restaurant is not free, and it’s not cheap. I’m someone who likes to drink water when I’m bored and to feel full. Wanting lots of water and water not being free is not a great combo. I’ve learned to always leave the house with a full water bottle or two. If you sit down to eat at a restaurant and ask for water, they’ll likely bring you a large glass bottle that will give you around 4 glasses of water, and it’ll cost around 2 Euros. It’s not necessarily expensive, but rather annoying to have to pay for water.

Florence does have a few water bottle refill stations around the city. They’re little spouts on the side of walls, typically in a small fountain. I suggest carrying around a reusable water bottle at all times and refilling whenever you see one!

7. Carbs surpass all other food groups here.

When you think of Italy, you’ll likely think of carb-heavy food like pasta, pizza, pastries, etc. Well, you’re thinking correctly. Carbs are quite literally everywhere in Florence and it can be challenging to eat meals that don’t include carbs. When you’re eating at a restaurant, let’s say for dinner, it’s really easy and inexpensive to jump right to the giant plate of ravioli or gnocchi, or order a giant pizza. While this is delicious, and I always encourage you to listen to your tummy, as your tummy may hate you later and you’ll find yourself feeling quite large and in charge after dinner. My tip is to order vegetables and a lean protein for dinner- perhaps caprese for an appetizer and a salmon filet or piece of chicken for your main course. The same goes for breakfast and lunch: turn to fresh produce or a nice salad instead of a sandwich, slice of pizza, or a bowl of pasta. 

This post was contributed by Catherine Slabaugh, who is spending her fall semester studying and interning abroad with AIFS in Florence, Italy.

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