One of the reasons I switched to a plant based lifestyle last summer was because of a planned trip to Italy this year. Before I embraced eating healthier, I had trouble walking without pain and I was using a cane. My hope was to walk without a cane and without pain, during the trip.
If you’ve followed my healing journey, you know my health has been transformed by adopting a plant based lifestyle. No more cane and no more pain have been just two of the positive outcomes as a result. However, as the trip drew closer, I wondered if it would be possible to eat plant based in Italy.
Breakfasts were easy while in Italy. Every hotel we stayed in offered a large breakfast buffet. I could choose from a selection of fresh and baked fruits, juices and even veggies such as green beans, mushrooms and tomatoes.
But what about lunches and dinners, in a country famous for pasta? A Divine opportunity brought the answer. Because of severe weather in the US and being diverted to London rather than Rome, we missed the welcome dinner the first night of the tour. The next day, catching up with our tour director, Fabi, I asked if it was considered rude to request gluten free pasta at restaurants.
My daughter Elissa, grandson Dayan and I were about to head out into Rome for our first dinner. Fabi happened to be giving Dayan directions to nearby cafes. Otherwise, I would not have asked my question. I felt reluctant to ask at a restaurant. I didn’t want to be perceived as a picky eater. That was my issue though, I realized. It is always appropriate to ask!
Fabi assured me that most restaurants did indeed offer gluten free pasta and vegetarian or vegan meal options. My first dinner was in a delightful cafe with outdoor seating, located on a narrow street lined with restaurants. I enjoyed roasted potatoes and freshly grilled veggies. No one looked at me oddly or questioned my selection.
The ease of ordering that first meal encouraged me to stay within my plant based diet during the entire trip. However, I have to praise Fabi for taking charge of my meals. Our tour included some lunches and dinners, at various restaurants and two different vineyards. Without me asking her to, she called ahead to each venue and explained that I was following a restricted diet.
A five course totally plant based, gluten free meal!
Without exception, at each place I was served delicious, freshly prepared plant based meals. No gluten. No meat. No sugar, dairy or eggs. Instead of a sweet dessert, I was presented with a bowl of sumptuous fruit. The chefs or head waiters introduced themselves to me before the meals, delivered each course with a flourish and a smile, and checked with me after to make sure I was happy with the food.
Happy? I was thrilled! And those who brought me my special meals did so with a noticeable sense of accomplishment and pride that was endearing. I felt so well cared for, and not at all a burden.
When we were free to eat on our own, I did fine ordering from the menu. Dayan noticed the small print that read gluten free available. From Rome to the coastal villages in Cinque Terre to Venice, gluten free pasta and/or vegan options were readily available, making it easy for me to stay plant based.
Was it difficult, eating differently from everyone else? Not at all. Was it boring? Absolutely not. I enjoyed a variety of delicious foods. And it was crucial for me. If I had abandoned my plant based lifestyle, even for a few days, I would have risked feeling unwell or opened myself up to discomfort. It was important to me to feel my very best.
And I did do well. I walked with ease, 4-6 miles a day. I flew for hours and hours, without my legs locking up. I climbed stairs, which a year ago would have been impossible. While stairs can still be a challenge for me, due to years of pain and inflammation that has caused muscle tightness around my knees, I am continuing to improve. I kept up with the tour group and I was extremely pleased with my level of fitness.
My experience was encouraging. I found that it is possible to eat a plant based diet while on vacation. My tips for a healthy vacation are:
Make healthy eating a priority, because health IS a priority
Drink plenty of water. It is easy to become dehydrated while traveling.
Get enough rest. Jet lag is a real thing! Stay awake during the days and get to bed early the first couple of nights to adjust to a different time zone.
And don’t be afraid to ask for specially prepared meals. Express sincere appreciation and gratitude to the waiter and chef.
I am so grateful for Fabi, who went above and beyond to ensure that I ate healthy meals. And I am grateful for each chef who took the time to create magnificent meals for me. I’m also so thankful for my grandson and daughter who frequently asked if I was finding healthy options on the menus and often checked ahead before choosing a cafe, just to make sure I could find something to eat.
Black lentils and vegetables, beautifully prepared.
Surrounded by such caring and conscientious people, how could I not do well on this trip? And that would be my last suggestion for maintaining a diet while on vacation…surround yourself with supportive people. They may not eat what you eat, but they can certainly offer encouragement and love and compassion as you care for yourself.
Healthy eating is a choice…a daily choice. Whether dining in my own home or in a fine restaurant in Venice, I am the one who decides what I will eat. I chose well. And my body thanked me for it.