Mambo Italiano: Lessons From My First Body Positive Vacation

I had the incredible privilege of spending the past two weeks on vacation in stunning Italy. My family and I went to Mondello and Palermo in Sicily for a family wedding the first week, spent the second week in sunny Sorrento, and rounded out the trip with a couple days in Naples.

I was nervous about lots of things about this trip—about only speaking un pochinno italiano and having to get everything at work organized before I left. But, on top of that, I had a lot of body and food related anxiousness.

Cue: diet culture-based nerves about visiting a country famed for its love of carbs (bread, pasta, pizza), having an uncertain schedule, and heck—even wearing a bathing suit had me sweating (not only because Canada and Europe were in the middle of a massive heatwave).

We got home last night. I’m battling jetlag as I type this, but I wanted to distill what I learned about fitness, food, and self love from the entire experience before I plunge into training for Run for the Toad, job hunting, and general life in Canada.

1. The world didn’t end when my running routine did

I’m the first person to admit that my relationship with running is a little co-dependent—like many runners, I have a hard time skipping runs without feeling antsy or, worse, guilty. I packed my gear and my Sauconys with the intention of getting up early to get in at least three runs each week.

I ran twice—once in Modello and once in our hotel in Naples when it was too hot to go outside. The rest of the time I was running to the local cafe for a espresso or a gelato (or both).

Instead of running, I navigated the sun-baked labyrinth of Palermo by map, explored the ruins of Pompeii, climbed Vesuvio and swam in the Mediterranean Sea. BUT even if I had spent the entire time lounging beachside with an Aperol Spritz for company, it would have been fine.

My legs didn’t lose their muscle. My lungs didn’t atrophy. I was so busy having fun I didn’t even miss running. (It pains me to type this.)

2. Eating the pizza and embracing simplicity

Italy was big on simple ingredients, bold flavours (shoutouts to my brand new espresso addiction). I was able to put aside my diet culture fears because I wanted to try it all. There’s no magic trick to make this happen. I have a fairly normal relationship with food (albeit after a history of disordered eating). However, if diet culture started dripping poison in my ear, I just reminded myself that I hadn’t bought a plane ticket to hold back or feel guilty.

You know what? I don’t regret a single bite.

I tasted pizza in Naples with a sauce that thrummed on my palate with so much vibrancy and freshness that it damn near made me burst into tears. I ate mango gelato from a brioche Sicilian style that was the best mango-flavoured anything I’ve ever tasted. I schkoffed mounds of pasta seasoned with nothing but herbs and olive oil, buried under jewels of mussels, clams, and lobster. I didn’t feel guilty about any of it because I wasn’t about to let diet culture ruin my vacation.

In fact, I brought a special souvenir home—a new philosophy: “cook simply and don’t let yourself regret any bite.”

3. All bodies are beach bodies (no, really)

Italians are kinda known worldwide for being conventionally beautiful—perhaps blindingly so. Mondello is known for being a gorgeous beach town—given the recent shakiness of my confidence , this felt like a dangerous combination.

I know all of the adages—one person’s beauty doesn’t diminish your own, all bodies are beach bodies etc. etc. I also know I work at a desk, away from the sun’s tender touch (aka pale af) and spent my early twenties hiding under a t-shirt every time I went to the beach or pool.

I was determined to do what felt impossible and get to the beach in my first ever bikini. When we got down to the sand and surf, there were literally all body types kicking it on the sand—and nobody cared (to which I have to thank the privileges of having an enabled, white, cis-gendered, small-fat body). I wish I could say it felt awesome, but really it felt… like nothing. It felt normal… because even in Italy, it kind of was.

So I sun bathed and went into the ocean for the first time in almost two decades and loved it.

Now that the whole trip is over, I’m hoping to take the revitalized thrill of travel and channel it into cooking some fun new things and adventuring forward into training for Run for the Toad in October! (Stay tuned for training blogs.)