When I tell people that I completely immersed myself into the Mediterranean diet and Italian lifestyle, they politely say, “oh, that’s nice.” It sounds like just another diet to them. But if I told you how I lost 10 pounds in a month without giving up bread, cheese, pasta, and the occasional takeout meal, would you be interested? Because that is exactly what I did.

I want to share with you how easy and enjoyable it was to eat and live this way. Most diets make claims that sound too good to be true. But the Mediterranean diet is not a traditional starve-and-deprive diet. It’s a fabulous lifestyle that promotes good health and longevity.

It’s important to think about what type of lifestyle you want first, and then fit your eating plan into your life. I like to drink coffee. I like wine. I love pasta. I found a plan that allows for all of these things. The key is moderation.

When I first starting eating this way, I found a significant improvement in my overall health. My cholesterol numbers reduced, my nutrition numbers improved, my skin and hair texture improved. But I wasn’t really losing much weight. My portion sizes hadn’t changed. Too much of a good thing is still too much. That’s when I decided to not just improve my eating habits, but to fully immerse myself into the Italian lifestyle, of which I am so enamored.

You don’t have to deprive yourself of anything on a Mediterranean lifestyle plan, but moderation is important. I think it’s important not to be too hard on yourself, but more importantly, don’t be too easy on yourself. If you are always allowing indulgences they start to add up and your progress will be slower. My idea of moderation was not moderate enough. When I started eating just a little bit less, I saw improvement. Add to that some type of movement like walking, swimming or going to the gym, and you will start to see significant results. That’s how I lost 10 pounds by the end of the month.

When you start to see progress, it’s great incentive to keep going.

I fully immersed myself in this new complete lifestyle for the entire month of August. In that time, I lost 10 pounds as well as an inch off my waist, an inch off my hips, a half inch from around my neck and a half inch off each thigh. At my last doctor appointment my cholesterol was down 23 points. That’s significant, and without feeling deprived at all. I had a male partner doing this with me, and he lost 12 pounds and also made a significant reduction in his cholesterol numbers. As you can see, it’s not just about the pounds.

I would like to share with you some tips for incorporating a Mediterranean eating plan.

The Basics of the Mediterranean Diet

  • Drink lots of water. Keep track of it in an app like Lifesum.
  • Vegetables are key. Fill your plate mostly with vegetables and eat other foods as side dishes. Serve several vegetables at one meal.
  • Olive oil is the king of the Mediterranean. Replace all other oils in your diet with olive oil. Replace butter with olive oil.
  • Eat fish several times a week.
  • Cut down on the amount of meat you eat, especially red meat.
  • When you eat pasta or risotto, make the portion a small course as part of a larger meal.
  • Prepare your foods with few ingredients, perhaps some olive oil and herbs, instead of covering them in rich creamy or cheesy sauces.

Add a Sprinkling of Italian Lifestyle

  • Take an evening stroll, what the Italians call la passeggiata.
  • Slow down your meal by eating in courses.
  • Spend time with family and friends. Meals are especially enjoyable when shared with others.
  • Cook at home often. You don’t have to do it all the time, but it’s the only way to really know what ingredients you are consuming.
  • Opt for healthy choices when eating out or ordering takeout.
  • To save time, prep meals in advance or make enough so that you can have leftovers for another meal.
  • Don’t skip meals. It ends up making you hangry and then you eat too much at your next meal.
  • When you’re feeling like you need something at night, ask yourself if you are really hungry. You could be thirsty, bored, or feeling emotional. Feed your need, not your stomach.
  • If you really are hungry, eat something, but try to make it nutritious. Have a piece of fruit or cheese, instead of defaulting to sweets or chips.

It’s about creating healthy habits. Much about the way we eat and live are habits that we have formed over time. Our portion sizes are a habit. We get used to the large quantities that are served in restaurants and then we feel we need to pile up our plates at home. We get used to sitting on the couch and watching TV after dinner instead of taking a stroll around the neighborhood. These habits can easily be replaced with healthier alternatives.

Replace restaurants with cafes. We like the social aspect and the atmosphere of being out and around a bustling restaurant. But restaurants serve huge portions and you don’t know all of the ingredients. You’d be surprised at how many calories, sodium, and sugars are in a restaurant meal. If you want the experience, go to a cafe and get a coffee or tea. You still get the social experience of being out and about, without all the unknown ingredients.

Stop comparing yourself to others. This was a big one for me. When you are dieting with a male partner, they will always lose weight faster. That can be frustrating, but it’s just biology. They don’t have to deal with the hormones that women have, and their body mass naturally burns off more calories. It takes them more calories in a day to operate their bodies than it does for us. Work at your own pace.

Read nutrition labels on food. Look for hidden sugars, sodium, or unpronounceable ingredients. Try to do away with processed foods, like packaged cereals, microwavable meals, supermarket breads, flavored rice packets, frozen vegetables in butter sauces, etc. Buy bread at the bakery. It will have far fewer ingredients. These convenience foods are what is making this country fat.

Embrace cooking. Somehow the food industry has convinced us that cooking is hard and that it takes too much time. Cooking is easy and you can have a nutritious dinner on the table in less than 45 minutes. Make the time. Part of this lifestyle is to slow down. Set aside dinner time as an important part of your day. Some of my best memories from my childhood were built around the kitchen table, sharing meals with my family. Don’t miss out on that.

Be sure to get enough sleep. We burn calories when we sleep. This is also the time that your body takes to heal itself and fight off sickness and disease. Sleep is important. Don’t eat too close to when you are going to bed. You don’t want your body to be using that time to digest food instead of healing.

Think of this lifestyle as gaining health instead of losing weight. Weigh loss is a byproduct of this happy, healthy lifestyle.

This was not a one-month diet for me. I will be continuing this lifestyle. After one month I’ve made it a habit. I enjoy eating and living this way. I think you will too, if you give it a try. I’m excited to see how much weight I lose over the next few months.

I recorded a video every day in August showing you the foods that I ate and how I prepared them. Click the purple button below to access my YouTube playlist and see how I lost 10 pounds on the Mediterranean diet.

Donna’s Mediterranean Lifestyle Playlist