Italians take breaks. Why don’t we?
Plus, a little newsletter update!
Hello! We are hitting six whole months of Forkful (wow) and with that comes lots of reflection and rethinking. This space will change a bit for both paid and free subscribers, so make sure to read the update at the end of the newsletter. Paid subscribers, scroll down for a little surprise!
It was 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday. My parents and I just finished up a sweaty climb up the stairs in Praiano, because apparently, the entire coast of Amalfi is on a steep cliff. And unless you have a scooter or want to take the risk of driving through narrow winding roads with massive tour buses and minimal parking, you walk. So we walked down to the coast to see the beach…and walked hundreds of steps back up.
We were hungry, and in need of a shot of espresso stat. It was time for some sort of late lunch, but every restaurant was just down the hill, and the last thing we wanted to do was climb more stairs. With shaking legs, we walked over to the closest deli market to see if we could maybe get some crackers and a package of salami…but the lights were out. The doors shuttered. And the man walking by said they wouldn’t be open again until 4:30.
4:30? I quickly searched this place on my phone and found out that the market closed at 12:30 practically every day, with no intention of opening up for another four hours.
I was heated (quite literally, it was almost 100 degrees outside), and frustrated. I immediately thought about how selfish these people must be to take a four-hour lunch break every day.
But then I recoiled at my own thought. These people prioritize their time and their health enough to close down their businesses. And for the rest of my days traipsing around Italy, I come to learn how common it is for businesses to close their doors for hours at a time at lunch. Burnout just isn’t a concept for these people. They get the job done, and then they go home. No sad salads at their desk during lunch, or a quick 20-minute bite in the break room. Taking regular breaks to rejuvenate is just a way of life.
It’s not exactly called a siesta, but conceptually Italians do the same thing as the Spanish. People in Spain close down during the hottest parts of the day in the afternoon to eat and rest, while escaping the heat—typically between 2 and 4 p.m. While a legit “siesta”—a nap—can certainly be a part of this rest period (while positively benefiting your health), it’s not required. In Italy, this time is usually spent at home eating lunch with the family or grabbing an espresso over at the local bar.
It’s no secret that skipping breaks can lead to faster burnout. “Burnout” is a term used to describe someone who is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted with little motivation, a lower performance rate, and a negative outlook on oneself, according to Cleveland Clinic.
And yet, in American culture, burnout seems inevitable. Just like Italians have a culture of regularly taking breaks, Americans have quite the opposite. According to survey data collected by Tork, 20% of North Americans feel their bosses won’t think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, and 22% of bosses actually believe it. 38% of employees don’t feel encouraged to take a break at all.
But the research continues to show the positive benefit of taking breaks. Cornell Health says a purposeful break anywhere between 5 and 60 minutes can help to refresh your brain and body while increasing your productivity, focus, and energy, and research confirms it. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology points out that employees who actually took breaks and were less engaging with their jobs ended up having better sales performance because of their boost in mood—while employees who were “more engaged” didn’t have an increase in work performance.
A study from the same journal even found that workers who took breaks reported fewer health ailments, higher job satisfaction, and lower rates of burnout.
So…why don’t we take breaks? Because it’s not in our nature. Our hustle culture desires to seem hardworking and focused while taking breaks is seen as weak and selfish.
And yet…the Italians have a higher life expectancy rate compared to Americans, and Sardinia is home to one of the five blue zones in the world with the densest population of people living to be over a century.
Is it safe to say that taking breaks can help you live longer? Okay, I don’t have a specific study to prove that to you quite yet. But it seems to me that this correlation is rather significant. So maybe we should be mimicking this daily practice out of the Italian book of life.
Although rather tempting, scrolling on your phone isn’t the answer. It will just make you feel more tired, frustrated, and uncreative.
I enjoyed this list from Cornell Health and pulled a few ideas for you to practice.
Take a walk. Studies show walking up to 7,500 steps a day can positively improve your health and wellbeing.
Take a power nap. 30 minutes max, or you’ll throw off your circadian rhythm, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Make a coffee. Seems counterintuitive to rest, but the Italians do it, so I will, too! I’ve been enjoying making an afternoon cup of espresso and pairing it with a little snack. The Italians like to have pastries or even some slices of salami and cheese.
Or enjoy a distraction-free lunch. Maybe take it outside and enjoy the sun to get your vitamin D for the day. Listen to the birds, watch the people, let the world go by. You’ll feel funny at first (this doesn’t feel productive!!), but you get used to it pretty quickly—and you’ll start valuing that time.
Meditate, pray, or journal. Or all three.
Engage in a screen-free activity. Read a book. Play some cards. Meet a friend for coffee (or wine and snacks!) Get your eyeballs off a screen for a while. That’s taxing in itself.
Remember, you are literally going against culture by taking a break. But then again, we’re also going against culture by avoiding the dieting mindset and choosing our bodies and our long-term health. So if anything, you’re living out your truth. You’re living like a grocer in Italy who closes their shop for four hours in the afternoon, with absolutely no f***s given. Because you are deserving of a break—every day.
I can’t believe it has been a full six months already. We’ve learned so much together—and debunked many popular diet myths along the way.
With that being said, I’ve taken a lot of time reflecting on how I can make this space even better for all of you (you know how much I love reflection). I’ve also taken some time to connect with other fellow Substack writers, and it’s been enlightening to see how other writers go about what they offer on their platforms.
After a bit of time (and a huge leap to start freelancing on my own), here’s what I landed on:
All subscribers will get the weekly Saturday email. Similar to what you see here, you’ll get an essay about some kind of topic regarding nutrition and health. I’ll also likely include some interesting links I read from the week regarding health and wellness, as well as personal blog posts and recipes.
Paid subscribers will get an audio version of my Saturday essay. Scroll down! It’s like a little podcast just for you! If you pay for this newsletter, I will also release an audio version where I’ll actually read the essay I wrote. So if you prefer podcasts rather than sitting down to read an email, this is your answered prayer. The audio version will be linked at the bottom of each newsletter.
Paid subscribers will get monthly meal plans. This one is new! Right before the start of each month, I’ll be sending out a full meal plan with all kinds of healthy recipes and treats that you can enjoy throughout the month. Recipes, grocery lists, the whole shebang. There is also room to collaborate with registered dietitians on this, so if you are a dietitian looking to get more of your recipes and work out there, let’s talk!
Paid subscribers will get exclusive access to my research. As you know, I do some research and interviewing for the essays I write each week. Think of this as your backstage pass! You’ll get a few extra emails where I’ll share any Q&A’s from experts or any other studies or research findings I find interesting to share. It’s like cracking open my brain, essentially.
I’m sure more goodies will be available for my paid subscribers as time goes on, but for now, this is what you’ll get! If this is something you’re interested in, you can upgrade right here.
Thanks for continually supporting my work! I am so encouraged and motivated by all of you. Let’s keep kicking toxic diet culture’s butt!
Feeling a little too lazy to read? Plug in those headphones and listen to the weekly essay instead—an exclusive offering now available for paid subscribers of Forkful.