I really love to eat.
I'm not joking when I say I live each day thinking about my next meal, or that pizza and cupcakes have always been two of my favorite food groups.
I rarely pass up the opportunity to Instagram a mouthwatering #FoodPorn pic, and I'm always down for dessert.
The problem is, so much of the food I've enjoyed most of my life doesn't seem to like me as much as I like it anymore. After many years of "normal" healthy eating, everything changed.
My favorite foods started to bother my stomach and made me feel as though I was going through a horrible breakup, where I was the one getting dumped for no reason whatsoever. I did nothing wrong, WTF?
Although the doctor was unable to pinpoint a specific problem, he put me on the low FODMAP diet, which completely eliminated gluten and lactose from my diet, among many other yummy things.
The struggle was so real.
Lactose-free milk and yogurt filled my fridge, as I sadly put my love for Gouda cheese on hold and replaced it with almond and soy cheeses. I switched to gluten-free bread and cereal.
I bought legit everything organic available and eliminated apples, mangos, pears, plums, peaches, avocados, cherries, blackberries, pistachios, watermelon, eggplant, broccoli, corn, couscous, ricotta cheese, mushrooms, artichokes, honey, salsa and more from my diet.
It was definitely cramping my vibe.
When I'm strict about sticking to the low FODMAP diet, my stomach feels so much better, but it's tough for me to follow it all the time, between eating out and not being able to control myself around bread.
This led me to the question: What is actually in our food and why is it making so many people sick?
One of my role models, Vani Hari, AKA The Food Babe, found a few not-so-savory things about the food Americans eat on a daily basis.
She currently lives a healthy lifestyle and has made it her mission to uncover the secrets within the food we eat. And there are a lot of them, which is quite disturbing.
In one of her investigations, a Girl Scout Cookie fave, Thin Mints, is put in the spotlight.
When I was a Girl Scout, Thin Mints never failed to be my go-to cookies. Let's be honest, this cookie seemed to be the real MVP of the pack. After reading The Food Babe's findings, though, it deeply saddens me to say that I certainly won't think about eating one ever again.
One major secret The Food Babe uncovered is that Girl Scout Cookies contain sugar from GMO sugar beets. These beloved treats are actually chock full of Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide residue, which the GMO sugar beets are treated with. This herbicide is associated with cancers, birth defects and kidney disease.
In another investigation, The Food Babe reveals 10 "healthy" foods that are hiding a ton of sugar.
Sugar is toxic. Plain and simple. It wreaks havoc on our bodies. Makes us age faster than we should. Destroys our skin. Makes it easy to carry a spare tire around our bellies and taxes our organs.
The Food Babe refers to sugar as the most frequently used food additive; about 80% of the food in your local grocery store contains it...which is downright crazy.
According to The Food Babe's "healthy" imposter list, there are several items you may want to check the labels on before adding to your shopping cart: protein bars, oatmeal, frozen diet meals, yogurts, breads (even gluten-free) and more.
Like The Food Babe, I've traveled and had the opportunity to experience different cultures and savor authentic food.
During my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy for a semester. It was the most incredible experience of my life, and my taste buds could not agree more.
I was actually surrounded by food. The constant aroma of pizza and Nutella could not be escaped, but I didn't hate it.
When my squad and I weren't exploring the endless beauty our new city had to offer, we ate pizza, pasta, cheese and gelato.
Let's be real, what's a diet anyway when you're residing in one of the most esteemed foodie capitals of the world?
I ate, and when I was done eating, I ate some more without any restrictions.
I FELT SO FREE AND FREAKING LOVED IT!
My two best friends and I lived in the heart of Piazza della Signoria, directly above a pizzeria. The waiters became our close friends and they never failed to surprise us with limoncello.
My favorite panino shop was a short walk down the cobblestone street, where warm focaccia and decadent truffle spread awaited.
A chocolate cafe was conveniently located across the street from our apartment. We watched the baristas melt bars of dark chocolate before our eyes and top each mug of hot cocoa with homemade whipped cream.
My floor-to-ceiling windows served as a natural alarm clock. I would wake up to the aroma of freshly-baked bread wafting into my room.
I was in heaven, living on cloud nine.
I enjoyed it all and had no stomach issues whatsoever. It was as if Italy made them completely vanish.
I didn't have to read even one label. It was glorious.
Bring on the truffle oil gnocchi, and keep them coming...
Before you pre-conclude the reason my stomach issues ceased was because I was chilling and living in a breathtaking city, rewind, and note I actually did do work. I took on a full course load and had the responsibilities of a writing internship while I was there.
So here's my theory:
Everything is fresh in Italy. Italians don't use many (if any) preservatives, and they don't import food from every nook and cranny of the world that may be drenched with pesticides.
Italians have a totally different lifestyle. They don't stuff their faces with food or constantly stress about things.
Ann Reavis, author of "Italian Food Rules," says in her book:
There are Pringles, corn chips, candy, chewing gum, Coke (not Pepsi), canned sweetened ice tea, Tic-Tacs, M&Ms and Mars Bars in any coffee bar or small grocery store in Italy. But who buys these snacks? Tourists... mostly.
She also brings up another solid Italian food rule: Do NOT eat on the go!
Italians never eat or drink while they're walking. They have no culture of snacking on the types of food that Americans are frequently noshing on as they hurry from place to place - no Big Gulps, bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, Big Macs or even a panino con la mortadella (bologna sandwich).
Italians make time to eat and relax, vino almost always included. Some merchants put signs on their doors and close up shop when it's lunchtime because it's an extremely valued meal of the day.
It's common to shop for groceries on a daily basis and buy everything fresh, rather than shop for groceries that will last through the entire week (as most people do in America).
When in doubt, keep this critical Italian rule in mind, according to Reavis:
Italians don't snack -- they eat Nutella.
I have one piece of advice for you: If you have stomach issues and are sick and tired of dealing with way too many dietary restrictions, move to Italy. It's quite likely the lifestyle change will drastically improve your health and overall well-being.
Who knows, you may see me there!