Is it possible to do ROME on 800 calories a day?

‘Why would David Smith avoid pasta, pizza and bread on an Italian cultural fest? Because fasting is the new longevity buzz of course.’

Everywhere we look it seems we are offered the perfect answer to ageing well, much of the advice is about our diet and physical activity. Many of us can make these positive changes at home but how realistic is it to stick to them on a holiday? David Smith was committed to tackling his blood sugar levels and wasn’t going to be beaten by a Roman holiday.

It was two weeks after starting Michael Mosley’s ‘8 week blood sugar diet’, a regime that takes sugar and carbohydrates off the menu; and my pre-planned trip with my wife to Italy’s capital city was starting to look like an epicurean’s nightmare. Daydreams of long lunches wolfing down great bowls of fresh pasta, followed by late suppers in backstreet pizzerias, were melting faster than a pistachio gelato on a hot day. I’m not a diabetic. I’m not even particularly fat. I am a man of a certain age with a bit of a tummy, but as Mosley points out in his book, I could be a TOFI – Thin on the Outside. Fat on the Inside. Meaning that fat is invading my liver and pancreas while also increasing my waistline. Keeping our daily intake down to the required 800 calories was going to be a challenge, but on the positive side Mosley does recommend the Mediterranean diet of fish, salads and fresh vegetables and lots of olive oil. He also goes on to explain that we humans are meant to move and the best way to experience any new city is to walk, everywhere! And burn shoe leather we did. Telling ourselves that overdoing it at the hotel breakfast buffet could be walked off with a 50 minute walk to the city centre, with a few detours to take in an odd ancient building or ogle a massive marble carving of an old Roman god going about his deity duties senza mutandine – or without knickers to you.  Like all tourists visiting a European city, we needed to see the sites and tick them off. We managed to amass an average of 22,000 steps each day so felt less guilt when we succumbed to the odd slice of bread.

We ticked off lots of the icons of Rome as we accumulated our daily step intake but what we really wanted to see was some modern Italian art: Umberto Boccioni and the Futurists; Lucio Fontana and the Spatialists, not forgetting a smidgen of fascistic propaganda.

Behind Rome is the Pincian Hill, home of the Villa Borghese and Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. If you want to get away from the tourists, this is the place. At one point we were the only art lovers viewing the art. Of course, being Italian it has a really good restaurant/cafe, which was packed. We managed to get a table and enjoyed hearty salads with a nice glass of the house red, and only a very small bread basket between us.

We wandered the city with no real plan and eventually found ourselves in the Jewish quarter. By now, very hungry and having definitely completed our 10,000 steps, we stumbled upon Roscioli. Staring through the window, it looked like a small delicatessen with six tables and twelve chairs crammed in. One wall was floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with wine bottles. The counter was four glass-cabinets displaying cheeses, cold meats and jars of olives; peppers and pâtés. Inside, the shop opened out at the back into a bustling bar

and a very popular (and we later discovered famous) restaurant. We opted to sit in the shop and experience the to-ing and fro-ing of Roman epicures. Needless to say the food was terrific; our waiter, who bore a striking resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Borat’, brought over water, two glasses of red wine and the biggest basket of rustic bread (sorry, but the flesh is weak and Italian bread is to die for). We started with red tuna seasoned in oil and served with steamed artichokes and grilled onions marinated in balsamic vinegar.  Mains were traditional Roman meatballs with smoked chestnut polenta, (for me) and grilled monkfish on steamed vegetables (for my wife).

On our last day of art and (reasonably) sensible eating in the Eternal City we headed to the Via Francesco Crispi to find the Galleria d’Arte Moderna and yet again we had this neat little gallery to ourselves. However no restaurant here, so we hot-footed it to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni where we bypassed the video art and took the lift to the second floor for ‘the lunch experience’. Called simply after chef Antonello Colonna whose brainchild it is, this is a bit of a hidden gem and how I imagine Armani’s staff canteen might be; very cool, very modern and serving €16

buffet lunches. It was full of people straight out of a D&G ad wafting by as they filled and refilled their plates. Afterwards we took our coffee on to the open terrace with the smokers to enjoy the late afternoon sun. That’s when we decided that we loved Rome, its art and its food.

So, did we manage to stick to only 800 calories a day? No chance, obviously, but avoiding carbs wasn’t as hard as we had initially thought. Shunning pasta is easy, as the Italians serve it as a second course between the appetiser and the main. We never set foot in a pizzeria or a gelateria. But our real downfall was the delicious bread (not forgetting the red wine). So, taking into account the amount of walking, I’d like to think we scoffed 1,000 calories but burned off 200. Que Sera, Sera.