Italian Life

Moving to Italy | Cicciona Means Chubby in Italian

Preventive Insurance vs Preventative Care. Difference between American and Italian health care systems + cultural views on being overweight.

The biggest secret fear I had about moving to Italy was that I would feel like a Big Fat American. That fear was realized at my very first doctor’s appointment. I officially need to lose weight.

The worse part? My poor husband had to be the one to tell me because my Italian is not strong enough to go to medical appointments on my own. By moving to Italy without speaking Italian fluently, I put my husband in the position of having to look me in the face and translate “you have to lose weight.”

Ladies can you imagine?!?! Men can you?

Italy vs America, Cultural Differences Around Weight

To add insult to injury, the doctor’s instructions came without my stepping foot on the scale. The doctor knew by looking at me I’m above average. Over the years I thought I had learned to be comfortable with my body. Italy is going to challenge me on that.

Anyone else hiding a little Quaratine15? During COVID lockdowns too much red wine, Robiola, and pasta. Before that in Portland it was too many IPAs.

Italian women are among the thinnest in Europe and average 5’4″. A hair under 5’9″ I’m bigger than most Italian women. In heels, I’m bigger than the average Italian man. Even though technically I’m still in a healthy weight class, the doctor is right. I’d have less chronic pain issues if I weighted less.

While I don’t speak Italian fluently yet, I know what Ciccione means. I do not want to be a Cicciona.

Cicciona Means Fat or Chubby Woman in Italian

Cicciona means chubby or fat woman in Italian. It should be said, no one called me Ciocciona. It’s an offensive term in Italian. I just don’t want to become Cicciona. Especially not one in Italy.

Culturally Italians are more comfortable commenting on other people’s weight than Americans are. In America weight is a taboo subject. Kids are taught “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

In America, I would have been put on a scale and pronounced healthy. I am in my weight class. In Italy, where preventative medicine is excellent, not so much.

To be honest, maybe that’s not the worst thing. 36% of Americans are obese while only about 19% of Italians are. Italians also live longer than Americans by five years on average.

It’s a lot more comfortable to push the upper limits of my weight class in America because there are more people who look like me. Is that a good thing though?

For me, body image is one of the painful parts of moving to a new country. As an expat, I’ve been kicked out of my comfort zone in every area of life all at once, including health care.

Being an expat forced me to look beyond what I’ve seen as a tourist to understand what’s driving cultural differences between America and Italy on weight and health care.

Side note, losing weight in Italy is NOT easy. For me it boils down to three reasons. One, cheese. Two, wine. Three, eating is a sign of respect in Italy.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear there are a lot of cultural differences between America and Italy when it comes to food. It is however uncomfortable stumbling over some of the more subtle ones that have nothing to do with the food itself.

I recently googled my way to another American Expat in Italy blog where Misty from Surviving in Italy likened leaving the table to announcing you’ve eaten a child. The struggle is real and thanks to Misty rather hilarious to me now that I live in Italy.

I might be at little Cicciona right now, but at least in Italy I’m not living in fear for my health anymore. That’s an enormous weight off my shoulders. Hopefully, soon it will also be weight off my backside. Three pounds down since I saw the doctor last!

Wish me luck on this part of my journey please. Something tells me with all the amazing pizza in Italy I’m going to need it.



  1. I’ve lived in Turin for 15 years and I think there are unfortunately, a lot of Italians who cling to the “fat American” stereotype and the “all Italians follow the Meditteranean diet” myth. I’ve been subject to my in-laws telling me at a size 12 that I was fat whilst the men and women in my husband’s family all had weight problems. My doctor (now swtiched thank goodness!) saw me and started grilling me about why I was so fat and was it because I ate lots of chips and burgers. The irony, my doctor was not much thinner than me.

    I’m sure you are just fine the way you are and if in the future someone feels free to say something about your body, print and show them this:

    I love my life here and I love Italy but Italians have just as many issues with weight, high cholesterol, etc., they just don’t like to admit it because it destroys the myth.

    XO from Turin


    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It helps to know others have had that same feeling of dread in the Doctors office here. It’s shocking as an American how openly Italians talk about another persons weight but then again… I moved here! So I have to love the good with the “wait what!!!” I’. Just grateful there is usually wine around to toss back when I hear some of it! Good wine 😉


    1. In part I agree but Italy, especially traditional meals styles include multiple courses. A family table is apt to be so full of dishes of food you can barely fit a glass down on the table. There are two big traps scientifically speaking with eating. Portion size is a big one. Most people eat what’s given to them on a plate (recently read about this study in Bad Habits, Good Habits Book.) So when given portion sizes too large after getting appropriate portion sized meals for a week, most people ate 40% more food and had no idea. The other big issue noted was the smorgasbord effect. When there are too many courses or food options on the table people overate. Italy is all about multiple courses and dishes. Eating in Italian homes vs restaurants has been a big eye opener for me! On your recent road trip across America did you see variances in portion sizes from Florida to California?


    1. I would agree with you there! Anger, love, politics, family, history, tradition. Weight is just one of the more difficult aspect for an American woman to navigate cultural differences. Sex however is a topic Americans are far more open about. Rather funny when you see it through a new cultural lens. You can talk about what you do with your body but not your body itself.


  2. Wishing you lots of luck with this. In my first year in Italy, I actually managed to lose weight accidentally. I had a much more active lifestyle than being stuck indoors in my often rainy native Ireland. I too am sporting a covid-belly but I figure it’ll disappear now that I’m able to be active in the great outdoors again!


    1. Thank you for the good wishes Emer and for stopping by. Jumping over to your blog to see a bit more about your moving to Italy story. PS: Ireland is beautiful! Have you had any issues getting to family over seas with COVID?


      1. Yes, unfortunately the borders are closed. The Irish government is due to make an announcement about “air bridge” countries (allowing travel to countries in similar situations) on 9th July. Let’s see!

        It breaks my heart reading about the covid situation in the States at the moment. I hope your family on the other side of the big pond is all well!


        1. I’m extremely worried for my family. Sister in Michigan, Mother in Florida and Father in Ohio. Thankfully they are all careful and that COVID with the seriousness it needs. I’m encouraged by how strong Italy has been with its comeback. My hope is that careful re-openings to travel prove okay for all of EU. My family won’t be able to get to me here but as of right now I can at least get to them. Wishing you and your safe travel. Fingers crossed those air bridges reunite many safely soon.


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