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 this week. 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 yet to go to medical appointments on my own. By moving to Italy without fluently speaking Italian, 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? Tell me I’m not the only one cringing right now. Anyone else trying to hide a little #quaratine15?

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.

Italian women are among the thinnest in Europe and average 5’4″ tall. A hair under 5’9″ I’m bigger than most Italian women. In heels, I’m bigger than the average Italian man. Even though I’m still in my healthy weight class, the doctor is right. I’m pushing the upper limits of it.

In Portland, too many IPAs. During COVID lockdowns too much red wine, Robiola, and pasta. While I don’t fluently speak Italian yet, I know what Cicciona means and I do NOT want to be a Cicciona.

Cicciona Means Fat or Chubby in Italian

While I love writing How to Properly Pronounce articles, I won’t be doing that with Ciccione because it’s an offensive term in Italian. Cicciona means chubby or fat woman in Italian. It should be said, no one called me Ciocciona. I just don’t want to become Cicciona. Especially not one in Italy.

Culturally Italians are more comfortable commenting on other people’s weight. While in America weight is a taboo subject. When weight becomes a problem Americans discuss it in private with our doctor, but outside of that 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, 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 than in Italy because there are more people who look like me. Is that a good thing though?

This is one of the painful parts of moving to a new country. Being 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, the cheese. Two, the wine. Three, eating is a sign of respect in Italy. No one would be surprised to hear that there are a lot of cultural differences between American 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. 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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