Monday, February 26, 2018

Overcoming Vegetable Aversion: BMI = 28.9

Just over a year ago, the idea of enjoying a pile of mixed veggies seemed preposterous. The few veggies that I did add to my meals were just for colour and were nothing more than garnish. I much preferred comfort food so veggies were rarely much more than a prop for the photo.

As a cook, I often encounter people who seem as averse to veggies as I used to be. I frequently receive orders that specify “no-veggies” on the ticket. When dishing up food in front of a customer I often encounter people who snap their hand up in a “stop” gesture when I start adding veggies to the plate.

Although I encounter more customers each year who are trying to make health-conscious choices when ordering food, most of them are just trying to avoid grains. I do occasionally have customers who ask for extra veggies, but I have even more customers who want to change the starch on their plate to fries because they are “avoiding grains.”

The Canada Food Guide recommends a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. It also recommends eating nearly as much grain, trying to ensure that at least half your servings of grain are whole grain. If you want to keep your calories low, then the best place to start is cutting out added-sugars.

Eating lots of veggies and whole grains while cutting out sugar and fried food seemed impossible to me. I had tried, for years, to get into the habit of eating fruits and veggies and gotten nowhere. The trouble was that I would buy a big bag of baby-cut carrots and try to convince myself that they were crunchy, so I should be able to enjoy them as much as snack-chips.

I now believe that the reason I that I failed over and over was because I was terribly malnourished. Carrots alone couldn’t reverse my malnutrition. They also couldn’t give me the mood-altering uptick of crunchy, deep-fried food. Eating one type of vegetable for days at a time didn’t make me feel any better and so there was no reward. Carrots just seemed like a waste of time.

I did the same thing with cherries, pineapples, and cucumbers. When I talk about all the veggies I now eat I sometimes encounter a response like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been almost living off snow peas the past few days.” At least I’m not the only person who thought that a big bag of radishes, as the sole vegetable in my fridge, might help me overcome my aversion to veggies.

I now eat two servings of fruit and six servings of veggies everyday. I don’t just eat them, I like eating them. They don’t give me the mood-altering uptick of deep-fried, crunchy food, but I have more energy than ever and feel better, all day long, than I ever felt after a comfort meal when I was still obese. I’ve also virtually eliminated added-sugars from my diet. If I crave something sweet, then I grab a piece of fruit.

So how did I do it? I had to break my snacking habits, and that was a lot like quitting smoking. When trying to break a habit, simply realize that you haven’t failed until you’ve given up trying. As far as learning to like veggies, well, I started out by making sure I had small amount of mixed-veggies and a piece of fruit everyday, for several weeks.

I won’t lie to you, it wasn’t easy. Having some fruit with my hot cereal each day was easy enough. The cup of mixed-veggies with supper was nasty, though. To be honest, I still don’t care much for boiled frozen, mixed-veggies. Fortunately, after a few weeks, I began to crave some fresh veggies.

You need, each day, to get some dark green veggie like broccoli or spinach in your diet. You also need something orange like carrot, butternut squash, or apricot. This combo of green/orange helps you get folate and vitamin A. After that, mix and match veggies as you please. Start out with small portions but try to be consistent.

In retrospect, I think I should have just focussed on getting all my servings of veggie right from the beginning. As my daily intake of fruits and veggies increased, my cravings for calorie-dense foods dissipated. I now believe that my cravings for calorie-dense food were driven by malnutrition. As I said, snacking on carrots alone wasn’t going to make me feel better but one slice of pizza was an instant pick-up. Not hard to see why I lost interest in vegetables.

The moral of the story here is fake it ‘til you make it. Start adding in some green and orange veggies each day. Eat what other fruits and veggies you can and give yourself some time to get used to them. It’s been a year since I got used to eating my veggies everyday, and now I shudder at the thought of going without them.

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