What comes to mind when you think of “eating healthy”? Do you think of all the foods you get to enjoy – or the chocolate bars, cakes and pizza that you think you can no longer have?
As I mentioned in previous posts, I grew up on pasta, tons of rice and beans, large quantities of meat at every meal, a fair amount of junk food, tons of sugary drinks and almost no veggies aside from the bland, over-boiled frozen mix my Mom got from the store. When in college, I decided to try eating healthier, it was an uphill battle and vegetables were my biggest foe.
It wasn’t so much that actual taste or texture of veggies though – the hardest part was overriding my irrational disdain for them. Every single time I hit the fridge, I’d automatically seek out the same meals I was familiar with, stuff I knew very well. I couldn’t just dive into munching on carrot sticks or snacking on nuts – it became a dance of slowly introducing them to my taste buds in a way that would stick.
And stick it did. While it takes some trial and error and definitely some time, your taste buds can grow familiar to new foods. You can even grow to like and crave them. Think about it logically – our ancestors didn’t always have a buffet to choose from when it comes to eating, but managed to grow accustomed to eating what they had on hand. If you look at your family’s history, you might find a few not-so-tantalizing dishes that were staples. Were they popular because they were delicious – or because they were common and easy to get?
The body is more adaptable and amazing then we often give it credit for, so why not put that ability to work? Here are a few of the techniques I’ve tried to make incorporating new foods into my diet easier and more fun:
- Take baby steps. If you can totally overhaul your entire diet and eating habit at the flick of a switch – and have it stick – great! Why are you reading this then? If food is a more of a thorny issue, then allow yourself to go gently. Pick one small change that you can start with immediately. See how that goes. Then move on to the next step. In year, you might be amazed at how all those small steps have added up.
- Don’t try to be perfect. Okay so mixing frozen corn kernels into my rice might not be the best healthy-food move. That’s okay. If you really never have any veggies at all in your diet, it’s not a bad place to start. I’m a proponent of the “something is better than nothing” way of living. Each veggie you start to like, each extra minute of movement…it’s all just a stepping stone to something bigger, better. So, if green peas are all you can stomach right now, then eat the peas. In a week or two, try adding some sliced garlic to the peas or green beans to them. Just get started.
- Hide new foods in your favorite meals. Rich comfort foods such as mac and cheese are good for this. Next time you make a bowl, mix in some frozen broccoli or even halved Brussel sprouts. If steamed or boiled, their taste will be mild. Or mix frozen corn or green peas into your rice dish. I tend to add frozen veggies during the last half of cooking, so they can steam with everything else and not throw off the overall cooking time.
- Look for variations of favorite foods. Like garlic? Have you tried black garlic? If you’re a meat-and-potatoes person, consider trying sweet potatoes or even black (well, purple really) potatoes – both or which are considered to have more nutrients than standard white potatoes. Same goes for carrots. Mix some of these variations with your standard fare and savor the subtle differences.
- Don’t rush! Adjusting your taste buds takes time. If your first attempt at a new food leaves you scraping your plate into the trash, don’t write it off as a failure. Try cooking it a different way – maybe steaming instead of boiling, or roasting or sauteing. Try it again. And again. And again. If by the fifth try you still can’t stomach it, then move on to trying something else.
- Be an adventurous eater. I never like bitter things such as olives and capers – until I went to a friend’s house and had them in amazing salad she made. Now I mix olives and capers into lots of my foods for a little bitter zing. Instead of picking out questionable items while eating out, taste a little bit. If you’re at a restaurant, ask your waiter to recommend a dish. Foods, as well as our taste buds, fall into categories: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, spicy. If you like spicy foods, try a new food that falls into that category – it’s still slightly familiar while being new. One example, is the time I was on a cruise with my Mom. I spotted escargot on the menu – which, uh, means snails. I’d always heard of them and my curiosity got the better of me. I wound up eating the whole plate (though, it probably helped that they didn’t look like snails). They were salty and buttery and pretty damn good. I doubt I’d eat them everyday, but it was fun to try (and see the looks of horror on everyone else’s faces as I did it). Make eating new foods a fun game.
While exercising with lupus has tons of its own challenges, making one small change to your diet is something that everyone can do this second to improve their health. What have you done to re-train your taste buds?