Sometimes a picture says it all. I can write endlessly about why vegetables should be the foundation of your diet—their nutrient density, ability to fight and prevent disease, low caloric punch, high fiber, unsurpassed deliciousness when well prepared—but none of that may sink in. So consider this neat graphic.
Dieting that leaves you feeling starved is pointless. While you never want to stuff your stomach—consider the Japanese concept of hara hachi bu, eating until 80 percent full—it’s a delight to feel well fed. But if you’re feeling too well fed on the wrong foods, chances are that you’re not happy with your weight. As the image shows, you can eat a much larger, more filling portion of vegetables than either fats or animal foods, even healthy ones.
This gets me to one of my favorite blogger’s best posts of all time. His name is Leo Babuta, and his blog, Zen Habits, offers practical ideas for leading a better existence. Of course, eating well is integral to this, so he talks about food in some posts. His “Simple Health Plan” is this: no matter what other food and exercise mishegas you commit, every day you should be eating, and I quote, “a crapton of vegetables.”
Some clarifications. Can I eat meat? “Yes. Just eat a crapton of vegetables first.” Can I eat sweets? Grains? “Yes. Just eat a crapton of vegetables first.” Fruits? Same reply. Should I count calories? “If you want to. But no, you don’t have to, if you’re eating a crapton of vegetables first.” How much is a crapton? “It’s a scientific measurement that means, ‘A helluva lot.’ Basically, if you’re filling up a plate with food, it should be mostly vegetables. Two thirds is better than half, and three fourths is even better.” Any particular vegetables? “Vegetables are all superfoods. Eat any kind you want. Green ones are the gold standard, but all colors are welcome: white, yellow, orange, red. Eat a lot of the greens, and a bunch of the others.”
The post is not only funny, it’s brilliant because most people are overwhelmed at the prospect of changing their diet. Where to begin? Babuta has reduced all the static to a single simple principle that anyone can follow.
Ah, but what if someone hates vegetables? Babuta suggests trying different preparations, hiding them in soups and other dishes, and so forth.
The truth is, it can take 15+ exposures to a food for your palate to adapt and relent. Don’t give up. And if it’s your kids who hate veggies, don’t give up on them, either! Even small amounts, single bites, steadily repeated, can help tastebuds evolve.
Though my younger three kids are vegaphiles, my teenager has a thing against simple raw vegetables other than salad. At his last well-visit, my pediatrician made him hold up both thumbs and instructed him to take any raw vegetable equal in size to his two thumbs in his lunch every day. The next day I packed two small strips of red pepper. The day after, two baby carrots. Monday I will send two snap peas. Sometimes he brings them home uneaten, but guess what? Some days he eats them simply because the amount is so small. He is far from wanting to munch down on a platter of crudité, but he is on the path.
Final thought for today. Research shows that any diet approach that involves suffering will eventually fail. Human beings are not built for self-deprivation, and why should they be? Willpower is a muscle that fatigues like any other. Find a way to incorporate Babuta’s simple principle throughout your day, no matter what else is happening, and things will begin to change. If you miss a day, as he says, restart tomorrow. This absurdly basic concept may be all you need.