By Shaun Chavis
Here's a question that a reader, Michele, left in a comment on an earlier post: "How can someone like me lose weight when I am a really picky eater? I don't eat fruit; if I do it is an apple or a banana. I don't eat vegetables; if I do it is yellow green beans with breadcrumbs and corn. I don't eat steaks, fish, tomatoes, mayonnaise, ketchup, etc. Can someone give me some advice on this?"
Losing weight without fruit and vegetables as a low-cal way to fill up is going to be challenging, but not impossible. I'm more concerned about your ability to get the nourishment you need, whether you're dieting or not. Talk to your doc or a registered dietitian (find one at www.eatright.org) about taking vitamin supplements to make up for nutrients you're missing. Just be aware that there is recent research that raises questions about whether vitamins work. And, let's face it: your body was made to digest food, not supplements. Here are some ways to help change your picky ways.
Start with the foods you do like. If the only fruits you like are apples and bananas, eat apples and bananas—they're full of heart-healthy fiber. You're doing better than most Americans if you eat one of each every day. Dietary guidelines recommend you get up to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day. It sounds overwhelming, but take it slow: each week, try adding one serving to your daily intake.
Look for diet plans that let you choose what you'll eat. You'll have to do more calorie-counting than you would on plans that give you a set menu. But, you'll have a better chance of sticking to a diet if you get to eat foods you like. I suggest you pick two plans—start on one, and use the other as a backup diet if the first one doesn't fit your lifestyle. Diets like Weight Watchers allow you to select your own foods. Compare over 40 diets here.
Next: Go on a food adventure
Go on a food adventure. For your long-term health—and, to lose weight healthfully—find some fruits and vegetables you do like. Don't feel like you need a cornucopia of new foods; but if you can add two or three things you enjoy, that's great. Here are some ideas:
- Challenge your taste buds. Our taste buds change as you age. If you hated spinach as a child, give it a second try; you may discover that you like it now.
- Try different forms. If you had vegetables canned the first time, try them fresh. If you've cooked them to death, try them raw. The flavors, textures, and colors of produce change. You might also try low-sodium vegetable soups and juices or pickled vegetables (like chow-chow, pickled green beans, or pickled carrot sticks).
- Go ethnic. Sometimes a different flavor profile can turn you on. I don't like traditional Southern-style collard greens, but Brazilian-style? Great! Try shopping in ethnic markets to find some different fruits and vegetables to try.
- Try some heirloom varieties. They often have different flavors than the produce you find in the grocery store. For example, white eggplant is less bitter than dark eggplant. I'm not crazy about navel oranges, but I love blood oranges—they're more tart.
- Ask the chef. Ever been to a restaurant and savored a food you don't normally like? Go back to that restaurant when it's quiet and ask how the chef prepared it. Learn the technique yourself—you may even be able to apply it to other foods.
- Add some toppings. This doesn't give you free rein to eat broccoli bobbing in Velveeta sauce, but it's okay to add a bit of flavor. People eating moderate-fat diets get more fiber than people on a low-fat diet, according to a study presented at a recent Mediterranean Diet Conference (hosted by the Oldways Food Issues Think Tank). Researchers believe that when you cut out fat, you cut out a lot of the flavorings that make vegetables more fun to eat. If you like breadcrumbs, make your own and sprinkle them on just about anything. Try some chopped nuts as a topping (hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc), or a little bit of grated cheese, crumbled feta, or goat cheese. Toss vegetables in a little pesto, or make a gremolata: You can toss it with cauliflower, carrots, green beans, broccoli, peas, asparagus, and many other delicious veggies.
- Be inspired. If you'd like more quick and easy ideas, browse the recipe index here at Health.com.