It sounds insane to me when I hear people say they don’t eat vegetables. But I forget that, not too long ago, that was me. I used to be the same way. I ate pizza for at least two of meals everyday for the better part of my life. So how did I get from someone who never ate vegetables to someone to eats nothing but plants? It didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow gradual process with slight changes and additions to my diet over time.
At first, I couldn’t even think about giving up the foods I loved, so I compromised by eating healthier versions of them. I changed to whole wheat pizza, pasta, and bread, and I used low fat cheese. The thought of eating 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day seemed intimidating and unappetizing, so I started small by eating one apple or banana a day and drinking orange juice and apple juice.
I lost some weight from the adjustments I made in Phase 1, but my health problems were far from cured. I still had high blood sugar, and I realized I needed to make more changes. I figured if my blood sugar was high, the logical solution would be to stop eating sugar. So I drank diet Coke instead of regular. I used artificial sweeteners in my coffee with fat-free cream. I used sugar-free jelly on my PB&J sandwiches and ate sugar-free cookies and other desserts. I made sure the only sugar I ate was from actual fruit.
Again, I saw some improvements and seemed to have a better control of my blood sugar, but I still had health and digestive problems and experienced frequent blood sugar highs and crashes. I couldn’t figure it out. I thought I was doing everything right. Low-fat, no sugar, lots of fruit and whole grains. I realized I was still missing something: the vegetables. Everybody knows you’re supposed to eat your vegetables, but back then, broccoli seemed as appetizing as grass to me. But if it would cure my health problems, I was willing to give it a shot. So once again, I started small by sprinkling some spinach on top of my pizza or mixing it in with my pasta. It tasted a little weird at first, but the sauce and cheese overpowered the spinach flavor and eventually I got used to it. It was like the spinach wasn’t there at all.
The spinach experiment seemed to work out, but it wasn’t the magic cure I was hoping it would be. I decided to expand my horizons by trying more and different vegetables. I bought frozen mixed vegetables like corn, peas, carrots, and green beans, and heated them up to have as a side with my pizza or pasta dinner. I’d have some lettuce on the side of my PB&J sandwich for lunch. I made it a goal to have a least one serving of vegetables with lunch and dinner. It was easier for me to eat healthy food when I added it to the things I already liked. The more often I ate vegetables, the more my palate adjusted. I started trying healthier vegetables like broccoli as a side, and learned to love the taste.
I had successfully changed from forcing myself to eat vegetables to actually craving them. The additions to my diet improved my health, but many of my problems persisted. At this point, I was really frustrated. I’d come so far. I was eating lots of healthy vegetables. That should have been enough, right? I searched the internet for answers and found out I might be lactose or gluten intolerant. So I experimented with my diet. I tried dairy-free cheese on my pizza and used almond or soy milk instead of cow’s milk. When that didn’t work, I tried gluten-free bread and pasta. Sometimes I’d think I felt better, but then my symptoms would return, and I couldn’t figure out which food, if any, was causing the problems.
My frustration reached its peak. I was tired of my failed experiments with on-again/off-again gluten-free/dairy-free diets. Spurred by my health crisis, I was ready to make a major change. I basically gave myself a crash course in health and nutrition by listening to podcasts and watching health documentaries. I learned that all of the processed grains and artificial sugar-free products weren’t helping me, and I learned there was such a thing as healthy fats. I didn’t think I could go both dairy and gluten free— I was a lifelong pizzatarian, after all— but I had reached my breaking point. I was so frustrated by my health problems that I was willing to eat anything to cure myself. I read that you need to be off gluten for at least a month for it to fully clear your system, so I decided to go all-in for a month and cut out all gluten, dairy, and processed food. I ate only all-natural plant-based food— nothing but vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free whole grains. After a week or two, I started to really feel an improvement in my health. After a month or two, not only did I feel the best I’d ever felt, I started to really enjoy the food I was eating, and somehow I didn’t even miss the pizza that I used to love so much.
I felt a direct correlation between the food I was eating (and not eating) and how I felt physically and emotionally. I wanted to continue feeling that way and never let my previous health problems return. I decided to stay plant-based and gluten-free and have basically never looked back since, which has been about two years now. Occasionally, when out at a restaurant or at a family party, I’d slip and have a beer (gluten) or a dessert (dairy) or pizza (both), and I noticed two things. First, I didn’t enjoy the indulgences as much as I thought I would. I no longer craved pizza, especially the bread, which tasted more like cardboard than food. Secondly, the next day or two after I ate the problem foods, I’d feel the effects physically. My fatigue, brain fog, and digestive issues returned. When I was eating gluten, dairy, and artificial and processed foods everyday, and I tried giving them up for a day or two, I couldn’t tell any difference in my health. However, after cleansing my system for months, then reintroducing the problem foods, I was able to notice the direct results of how the food made me feel.
Today I am happy to stay gluten-free and plant-based for the rest of my life, unless I find something better. I happily eat beans and vegetables everyday. Some people wonder how I could eat the same thing over and over again and not get sick of it, but for me, it’s the opposite effect. The more often I eat a food, the more I like and crave it. That’s why I ate pizza everyday for most of my life, which put me in my health predicament in the first place. I think human taste buds are wired to learn to like any food you eat if you continue to eat it regularly. So take advantage of that evolutionary trait by regularly eating the healthiest food on the planet. It may taste awkward at first, but believe me, your taste buds and palate will adjust, and you will eventually learn to love the food that makes you feel good, not just in the moment, but for the long haul.
Update (2023): I have re-introduced some dairy into my diet and begun eating eggs. I do not eat gluten often but seem to be better able to tolerate it. A major benefit to my health and diet has been intermittent fasting, which I may write more in-depth about in the future.
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