Call me Todd Flanders, cos I don’t want any vegetables. For years I was adverse to vegetables, and have been known to still avoid a few (fuck u lettuce). Increasing fruit and vegetable intake is associated with a vast improvement in health outcomes[1]. How can you increase vegetable intake if you are a “picky” eater, or currently have a daily consumption of zero?

Barriers, Bréne Brown & Bad Experiences

It is important to be able to evaluate your situation, your own unique experiences and in some cases, your barriers. As Socrates said: know thyself. This was evidently made in reference to poor vegetable intake amongst Ancient Greek citizens, but the quote is just as applicable today.

Barriers to vegetable consumption can be internal or external.

External Factors

Your socioeconomic status and household income hugely influence fruit and vegetable intake. It is proven time and time again in literature[2], [3] that those who grow up in poorer families have a much lower intake of fruit and vegetables. This is something that most of us are fortunate not to consider – but it really is the elephant in the room of public health nutrition. An oven pizza is 2 euro, and so is a packet of peppers. If you have a family to feed, what will you get more mileage out of? Nobody wants to deliberately eat “unhealthy” foods more than they have to, but sometimes it’s your only option.

Similarly, where you live also affects your intake. If you live in a rural area, where the nearest supermarket selling fruit and vegetables at non-astronomical prices is an hour away, are you going to be bothered to make the trip multiple times per week to get fresh food? Or if you don’t drive (can relate), it is difficult to access shops selling these foods!

Your area may also be full of takeaway or fast food outlets, that are cheap, convenient and accessible. Areas with higher numbers of fast food outlets are associated with lower fruit and vegetable intake[4]. That’s obviously not to say that spicebags are destroying the vegetable industry single-handedly. But again, consider it in the context of everything else. You’re coming home from a night-shift, you have no dinner made. Do you stock up on kale, or do you get the fiver meal from the chipper that’s ready to go in 5 minutes?

JuSt eAt yOuR vEg – classic Instagram influencer advice that’s not only unhelpful, it’s actively ignorant.

Internal Factors

Each one of us has a story. We are shaped by our life experience, culture, beliefs, values and unique identity.

What is your story? What is stopping you from eating vegetables? What do you know for sure, and what do you think you know?

Many of us get wrapped up in our own identities – I don’t like the taste. I don’t like vegetables. I can’t eat that. We say these things so often, we don’t ever stop to ask ourselves whether this is actually true. Do you hate all vegetables? Or have you not found ones you like, (hashtag not all veg) or methods of cooking them?

Similarly, we all have our own experiences. I, for one, avoided vegetables because they would make you “big and strong”. I was already self-conscious and embarrassed about being six foot and fifteen. Why the hell would I eat anything that would encourage this? It sounds ridiculous now, but that’s where my head was at at the time.

Enter Ms. Bréne Brown. The queen of shame research has spoken, and her Shame Resilience Theory fits in perfectly with vegetable intake (join us next week where we link Parks & Recreation with exercise selection). Shame keeps us from reaching our potential. It keeps us powerless and trapped[5]. Many people are low-key ashamed of their dietary choices. I should eat healthier. I shouldn’t eat this. I should have a salad. I’ll never be able to eat healthy. You feel guilty for how you live, and by beating yourself up, you simultaneously strip yourself of the power to make better choices.

What is the antidote to shame? Self-compassion. Changing your behaviour is about meeting yourself halfway. Understanding and recognising your past experiences, without judgement. Self-compassion can help bridge the gap between who you were and who you are going to be.

With your newfound enlightenment, we can now talk methods of upping vegetable intake.

Suggestions for Increasing Vegetable Intake

Problem 1: Vegetables Are Expensive

For some people, veggies are expensive. Buying fresh produce a couple of times a week may not be viable for you, and that’s okay.

Solution: You can try frozen fruit/vegetables.

These tend to be a lot cheaper (e.g. Tesco have a bag of frozen mixed peppers for 87c!). These will keep for longer, and some of them have the advantage of being peeled/chopped already.

Problem 2: Vegetables Are Disgusting

Don’t get me wrong. Some vegetables are rotten (see lettuce). Hating a few doesn’t mean they are all disgusting.

Solution: It can be useful to sit down and list vegetables you don’t like. Then, write down why you don’t like them.

You may identify some common themes – texture, flavour etc. You can then delve a little deeper. Would roasting broccoli make it tastier than boiling the life out of it?

Problem 3: Vegetables Are An Effort

If you’re pressed for time, it is unlikely you will want to spend your evening cutting up onions.

Solution: you can buy vegetables that are pre-cut. Or, some of the jar sauces actually contain a fair whack of vegetables (looking at you Dunnes Stores chilli). You can throw a handful of spinach into pretty much any dinner.

Problem 4: I Can’t Even Eat One Portion Consistently

If you haven’t eaten vegetables consistently, eating one a week might seem like an effort, let alone five a day. Wtf, science?

Solution: Create a low barrier of entry.

If you haven’t gotten into a veg habit yet, you won’t be smashing five portions from tomorrow onwards for the rest of your life. AND THAT IS OKAY. Read that again. Set yourself a target that seems like a challenge for you (and not anyone else), but one you can comfortably do. It might be eating one vegetable each day for a week. Then, the following week, try for two a day. Remember, these are goals for YOU, not some random asshat on Instagram who has no idea about your situation. And we all know what happens by now when we fail and start to shame ourselves for same *stares in Bréne Brown*

Conclusion

Shockingly, it is not as simple as just fkn eat it m8. There are plenty of barriers to your five a day, and some of which we have no control over. We aren’t entirely helpless however, and there are some potential solutions to same.

What are your reasons for not eating your damn vegetables?

References

  1. Gehlich, K.H., Beller, J., Lange-Asschenfeldt, B., Köcher, W., Meinke, M.C., Lademann, J. (2018) ‘Consumption of fruits and vegetables: improved physical health, mental health, physical functioning and cognitive heath in older adults from 11 European countries’, Aging & Mental Health, 24(2), pp. 634-641.
  2. Riediger, N.D., Shooshtari, S., Moghadasian, M.H. (2007) ‘The influence of sociodemographic factors on patterns of fruit and vegetable consumption in Canadian adolescents’, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(9), pp. 1511-1518.
  3. Satia, J.A., Kristal, A.R., Patterson, R.E., Neuhouser, M.L., Trudeau, E. (2002) ‘Psychosocial factors and dietary habits associated with vegetable consumption’, Nutrition, 18(3), pp. 247-254.
  4. Fraser, L.K., Edwards, K.L., Cade, J., Clarke, G.P. (2010) ‘The Geography of Fast Food Outlets: A Review’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7(5), pp. 2290-2308.
  5. Brown, B. (2006) ‘Shame Resilience Theory: A Grounded Theory Study on Women and Shame’, Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 87(1), pp. 43-52.

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