So You “Don’t Like Vegetables”

Pretty much everyone knows that eating more vegetables, less meat and less processed food would be a healthier way to live. But it can be hard to do, and when we don’t want to try something new, we often turn to excuses. In this case a common excuse is I hear from people is, “I don’t like vegetables.” “Really,” I ask in return, “which ones?” “Oh, all of them,” is the typical reply. Then I’ll ask them to list all of the vegetables they have eaten at least twice and find objectionable.

So they start writing – carrots, beets, onions, celery, cucumbers, peppers, sweet potatoes, etc. By the time they’ve identified about ten or so they’re running out of steam. With prodding many can eke out another five or ten. So that makes maybe twenty or so vegetables that they “don’t like.”

Then I ask them to take a look at this list of vegetables:

Alfalfa sprouts, Artichoke, Arugula, Asparagus, Avocado, Bamboo shoots, Bean sprouts, Beets, Bell Peppers, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Chickpeas, Chile peppers, Chinese cabbage, Chives, Collard greens, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Endive, Garlic, Green beans, Green onions, Green peas, Greens, Horseradish, Jicama, Kale, Kidney beans, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lemon grass, Lentil beans, Lettuce, Lima beans, Mushrooms, Mustard Greens, Navy Beans, Okra, Onions, Parsley, Potato, Pumpkin, Radishes, Radicchio, Rhubarb, Rutabaga, Sauerkraut, Shallot, Snow Peas, Soybeans, Spinach, Split Peas, Squash, Sweet potato, Tomato, Turnip, Water chestnuts, Watercress, Yams, and Zucchini

Impressive, isn’t it? (I know that, technically, some of these are fruits, but most people think of them as vegetables.) And this is actually a pretty short list. Many more are local delicacies or staples in far away locations – seaweed in Japan, for example.

After reviewing the list, we cover ways of preparation – raw, steamed, roasted, etc. What various ways haven’t they tried? Have they tried stir-fry, or vegetable stews or soups? How about Indian or Middle Eastern vegetable dishes? And so on.

Two things generally happen: 1) they realize how much variety is available, and agree that perhaps there might be some individual vegetables and dishes which will appeal to them, and 2) we usually stumble over one or more things that they actually do like – perhaps hummus, minestrone, or corn. Aha! We’ve got something to build on.

Now they’re ready to end the “I don’t like vegetables” mantra and begin a journey of discovery in search of healthy and tasty plant-based foods. This really works. If this is you, why not try it and get started with what you do like? Then push the boundaries a little every month and see where you go.

Understanding Food and Nutrition, and Choosing Well

How did you decide what to have for dinner last night? What different entrees and side dishes did you consider? What influenced your decision to eat what you did? Interesting questions, don’t you think? Most of us go through life making all kinds of important decisions, including what to eat, without ever really thinking very much about exactly how we are making those choices.

Truth is, most Americans eat what other Americans eat. We are heavily influenced by our surroundings and, as a group, we tend to eat what’s common, easy, available and engineered to taste good. That’s a big part of why many Americans are overweight and unhealthy. If you want to avoid that fate, you’ll need to learn to eat differently.

You can start by understanding the nature of food and especially the food choices that we face in the market today. Simply stated, we’re not eating our grandfathers’ food anymore. With the rise of industrial farming and the big food industry, there has been a fundamental shift in the very nature of our food supply.

Michael Pollan has written two excellent books on this topic, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and I recommend that you read them both. This will give you a good view of how the food industry works. Not surprisingly, as you might expect with any big business, most food products are designed to maximize profits rather than nutrition and the health of the customer. Mr. Pollan calls for  us to get back to basic foodstuffs and to eat more vegetables. I find it to be good and practical advice. His pithy summary is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Two other books I like are Eat Drink and Be Healthy by Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard Medical School and Eat to Live by Dr Joel Furman. Eat Drink and Be Healthy is a practical and science-based but very readable book. It’s no surprise that Dr. Willett’s basic message is also that we need to consume more vegetables and complex carbohydrates and less meat and junk food.

Eat to Live, on the other hand, is written in the style of popular self-help and diet books. Yet the advice is solid and comes with practical schedules and meal plans. Dr. Furman explains how his diet plan can be used to treat and reverse lifestyle disease, which is an important message. I think he’s spot on. If you were ready to lose weight and could only read one of these books, this would be the one.

But why not read them all? Taken together, these four books represent about 95% of what you need to know about food, nutrition and eating a healthy diet. You can purchase the lot of them for less than $50. Then you’ll need to carve out a few days or weeks for reading them, but aren’t you worth the investment? Yes you are.

Health Discipleship is a Condemnation-Free Zone

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.       Romans 8:1-2 NIV

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m going to be talking a lot about sin here at Health Discipleship. My goal is not to cause anyone to feel badly about him- or herself, or to suggest that I am somehow holier than anyone else. I’m just trying to come to grips with the problem, and make no mistake – sin is the problem.

We know that Jesus has set us free. But should we use that freedom to stay stuck in place? No, we are free to be different, to be better. (See Romans 6) We need no longer be slaves to sin. Even though we will continue to sin (a lot) we are not condemned. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus – period. Therefore, we will have no condemnation at Health Discipleship.

Here’s the tricky part. I can write on sin and lifestyle illness with pure intent, out of a helpful and kind spirit, but you can still feel condemned. I can’t be held responsible for that. You, not I, are responsible for your feelings. If this applies to you, remember this – feelings are not facts! Please don’t listen to that false feeling and leave thinking you are being judged harshly. I sin as much as anyone else.

Now certainly, there are people who would like to condemn you. Self-righteous legalists distort God’s message and “condemn” those who don’t meet their standards. I’m not one of them, but, more importantly, they have no power over you. Focus on the facts; if you belong to Jesus no one can condemn you. If God is for you, who can be against you?

Understanding and managing your emotions is a big part of being well, and it’s something we’ll talk more about here at Health Discipleship. For now, just be aware that feelings can lie. Remind yourself of the facts, and ask Jesus to help you feel his grace and mercy. Eventually you will.

Telling People What to Eat ?

Recently, a friend who follows this blog asked me if I was going to tell people what to eat. No, I’m not. Perhaps that sounds strange. After all, the blog is on health and wellness, and what you eat is a big part of that. Also, as you already know, I take my own nutrition and eating seriously. So why wouldn’t I tell you what to eat?

First, everyone is unique, and I don’t know you. What kind of foods do you like? What don’t you like? Do you have any food allergies, intolerances or medical issues that might influence your diet? What about your spouse and children? Most of us need to negotiate a little regarding meal choices if we want to eat together as a family. I’m sure you can think of many other variables that might affect what constitutes a practical and healthy diet for any particular individual.

Now I could suggest a more general healthy eating plan from which you could construct your own exact regimen. One reservation I have in this regard is that the healthiest general diet plan is so far away from the typical American’s diet as to be seen as crazy, radical, scary or simply unachievable. And I don’t want to scare anyone off.

Too much change too fast, or even a clear view of the great change required can be intimidating. Many sedentary and overweight individuals are intimidated when they first set foot in a gym if everyone they see is trim and fit and their fitness instructor is a good-looking triathlete with 0.0% body fat. This can be overwhelming and lead to a feeling that I shouldn’t be here; I’ll never be like them. It happens with healthy eating too.

My goal is to help you design your own plan for healthy eating – one that works for you and that you can improve at your own pace. My own diet has evolved significantly over time, and I continue to make positive changes month-by-month and year-by-year. You will too.

Yes it’s more work for you, but the great thing is you will have a plan that works and, very importantly, you will own it. Too many people are looking for a quick fix solution. “Just tell me the answer,” they say, “and I’ll do it.” But they don’t, because they don’t own it. They’re not really committed. Be committed. You can figure it out. Healthy eating isn’t rocket science.

But enough about what I won’t do; here’s what I will do:

  • provide my perspective on healthy eating,
  • recommend helpful resources,
  • share some of my personal journey to a healthier diet,
  • answer specific questions from readers, and
  • provide a forum for others to share their ideas and experiences (through the comments and/or guest posts).

I hope over time you will find plenty of practical help here at Health Discipleship, not only from my writings but also from those of the commenters many of whom have deep experience in health and wellness. If you have a particular question you’d like me to answer or issue you would like me to write about please ask.

Dealing with Temptation 3: Afterwards – Prayer and Perseverance

In this life we are going to be tempted to do things that are physically, emotionally and spiritually harmful for us. And in our contemporary American culture we are going to be tempted a lot. How do we handle it? This post is the last of three planned to address this question. See Part 1 “Avoidance” here and Part 2 “Resistance” here.

“I was tempted…” Yes, you ask, and what happened? Well, like you, I win some and I lose some. I may successfully resist one temptation only to succumb to the very next one that comes along. So, how do I handle that? Winning or losing, what comes next?

Suppose I win. In our continuing example from Part 2 let’s assume that I’ve been to the party, had a nice time, met some interesting people, ate healthy items and portions, and had one glass of wine. Now I’m leaving and I feel good. But hopefully I won’t forget where my power came from. It’s fine to feel good and I should celebrate my “win,” but shouldn’t I also be saying a prayer of gratitude and giving praise to God for carrying me through? I believe I should.

It’s not really that different than many challenges in life. Consider a football team winning a playoff game; what does the coach do? He thanks God for the good outcome and celebrates the victory. Later he reflects on what went right and exactly how the team’s actions lead to the victory. His goal is to build on this success to win the next game. So it should be with us.

But you can’t win them all. Frequently I fail. Probably you do too. The most important thing here is not to “fall off the wagon” and just keep failing. It’s so easy to be overcome by guilt and shame and to listen to that little voice so many of us hear that says, You’ll never be able to do it. You’re weak. You’re a loser. Why try? Give up now. If you listen and believe, you may keep falling into temptation. And you can fall a long way.

Or I might think, It doesn’t matter now; I’ve blown it so there is no recovering. Had two beers, might as well have six. Psychologists call this the “what-the-hell-effect” (really) and I’m sure you have experienced it before. Where do these thoughts come from? They’re common, and I guess in some sense “natural,” but it doesn’t sound like Jesus talking to me.

What should I do? The answer is to call upon God in my weakness. The guilt and shame of failure may make me want to hide, but God knows. God knows me better than I know myself. He knows what I’ve done and he knows what I will do. That would be scary except that he loves me, forgives me, and is doing good work in me.

When I fall, I remember the finished work of Jesus. I remember the character of God, and I try to pray something like this: God I did it again. I’m weak. You know I’m weak. Forgive me, and thank you for forgiving me. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Help me release the guilt and shame. Keep me trying. Help me to persevere to victory. Then I persevere. God has given us the ability to choose, to exercise our free will, and I choose to hang in there. I keep trying to win the next time.

Now, I probably will need to do something differently. I don’t want to persist in using ineffective methods. Maybe I should use more avoidance and less resistance. Is there a book I can read on this issue? Perhaps my friends can give me some new ideas or some practical assistance in my struggle. There are many ways to “try differently” instead of just “trying harder.” In the best case, God may choose to reveal something to me as well. Regardless, I persevere.

How do you handle winning and losing in your daily struggle with temptation?

Dealing with Temptation 2: Resistance

In this life we are going to be tempted to do things that are physically, emotionally and spiritually harmful for us. And in our contemporary American culture we are going to be tempted a lot. How do we handle it? This post is the second of three posts planned to address this question. See Part 1 here.

Avoidance is my number one strategy for managing temptation, but it’s not always practical. Even if I could manage it, as a Christian, I shouldn’t be trying to completely remove myself from the world at large. My task is rather to learn how to live in society while honoring God and, hopefully, being a little light in the darkness. This calls for me to resist many of the temptations the world holds out.  I tend to use four key methods for resisting temptation – prayer, distraction, thinking beyond the moment, and enlisting aid. Here’s how they work for me.

Let’s imagine that I am arriving at a dinner party. It’s a festive occasion – there are 20 guests mingling, an open bar, trays full of appetizers, a dinner buffet to come, and multiple rich desserts after that. Sounds fun, but I’m trying to stay healthy so I don’t really want to drink much, perhaps a single glass of wine, and I don’t want to eat too much either. This can be tough to handle because everyone else is eating and drinking freely, and I’m going to be here for several hours. Time for my four strategies.

First comes prayer. I try to pray when facing temptations, even “small ones” like eating too much. Here I might pray, God please let me have a good time while eating what I want to eat and not what I don’t want. Help me not to overindulge. Because this will be a long party, I may pray something similar over and over again throughout the evening. Suppose I’ve done well all night but dessert is being served; I might pray God, I really don’t want to eat the cake. Please help me to live in a way that’s healthy for me.

Typically I feel internally stronger and less desire for the “forbidden fruit” immediately upon praying. (Not always though.) In other situations I might specifically identify the undesired behavior as sin. God please keep me from falling into sin. Protect me. Perhaps eating sweets doesn’t sound like “sin” to you, but I think it can be. (How many people, including Christians, seem “enslaved” to their appetites?)  I find naming it as sin more powerful than not.

Once I’ve prayed, then it’s time to think about something else. If I can just distract my attention, get my mind elsewhere, the temptation fades. At the party this may mean moving away from the food and beverage stations and striking up an interesting conversation. Out of sight, out of mind. This really works. With luck (or God) the tempting opportunity might even be gone when and if my mind returns to the subject. For example, the cake is so popular that there is none left after my conversation ends. Problem solved.

But what about when temptation’s staring me in the face and it’s not going anywhere? I may have prayed, but I’m still struggling internally to control my actions. This is when I try to think beyond the moment. How will I feel after giving in to the temptation? What will it get me? Yes there will be some very transient pleasure from giving in, but then what?  Feelings of guilt, disappointment, perhaps shame. Less health, or at least a step backwards on my health improvement plan.  I find that linking the behavior with these ultimate negative outcomes in this way is a very powerful way of motivating me to stick to my plan.

Lastly, there’s enlisting aid. Even just telling someone else I’m trying not to eat desserts seems to help. It’s not my secret struggle any more. Maybe they’re trying to do the same, and we can help each other through the moment. Or I might be explicit, Can you help me stay away from the dessert table? I don’t want to eat any of them tonight. I don’t expect them to tackle me if I head that way, but they can remind me of my true desire and engage me in a distraction maneuver. You said you didn’t want any dessert; let’s go sit out on the porch.

Overall, these four techniques are working for me. As in Part 1, I’ve used overeating as my example because: a) this is a pretty common struggle, b) this blog is about a living a healthy lifestyle, and c) I don’t want to discuss my other weaknesses on the internet. But I find that these methods work on my more serious temptations too.

What techniques have you found helpful?

Dealing with Temptation 1: Avoidance

In this life we are going to be tempted to do things that are physically, emotionally and spiritually harmful for us.  And in our contemporary American culture we are going to be tempted a lot.  How do we handle it?  This post is one of three planned to address this question.

If you’re like me you continually face temptations, large and small.  I often feel tempted to eat poorly, to drink too much, or to sleep in when I want to get up and exercise.  These may not be the most serious temptations I face, but they do affect my physical health, which is important to me.  For the purpose of these essays, I will stick to those involving eating and drinking because I believe many people struggle in these areas too.  However, the principles are general and can be applied to other temptations.

Fast food, rich foods, cookies, candy, desserts, big portions, soda, energy drinks, and alcohol surround us in America today.  It’s very hard to escape from the pervasive attempts to sell us foods and beverages that are harmful for us.  And it can be very hard to resist making poor choices, especially when we’re stressed and short on time (as many of us are).  Often times our resistance proves futile as we fail over and over again.

Personally, I find avoidance to be the most powerful method of dealing with those temptations where I am at my weakest.  That is, if I can avoid being tempted in the first place, there is zero chance I will succumb to it.  No temptation = no failure.  So avoidance is my #1 strategy for temptations about which I have major concerns.  Why risk failure if there is a better way to accomplish my goal?

My avoidance strategy calls for me to eliminate either the environmental cues of temptation, or the opportunity to actually fall into it, or both.  I do this two ways.  One is to stay away from environments where I will be tempted.  For example, I try not to even go into one of the fast food burger chains when I’m hungry, because it is quite likely I will order a burger and fries, even if I had intended to get a salad.  Yes they have some healthy options, but if I walk in, I’m probably going to take the unhealthy stuff.  The environmental cues, especially the smells, are too strong.  (And the staff is trained to supply their own cues: Want fries with that?  Can I supersize that for you?)

I’m sure you can think of places that you may wish to avoid for your own health.  Don’t sit down in a bar if you’re trying to quit drinking.  Don’t walk down the cookie aisle in the supermarket if you’re trying not to buy sweets.

But what about when you’re in your own living space?  You can’t just avoid your workplace or home, and these may be where most of your temptations lie.  True, but you can alter or restructure your “micro-environment” or “personal territory” at work and at home, which is my second way of practicing avoidance.

For me, this is simply keeping cookies, candy and ice cream out of the house except for special occasions.  I have a big sweet tooth.  If I see a treat, I’m going to have a hard time not eating it.  When candy or other sweet treats are in the cupboard, I often have just “one more” until I’ve had way too many.  However, if there is no ice cream in the freezer, I won’t be eating ice cream.  My wife doesn’t have this issue, but she helps me in my weakness.  If she buys chocolate for herself, she just keeps it to herself (and hides it somewhere), which is fine with me.

At work, my assistant likes to keep a full candy dish around.  Since she sits right outside of my office there is no avoiding it.  But, at my request, she has put it out of sight.  Yes I do know it’s there (in a drawer), but reducing the visual cue has helped me avoid a lot of candy that I otherwise would have consumed.

This is a pretty simple but pretty powerful concept, and these are just a couple of examples of a potentially big personal strategy – don’t put yourself at risk if you don’t have to.  Most of us could make many positive changes in our personal territories, which would be of great help to us in living the lives we desire.  Sometimes, however, individuals don’t like this approach.  I think because it requires they admit their weaknesses.  Perhaps they feel like they should be stronger, better able to resist.  Don’t be like that.  Admitting our weakness is the secret to overcoming it.  Knowing Jesus enables us, and prompts us, to admit our weakness.  It’s okay; we are all weak.

Now, over time, I have found that I am less subject to some of these temptations and better able to resist as needed.  So avoidance does not necessarily have to be a long-term strategy, but when you are really struggling, it’s a good approach.  Pray and ask God to show you where you are still to weak to effectively resist temptation and rather should focus on avoiding it.