Want to eat more veggies but worried that means you’re “dieting?” Your concern is valid, given the way diet mentality infiltrates our food decisions. There’s nothing inherently diet-y about vegetables, but they’ve been co-opted by diet culture and can trigger dieting thoughts and behaviors. These strategies will help you make veggie choices from a place of self-care rather than self-control.
Why make an entire post about vegetables anyway? Well, veggies have it particularly rough in our diet culture. Because of their high nutrient density and low caloric density, they’re abused by diet culture and many folks who have dieted have a complicated relationship with vegetables.
It may sound strange to use the word “trauma” related to veggies but I’ve found in my private practice that certain vegetables, especially salad greens, can trigger dieting trauma memories in my clients.
For example, many people who have been on Weight Watchers stuff themselves full of vegetables when they really want something else. They do this because veggies are “free” while what their body is really craving costs a lot of “points.” Vegetables are then used to cover up or move past a craving – which of course doesn’t really work. Veggies may even be eaten in place of a balanced meal, which is a red flag for disordered eating.
I’ve had clients who ate so many salads while dieting that it took them a long time to be able to eat them again in a healthy, intuitive way. People often think of common binge foods, such as salty snack foods and sweets, as foods that can be abused. But veggies can be abused, too.
Anytime we force feed ourselves a food when we don’t want it, we’re complicating our relationship with that food. A healthy relationship with veggies is when you eat your fill of them in a way that feels good to you. Not because you’re trying to displace something else with vegetables.
You can eat a lot of veggies and not restrict other foods.
Psst… If you’re thinking that you have to force feed yourself veggies to eat any veggies at all, I’d get curious about your dieting history and current food rules. Are there any foods you restrict? Do you tell yourself that vegetables are “good” for you while other foods are “bad” for you? Do you reward yourself with “treat” foods if you eat veggies? Do you believe you’ll definitely get a disease or die early if you don’t force feed yourself veggies?
Here’s the thing about intuitive eating: when we truly allow unconditional freedom to eat any and all foods, and make food decisions from a place of self-compassion, we strike a natural balance between super nutritious (“work”) foods and not-so-nutritious, but super tasty, (“play”) foods.
We don’t have to exert so much (or any) control and willpower to meet our needs.
Our bodies are very wise!
So, if you’re looking to simply eat more vegetables (because you like the way they taste and the way they make you feel) or if you’re hoping to improve your relationship with veggies (due to dieting or past trauma related to veggies), give these strategies a shot!
And remember: veggies don’t have to be fresh! Frozen and canned vegetables are nutritious, affordable, accessible and have a much longer shelf-life (or freezer life) than fresh veggies. No shame in the canned and frozen game!
These tips are very generalized. For personalized guidance, consider working one-on-one with a registered dietitian. You can learn more about working with me here!
Shift to an abundance mindset
Rather than contemplate which foods you can restrict by substituting veggies, think about what veggies you can add to a meal or snack. Consider all the types of veggies available to you and how you can prepare them.
Resist moralizing veggies
It can be tempting to place veggies on a diet pedestal but this kind of thinking is a slippery slope to diet mentality. Think about how veggies taste and how they make you feel, rather than convincing yourself that they’re “better” than other foods. Veggies have their place just like all other foods.
Focus on what you enjoy about veggies
Forget about calories and consider why you enjoy veggies. Is it the color, texture and flavor? Is it the fullness and satiety they help you feel? Maybe it’s because you notice better digestion when you eat them. Figure out your “why” for eating veggies.
List all the veggies you like
This is a fun activity! Write down your favorite veggies. You could even break your list into categories by color (remember ROY G BIV?). If you have trouble remembering, do this while browsing the produce section at the grocery store. Remember: there are so many veggies to enjoy, you don’t have to eat those you don’t like!
Experiment with various cooking methods
If dieting had you exclusively steaming and boiling veggies, it’s time to branch out! Sauteing and roasting are excellent ways to bring out the flavors and textures of veggies. Get adventurous and try a new cooking method or recipe!
If you don’t care for plain veggies, that’s totally OK. Salt, spices, herbs and condiments can make veggies even more delicious. Play around with different seasonings and see which you like best on different veggies.
Don’t be afraid of oil
Fat is your friend! Not only does it help veggies cook (and not stick to pans), it can enhance flavors and helps your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in vegetables. Olive oil is great for sauteing and avocado oil is great for higher heat cooking, such as roasting in the oven. Find which oils you enjoy the best!
Incorporate veggies into other foods
If eating veggies as their own “food group” or side dish is a turn-off to you, consider adding them to other foods such as scrambles, sauces, casseroles, sandwiches, soups and burritos. I love the cool crunch of romaine on a sandwich and bright green broccoli in tofu scramble. Get creative and try adding different veggies to different meals and snacks!
Simple and Delicious Ways to Cook Vegetables
These are just some of my favorite ways to cook veggies – feel free to branch out and try more!
- Broccoli thinly sliced and cooked quickly in a pan over high heat with avocado oil and salt.
- Cauliflower florets roasted with avocado oil, curry powder and salt.
- Kale or collard greens chopped and sauteed in olive oil with fresh garlic and salt.
- Baby portobello mushrooms chopped and sauteed in olive oil with fresh garlic (salt at the end).
- Beets roasted whole, then chopped and chilled (yummy in salads).
- Green bell peppers and onions sliced and cooked quickly in a pan over high heat with avocado oil and salt (delicious in tacos and burrito bowls).
- Eggplant thinly sliced, salted (blot off moisture with a towel) and grilled with olive oil (I’ve hated eggplant all my life until I had it prepared this way – SO delicious!).
Tasty Recipes Featuring Veggies
I’ve personally made all of these recipes and love them!
- Italian Farro Soup
- Lentil Bolognese
- Lentil Cauliflower Taco Meat
- One-Pot Minestrone Soup
- Red Thai Curry with Vegetables
- West African Peanut Stew
Non-Recipe Ways to Add More Vegetables to Meals and Snacks
Recipes are great, but not always practical. Having some throw-together meal and snack ideas are great for busy days and when you just don’t feel like spending much time thinking about or preparing food.
- Add veggies to breakfast scrambles. I personally love mushrooms, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes in tofu scramble. I saute them in a separate pan with olive oil and salt, and add them to the tofu when it’s done cooking. Easy and delicious with a variety of colors, textures and flavors!
- If you like smoothies, consider adding a handful of spinach for a bright green color! Its mild flavor doesn’t overpower otherwise sweet smoothies. I love adding spinach to a smoothie with almond milk, frozen banana, frozen cherries, peanut butter and cocoa powder.
- Keep prepped raw veggies on hand for dipping and snacking. Whether it’s hummus, ranch, guac, refried beans, peanut butter or something else, dips are a great accompaniment for veggies! Experiment with your fave raw veggies and even try blanching some (such as green beans and asparagus) for a change.
- Reach for greens for a quick side dish. Kale, collards and spinach are great greens to keep on hand to throw into different dishes such as pasta and soup, and also whip up for a quick side dish. I love sauteing greens in olive oil with fresh garlic and salt. They cook up super fast and are very tasty.
- When in doubt, throw it in a bowl! I love making bowls when I have random leftovers in the fridge and freezer. Consider building a bowl with these three components: grain, protein, veggie. Plus whatever other fixin’s and sauces you like!
- Turn your salad into a meal and don’t forget the fat. No sad salads here! Just like with the bowl concept above, think about turning your salad into a balanced and satisfying meal. Nuts and seeds add extra flavor and crunch, too.
I hope this post gave you lots of ideas for adding more veggies to your day. There are loads of reasons to enjoy veggies that have nothing to do with diet culture or losing weight. Focus on their flavor, color, texture and how they feel in your body! And remember: you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat.
If you want personalized support for building balanced and satisfying meals and snacks, let’s work together!
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This was so great to read! I have been working hard (with the OG Intuitive Eating workbook) to overcome some seriously disordered eating (restrict, binge, repeat, etc…) and my relationship with vegetables feels oddly complicated. They taste good and I feel good eating them but it’s like there is this little diet rebellion part of me that won’t stop hating veggies because of all the times I overate them to avoid binging on what I really wanted but was off limits in my diet-of-the-month. Thank you for putting this into words and making me feel less alone!
You’re so welcome, Stephanie!
Thank you for this article. It was passed on through my dietician as I am having similar feelings as Stephanie commented. I thought I was a bit weird for feeling this and in the past I would consider it a “phase” then would force them back into my food routine. Now I am working on intuitive eating and this “phase” has become more intense. I am not wanting to force them back into my diet and this article has helped (I liked the listing of veg as I like nearly all and treating them as equals rather than adding nutrition value/portion size to them etc…). And seeing this article makes me realise there are many others who react like this including Stephanie’s comment of less alone 🙂 Thanks again
You’re certainly not alone!