Training Yourself to Like Healthy Food

Dinner Green made for us the other night

I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t do drugs, I don’t pop pills, I don’t even drink coffee (okay, I do occasionally, but as a treat, not a way to get out of bed).

But I do eat food. I love food. Actually, I think a better way to put it is that I love eating.

When I was a kid, I adored junk food. Chips, pizza, soda, Girl Scout cookies (Thin Mints are my favorite!), I loved it all. I probably loved it even more because it was never in great abundance at my house. I saw my friends at school get nutter butters and mini-bags of chips in their lunches at school. I always felt envious of them.

When I finally lived on my own, I would treat myself to an entire bag of chips all for myself. Or an entire pizza, an entire pint of ice cream, whatever I was craving, I let myself lavish the experience of not having to share with anyone.

And I HATED vegetables. I wouldn’t eat them. If they came mixed in with food I’d ordered at a restaurant, I would painstakingly pick them out. If I accidentally crunched into one, I’d gag involuntarily. The meal in the picture above would not have made my mouth water like it does now. Instead, it would have sent me in the opposite direction, looking for the frozen pizza.

So how did I turn all that around? How did I get from a place where I waited until my mother’s back was turned so I could throw my vegetables in the trash, to where I now eat them happily, and consider spinach and onions a luxury as opposed to a family-sized bag of Doritos?

It wasn’t overnight. I first started actively shifting my diet toward healthier eating almost a decade ago, and I know now that the “transition” may never be complete. There’s always new things to learn, new foods to try, new ways to look at eating. The best advice I’ve gotten as far as healthy eating goes came from my dear friend Shellie White of The Healthy Hooper: Learn as much as you can, then use what works for you.

You are the only one who can change your eating habits. You have to want to do it, and you have to know your reasons. I decided to start eating better because I kept hearing about centenarians on the radio. You know, the people who live to be 100 or older. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I decided I wanted to become a centenarian myself.

Look, you even get an award for making it to 100! (source)

I was out of high school and working at Subway when I realized that I probably wouldn’t become a centenarian if I didn’t learn to like vegetables. Being around them all the time likely helped prod me in the right direction as well. I had to chop the tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and cucumbers that I didn’t eat in preparation for the people who did. It was during my time at Subway that I decided to start training myself to like vegetables.

Nine years later, I live with a boyfriend who works at a restaurant that makes its meals from local organic produce. He cooks delicious, veggie-rich meals for us that I eat with pleasure.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the course of my healthy eating journey:

1) Know your reasons.


WHY do you want to eat healthier? To lose weight? To feel better? To avoid disease? To widen your food vocabulary? As I mentioned above, I knew I wanted to live to be 100. I also knew my family has a history of heart disease and diabetes, and if I was going to live to such a ripe age, I would have to get my eating under control.

What are your reasons? Make a list. Write them down. Think of as many as you can, then see if you can spot a common theme or goal among them. Do you want to stave off a family illness? Do you feel crummy and sluggish every day? If you don’t have a solid reason for changing your diet, you are less likely to push forward. Understand that healthy eating is a decision, a choice. Every choice has a reason and motivation. Find yours, write it down, and put it in a place where you will see it.

2) Start small.


If you’re where I was, eating nothing but Tombstone pizzas, Taco Bell and Dr. Pepper, the idea of transitioning to eating 100% healthy can seem daunting. So pick something small, something doable, and do it. For me, it was cucumbers. I challenged myself to eat one slice of cucumber every time I went into work. How’s that for small?

Other first steps to consider: Eliminate soda, replace it with water. A lot of people addicted to soda claim to “not like” water. I know, because I did it, too. But try it. Try going one day without soda. Now try going another day without it. Go a week, drinking only water, and then when you crack into that Dr. Pepper, it will taste sickeningly sweet and you may wonder how you ever drank so much of it in the first place. I decided to give up soda when I watched Supersize Me and learned just how much sugar was in one can. Knowing my family’s history of diabetes, I understood that if I didn’t get my sugar intake under control, I could end up giving myself insulin shots every day. And I’m terrified of needles. Just thinking of stabbing myself every day proves motivation enough to steer clear of too much sugar.

You can also try replacing dessert with fruit, trying to cook one meal a week at home rather than eating out, anything that points you in the right direction. Be patient with yourself, don’t expect to get there all at once. Let yourself try new things and see which ones stick.

3) Eat your veggies by hiding the fact that they’re veggies.


When I first started training myself to like vegetables, I had to fool myself into eating them. As I said earlier, eating them used to cause me to gag, so at first, I did as much as I could to mask their natural flavor. When I ate my one slice of cucumber, I’d drench it with ranch dressing. I LOVED ranch dressing, so I tried to tell myself I was eating a chip covered in ranch and not a cucumber. Eventually, I made myself slowly reduce the amount of dressing I put on each slice, until I could eat it without the dressing.

If ranch isn’t your cup of tea, pick a different medium. Italian dressing. Mashed potatoes. Macaroni and cheese. Chocolate ice cream. Whatever gets the vegetable in your mouth.

I found that getting used to the texture of raw veggies was just as big a challenge as getting used to the taste. If the same goes for you, try working cooked vegetables into your meals. They are mushier and a little bit easier to blend into something else.

4) Try cooking.


If you’re like me, you eat out a lot. You don’t know your ass from a measuring cup. You view people who can throw a meal together from haphazard ingredients in the cupboard as some sort of superhuman rocket scientists.

Challenging yourself to make your own meal is a good way to get more in touch with your food. In addition, you also get that fun rush of adrenaline that comes from creation. You started with a handful of ingredients, and now you have an edible thing! You may find that you love cooking, and be encouraged to try it more. For me, cooking never became a habit, but I have a much greater appreciation for what goes into a meal, and food in general.

5) Challenge yourself.


I love a good challenge. There’s nothing like specific goal, written down on paper and bragged about to all my friends and family so that they can mock me mercilessly if I fail. On the journey to good health, I’ve challenged myself to write down what I eat every day, to eat a specific set of foods every day, to eliminate sugar for thirty days (my mother successfully did this for an entire YEAR), to try making all my own meals for a week, to try eating small portions every few hours instead of three big meals a day, to try at least one bite of every meal offered to me.

Giving yourself a time frame makes it more achievable, since you don’t go into it thinking you’ll commit to it for life. Every eating challenge you take on will teach you something about yourself and the limits of your eating habits. You may discover something now that you put into practice years later. The point of these challenges is to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new, and then pay attention to how you react to it. How do you feel on your challenge? Do you think you could sustain something like it over the long term? Giving yourself bold tasks to accomplish will help you carve out the building blocks for your healthy lifestyle.

6) Learn.


Read books, watch movies, talk to people, read blogs, browse YouTube. Learn about what your food is made of, where it comes from, what it does to your body, how it’s made, its history, its controversy, anything. The more you know about food, the more attention you’ll give it. You’ll stop looking at it as just something to put into your mouth and instead start thinking about how it will make you feel, what effect it might have on you, and more.

I’m not saying you’ll never eat another piece of cake again. But like anything else, knowledge is power. Knowing exactly what’s in that cake puts the power in your hands, everything you eat becomes an active choice.

Documentaries I love that changed my views on food include Supersize Me and Food, Inc.. Books that helped me learn about food and its effect on the body include The Great American Detox Diet by Alex Jamieson, and The PH Miracle by Robert Young. I also love Kris Carr’s blog, Crazy Sexy Life.

These are just jumping off points. There’s plenty of information out there, and learning is a constant process that should never feel finished.

7) Surround yourself with people who eat healthy.


One of the toughest things to do when you’re trying to change your eating habits is to hang around people who have no interest in changing theirs. You get teased for turning down cookies and mocked for eating small portions. Going out to eat together becomes challenging, especially if you do as I did and eventually eliminate fast food from your diet.

Sometimes people just won’t understand why you would want to eat anything other than junk food. It can be difficult, especially in the beginning, to try to explain it to them, and to stick to your guns when they offer you your favorite foods.

Find someone, even if it’s just one person, who also has an interest in eating well. Spend time with them. Eat with them. For me, it was my mother. I was lucky enough to have a mom who spent my whole life trying to teach me about health and good eating. I didn’t listen at first, but once I started to make that switch, she became a valuable resource and a trusted friend. I also knew that I could go visit her and get a good, healthy meal. If you don’t have anyone at all in your life like this, find someone! The Internet is full of social networking sites. Make a Facebook post mentioning you’re looking for someone to eat salad with. It sounds silly, but having someone in your corner makes everything easier.

** ** **

Above all, accept and embrace the journey that is health. Every day is a chance to discover something new about yourself. Every time you try a new food, experiment with a new diet, read a good food book, or chat with a friend about vegetables, you learn something about yourself. Your journey is going to be different from mine, and that’s GOOD. Take your time and feel it out. Trust that if you take enough small steps in the right direction, you will get there eventually.

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11 thoughts on “Training Yourself to Like Healthy Food

  1. Hi. I just read this blog so I thought I’d comment.

    I’m very similar, in that I absolutely detest most foods. I hate most veg and meats, fish and liquids. And, yes, I love junk food. I was raised on chips and beans, and I ate nothing but these until my mid-teens, where I was introduced to Dominos pizza. Now I have that twice a week.

    Luckily I’ve never had a weight problem. I am very slim, so in that sense I have been lucky. But I do have little energy and some mild emotional and mental health problems, which I think stem from the fact that I am not getting all the good things my body needs to function properly.

    I think a lot of my food problems are purely psychological. When I was very young (only one) I suffered from blocked bowels and almost died, and from that moment I seemed to have an intense dislike for food. I wouldn’t eat anything I used to. I haven’t drunk milk since I came off the bottle. When my parents finally found something I liked they chose not to force me to eat anything else; they were just so glad I was alive and eating SOMETHING. Of course, they did try to encourage me to eat other things, but I was very stubborn. I would sit at the table for as long as necessary. I would NOT eat that disgusting food.

    Obviously, as I’m now 26, I have realised just how bad that was. I would give ANYTHING to be able to eat healthily now. I have tried to train myself to like certain foods. But, being alone, it’s hard to find the motivation.

    That’s why when I read your blog I just had to comment, because it sounds like you worked so hard to train yourself to like these foods that would normally make you gag. Not only that, you explained ways to go about it, and I feel reinspired. I don’t hold much hope, but I will give it another try.

    And, like you started with cucumbers, I will start will leafy vegetables, like lettuce. I actually have a bag of leafy veg in my fridge that I bought to try and encourage myself, but until now I just look at the bag and think ‘I can’t bring myself to eat that.’

    …I think I will now grab this bag and try to eat a little. Just a little.

    Thanks for the inspiration!!!

    • I’m glad I could help! Thank you for sharing your story with me, it means a lot. I can understand that aversion to food, I had a friend who was the same way, it was a good day if she ate anything at all.

      I can tell you for a fact that changing from eating junk food to eating veggies helps LOADS in the way you feel, your energy levels and so forth. I still slip back into eating more junk from time to time and I can tell the difference.

      I don’t like milk or fish either. I’ve actually read that dairy isn’t so good for humans, that milk is what baby calves are supposed to eat (not even grown cows!), so why do we drink so much of it? So I feel a little less guilty about not drinking milk, but on the flip side, I LOVE cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, etc. Oh, well. 🙂

      Definitely try eating just a little a day. Even if it’s just one bite. When I started eating salads, people would say, “That’s not a salad. That’s dressing with lettuce.” I’d eat my salads with gallons of ranch, croutons, and cheese. It got me used to the texture of the lettuce. A lot of my aversion has more to do with texture than taste, I’ve noticed. Getting used to the crunch of vegetables can help a lot.

      Also, one other trick I meant to mention in this post is to try everything you are offered, even if it’s just a bite. Even if it’s LESS than a bite, just a crumb. And try it thinking, “This will be delicious!” If it’s not, wash it down with some water. And if it is, DON’T ASK WHAT’S IN IT!!! Ask for another bite. Once you get comfortable doing this, you can start to ask what’s in the stuff you’re eating and figure out what you like. I found out I liked turnips because I ate some thinking they were potatoes. But if someone had said, “Hey, do you want some turnips?” I’d have been like, “Um, no.” So tricking your mind helps, too.

      Good luck! If you don’t hold much hope, I’ll hold it for you. You can do it! And remember, it took me almost ten years to get to this point, and I’m still learning and working toward good habits. Take baby steps, don’t worry about changing everything at once. You’ll have good periods and bad periods, don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re regressing. Once you’ve learned something, it’s tough to un-learn, and you’ll want to keep moving in the direction of feel-good health.

  2. Hi,
    I feel like finally somebody I can relate to! I’m 17 years old a senior in high school, going to college and working. My schedule is packed! And as I used to swing by McDonald’s, grabbing a hot and ready for dinner, and better made barbecue chips for a snack I’ve gained 20 pounds. I’ve been going to the gym twice a week starting small and still no results because I just cannot hange my eating habits. When I was young I lived off of pizza lunchables, cheese toast, and buttered noodles. Literally! My parents never made me try anything, if it touched (one time I tried a sub) I threw up. Broccoli with cheese, hamburger, even a salad. I will admit I only tried some foods and then my parents made a pact to not make me try anything I don’t want to eat anymore. Well now that I’m about to graduate high school, and I realize now that I’ve stopped growing I’m going from a size 5 jeans to a 10 I need to do something about it. The only thing I like are fruit! I need help and its so hard when situations that I’m I’m right now as I type this my mom bringing home KFC and I’m begging myself not to get up and grab a chicken leg. It’s so hard and I feel like nobody around me knows what I’m growing through. It’s changing something I’ve done my whole life that’s never became a problem until now! But I am going to do it. Thankful so much for your story defeniatly gives me some motivation!

    • I am so glad I was able to motivate you. I definitely know where you’re coming from. There were several years as a kid when all I ate were frozen burritos, ramen, and pizza lunchables. Definitely take your time and start small, and don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t instantly like veggies overnight. You’ll get there. ❤

  3. I have been trying for over ten years to get myself to love vegetables. I’ve been hypnotized. I’ve done tons of research. I, too, have read the pH Miracle by Dr. Robert Young and absolutely felt that I needed to work toward that. My plan has always been to be more of a flexitarian (I believe there is room for some lean meat and some bread and natural sweets…it just needs to be on the smaller side). However, I grew up eating canned vegetables (which I detested) and lots of meat (which I also detested, as it grossed me out). My father was very much a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and demanded his wife make that. When they got divorced, my mother went back to school and we ended up eating a lot of fast food. Frozen pizzas, hamburger helper, frozen dinners, you name it. My mother no longer tried to get me to eat my vegetables and I was relieved.

    I never liked much, because I truly believe my taste buds are more sensitive than those of many others (I actually found a study to back that up – long story). Texture is a HUGE thing for me, too. The idea of vegetables in my food (aka, a casserole) was disgusting – mostly because of the texture, because, let’s face it, in a casserole the food tastes pretty much all the same.

    I will admit that I have made some great strides. I try hard to eat more whole foods and eliminate the processed junk. I cut down on my diet soda intake and increased my water intake. I can now eat a simple salad (lettuce, carrots, maybe egg slices and croutons with french dressing). I can make myself eat simple steamed broccoli with some Spike seasoning on it (though I still taste it and make a face). I have also found that I can tolerate spinach incredibly well, and when I can I add that to sandwiches, smoothies, and whatever else I can. I also learned that I like many more vegetables when they are grilled — now if only I had a few hundred dollars to buy a grill so I could experiment with such!

    I am proud of those changes. However, I still have a long way to go. I now have an underactive thyroid, no energy, sleep apnea, and am overweight. I’ve been overweight my whole life, really, except for the mid 90s when I was on that crazy phen-fen cocktail which worked like a charm but made me a real witch to be around. I exercise fairly regularly – not intensely because of the lack of energy but I do what I can. I know what is left for me to do. I need to cut out all processed foods and I need to learn to LOVE vegetables.

    You have given me renewed hope that I can still do this. Sure, it has been 10+ years since I started this journey, but I have never completely given up – I have just put it on hold here and there. However, I want to do this so that I can feel better. Looking better would be nice, too, but it’s not my priority. I want to feel amazing, not crave junk food, and, most importantly, I want to be a good example for my future children. I want to eat healthy when I am pregnant so that my child develops healthy tastebuds and habits from the womb.

    I can do this. I don’t know how, but I will try some more of your tips. The idea of eating a cucumber sickens me (one of my least favorite vegetables), however, I do like a good challenge. Maybe that’s one I should try.

    • It really sounds like you’re further along than you think! Tolerating spinach is HUGE, spinach is so great for you, and if you can slip it on your burgers/in smoothies/etc, that’s fantastic!

      I totally get the texture thing. Have you tried chopping your veggies up really, really small? Or blending other veggies in with your smoothies (and a bunch of fruit/yogurt)?

      And what about avocados? You can easily mash them into a spread that is smooth and put it on sandwiches, add it to your salads, etc. Avocados are something I lean on heavily and give myself permission to eat as much as I want, even though they have a high fat content, because they are healthy fats, and because I usually can’t eat more than one before I’m FULL.

      Don’t worry, I’m also 10+ years into this journey and I’m still learning/adapting. I still don’t like broccoli, I make a face when I eat it, too. It’s really tough to disguise that flavor!

  4. I can completely relate to your blog post. As far as I can remember, I have never liked vegetables. I have always resorted to eating junk food, such as pizza and my all time favorite– hamburgers. I can’t stand the taste or even the smell of broccoli and cauliflower. I gag every time I taste bland vegetables, especially if they are raw. It takes me 30 minutes to eat a small piece of a raw carrot. I am trying to get myself to like vegatables because I want a healthy, slimmer body and I want to be around longer for my family. However, transitioning from junk food to healthy vegetables has been a barrier that I can’t seem to penetrate. I am concerned about junk food now because of all the chemicals and gmo’s that are put into those foods. It was different when I was single, but now I am 30 years old and I have a family that I need to be an example to. I am tired of being overweight and I don’t want to end up with diabetes and kidney disease. My mind and body want to be healthy, but my tastebuds disagree. I hope it doesn’t take 10 years for me to enjoy eating vegetables.

    • I know how you feel. Even after all this time, I still don’t like broccoli, and I’ve accepted that I probably never will. I also never got the hang of mushrooms or raw carrots. That being said, I have learned to like plenty of others. One thing I highly recommend starting out with is avocados. They are mushy, not crunchy, and they don’t have a strong, intense flavor. If you like guacamole, you can make it yourself at home by mashing up a few avocados and mixing it with some chopped onions and garlic (from the clove, not a bottle). Super easy. Just eat it with a spoon. You don’t have to dip anything in it. If you do want to dip something, I like sliced bell peppers, again because of the mild flavor. If that’s too big a step for you, grab some potato chips and munch away. It’s better than dipping it in nacho cheese.

      Also, I know I mention it in the post, but ranch, ranch, ranch. I love the stuff, and if it can trick you into eating salad, let it. Get a bag of baby spinach and a bottle of your favorite dressing (obviously, I prefer ranch, but you might like something else). Take out one leaf and cover it in dressing, and just go for it. Trust that the more you do this, your tastebuds will grow accustomed to it.

      Be patient with yourself. Even if it takes you ten years to be comfortable eating a salad, consider that it’s better than spending those ten years continuing to eat nothing but pizza and hamburgers. Also, eating veggies doesn’t mean you have to give up pizza and hamburgers either, just eat them in moderation. Good luck!

  5. Hi,
    I’m a 13yr old girl who HATES veggies and most fruits; but I really want to change! I really want to enjoy veggies, but I find it so hard.:( I’ve got my mum to try and help me change, and so far I’ve managed to eat some peas in their pods, but I didn’t like them very much; but I’m trying! I love corn on the cob, and I’ve been trying to eat some cauliflower; and i quite enjoyed pineapple. Do you think I’m making progress? Will my tastebuds change as I grow older? You’re article really inspired me to make a big effort in changing; I’m not overweight for my age or anything, but I know that not eating fruits and veggies could really harm me when I’m older, and I do have some constipation problems. How do you think I’m doing? Could you give any more tips? Thank you so much for your time!! :):)

    • It sounds like you are definitely on the right track, especially since you’re thirteen and already aware of the difference those changes could make to your health. I didn’t really make the decision to change until I was seventeen or eighteen. Yes, your taste buds will change as you get older, there’s stuff I used to hate as a kid that I love now (not always good things, for example, I used to hate Cadbury Creme Eggs and now I love them, go figure). I’ve found that the more healthy you eat, the better healthy food tastes over time. There have been some times when I’ve been eating so well that cake didn’t even taste that good to me when I ate it as a treat.

      I would definitely keep doing what you’re doing. Try a little bit of everything. If you find something you like, eat LOTS of it, and accept that you may never like everything (I still don’t care for broccoli, but I LOVE green beans and brussel sprouts…things thirteen year old me would never have said!)

      If you have access to a juicer or blender, you might also want to try making juice or smoothies. A lot of my issues with veggies seemed to come from the texture, so juicing/blending them takes away that hurdle and I can just focus on the taste. Good luck, and thanks for reading! ❤

  6. Thank you so much for writing this! I have only recently turned 20 and already have heart problems. There is a long list of diseases in my family that i REALLY don’t want but even knowing that I find it hard to eat healthy. You gave a lot of good tips that I think I’ll try. I’m feeling way more confident that I can do this now. It’s going to be even harder since the people I live with won’t change the way they eat but I will at least make an effort. I can’t eat cooked veggies but raw ones like carrots seem to be easier to get down. Once again, thanks for this!

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