How to Stop Overeating for Good When You Hate Vegetables

It's normal to hate vegetables these days. How can you lose weight if you do?

Posted Oct 06, 2019

"But I hate the taste of fruit and vegetables, they're so boring!"  I hear this refrain day in and day out from people who insist they can never lose weight because of it. 

Most people know in their hearts that in order to lose weight more permanently they're going to have to incorporate more vegetables, and possibly more fruit too.   Yet most of my clients shudder at the thought.  Why?  What's going on?  I believe there are three factors which underlie this phenomenon, and understanding them can help you more easily eat healthy and trim down for good:

First, believing that the dislike of fruit and vegetables is a permanent state represents a misunderstanding of how our taste buds actually work.  See, most of us are accustomed to overstimulating this marvelous sensory organ.  The industrial concentrations of starch, sugar, fat, oil, salt, and excitotoxins come in a hyper-pleasurable form which just didn't exist while we were evolving.  There was no chocolate on the Savannah.  No chips or pretzels in the tropics.  I'm pretty sure there was no pizza tree either! 

So when these super-sized stimuli are repeatedly presented to our nervous system, it responds by down-regulating it's pleasure response. Your taste buds become less sensitive, as does the dopamine reward system in your brain. The more, and more frequently you eat these concentrated forms of toxic-pleasure, the less sensitive your taste buds become, until you reach the point where the natural flavors in fruit and vegetables are no longer appealing. 

The process is not dissimilar to how your brain stops hearing excessive noise when you live in a noisy environment. For example, during my first year of graduate school I lived right underneath the subway in Astoria, Queens (in NYC). The first few nights I couldn't sleep, but one week later I could barely hear the trains, and certainly not the birds and other sounds of nature. Why? Because my nervous system down-regulated. This is what's happened to many people's ability to sense pleasure from fruit and vegetables.

The very good news though, is the process also works in reverse. When I moved away from the subway into the quiet suburbs of Long Island, it only took a few weeks until I once again could hear the birds and crickets at night. 

Similarly, if you stop overstimulating your taste buds with hyper-concentrated forms of pleasure they will regain their sensitivity in fairly short order. In fact, depending upon how aggressively you eliminate the over-stimulation, they can more than double in sensitivity in just 6 to 8 weeks. So if you change your diet, I promise you won't hate the new one forever, just the first few weeks.  Power through!

The second reason people shudder at the idea of eating more fruit and vegetables is because they don't realize how malleable the pleasure drive actually is.  When you let go of one pleasure, your system adjusts to find more in other aspects of life. 

Even though (as per above) you should eventually find natural foods more pleasurable when you start eating more vegetables, your brain will find pleasure elsewhere even if you don't, and by elsewhere I mean beyond food pleasure.  For example, you may find the smells and sensations of hugging your children to be more enjoyable than you'd noticed before.  Or being outside with fresh air and a nice breeze becomes just slightly more heavenly than it previously felt.  Perhaps you just enjoy your work more.  Or your art, music, writing, or community service.  Something!  You won't be without pleasure for long, as is everyone's greatest fear when changing their diet.  Rather, the pleasure drive shifts.  It's just how we're built.

The last reason I find people get "stuck" on the idea that they'll never lose weight because they hate fruit and vegetables, is because they don't realize short-term pleasure does not have to rule their life in the primitive way most assume it must.   It's entirely possible to forgo certain short-term pleasures in pursuit of longer-term goals and dreams that will ultimately provide more pleasure than the quick hit of chocolate, chips, etc.    

For example, in the mid 2000s I had a serious chocolate problem, and my triglycerides were through the roof.  Doctors were routinely warning me I was going to die if I didn't lose 40 pounds.     Gradually I weaned myself from chocolate until I was no longer eating it at all.  As of today I haven't had it in years.  (Please note I don't believe there's anything wrong with chocolate for many people, but for me in particular it turned out none was a lot easier to manage than some.)

When people ask how I managed to entirely deprive myself of chocolate for years on end, giving up all that sweet gratification, I tell them that I made a decision to let go of certain pleasures in my life so I could enjoy other, more important ones.  Besides not dying, I refer to the pleasure of:

  • Walking in the world as a confident, thin person.
  • Being able to run around and hike with my adorable niece and nephew.
  • Having more energy.
  • Virtually eliminating my psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema.  (Note: Chocolate elimination helped my skin conditions for sure, but the bigger jump here was giving up wheat and dairy.)
  • Sleeping more deeply and soundly, while requiring less sleep overall.
  • Being able to become a successful author and leader in the weight loss field, confident in my integrity and knowing the advice I offer actually works.
  • And much more!

I'd be preventing all these things if I kept eating chocolate, and that would be the real deprivation.  I'll give up some temporary taste satisfaction any day to realize those things in my life!

In sum, you don't have to hate fruit and vegetables forever, and you don't have to wait until you like them to stop overeating and lose weight.  Instead, consider cutting down on whatever junk is taking their place, watch your taste buds go through a restorative process over the course of a few months, consciously direct your pleasure drive towards other areas of life, and consider the idea that short-term pleasure doesn't need to rule your life.  Focus on longer term, more pleasurable goals instead!

Food for thought, no?

Click here for more ideas about how to control the seemingly uncontrollable force inside you that says "eat junk" at the worst times.