One day in junior high, I remember crunching my carrots peacefully, unaware of the world around me, when a girl at the same table said loudly, “Why do you eat like this at school? Your parents already control what you eat at home.”
I was taken aback for several reasons, but I was too startled to respond with anything but, “They don’t control what I eat. I like this.” She rolled her eyes and probably began talking of something I didn’t care about, but what she said stuck in my mind the rest of the day.
It had never occurred to me that how I ate was strange; sure, not many 13 and 14 year old girls eat all nine recommended servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but I always at least assumed people understood why I did what I did.
The summer before that incident, I had decided I wasn’t eating healthfully enough, and had revamped my diet to include at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. In the summer, this was easy. I could snack throughout the day and never found myself gorging on bell peppers or eating three apples in one sitting. School, however, proved more of a challenge. I found myself unable to meet my goals unless I stuffed my face with what I needed during our half hour lunch period.
Undeterred, I endeavored to pack my lunches to reach my set standards. This meant that I often packed an apple, two carrots, a bell pepper and often some other piece of fruit according to the season and what stores my parents had visited.
After the outburst of the girl at my lunch table, though, I started paying more attention to what people around me ate, and I was slightly disgusted by what I saw.
I remember one girl in particular eating a 100 calorie pack of crackers and a chocolate chip cookie everyday for lunch. She was thin and didn’t look unhealthy at all, but I had a hard time believing she was meeting her nutritional needs on a daily basis unless her mother force-fed her liquefied spinach and cherry tomatoes every night before bed.
I was advised by many adults and some other teenagers not to criticize her eating habits, so for the most part I kept my mouth shut and continued to eat how I wanted to.
This, of course, didn’t keep other people quiet about how I ate. Though it was playful teasing, I can’t count the number of times the phrase, “Cam just eats rabbit food” or some variation of it has been said within earshot.
Even though it drew unwanted attention, I couldn’t help but be proud of myself. How many teenage girls willingly eat like this? Some probably did, but it was nice to feel good about myself. Who lies on their deathbed–or on a hospital stretcher after a heart attack–thinking, “I wish I’d eaten fewer fruits and vegetables.”? There’s some level of self-respect and a feeling of responsibility that comes with eating well, even if you’re just doing it because you love how healthy food tastes.
That doesn’t mean everything you eat has to be low in calories, sugar and fat, and high in fiber and vitamins A and C. I routinely eat things that fall outside the health parameters of what most fruit and vegetable advocates set. Diets aren’t a one-to-one balancing act, but it’s easier to justify a cupcake if you filled yourself up with salads and sweet potatoes first.
So even if you’re more of a meat and potatoes kind of person, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet could be fun. There are always hundreds of cool things to do with healthy foods, and I guarantee you’ll find at least one thing you like (I would start with bell peppers, because I love them more than I love myself).
Your friends might call you a rabbit, but it’s probably worth it.