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The Fear of Veggies (and Other Things)
I was a picky eater growing up. Vegetables weren’t really my thing. The issue mostly came down to taste, I think. I didn’t particularly like gagging when I put something in my mouth, and vegetables tended to do that. My parents were really into them, though, so they made me eat some at dinner. So I would take a big sip of water, shove in a few peas or beans or whatever, and swallow before my tongue could register their existence. It was a traumatic experience. It worked, though, at least enough to get me dessert, where applicable. But it didn’t help me appreciate or enjoy vegetables, and no matter how many times I tried, my taste never changed like everyone said it would. For that, I just had to grow up. Although, by this measure, I didn’t grow up until around the age of 33.
Now I like veggies and eat some almost every day. The change happened when I started getting serious about my diet. I stopped eating a lot of the sweet and processed foods that had been my staples (sweet tea, tortilla chips, bread, etc.), and the more bitter foods suddenly didn’t taste so bad. I used to hate all kinds of yogurt, for instance, but now even the unsweetened greek yogurt with a little granola tastes like a treat. I would never have touched a salad in the past, now I eat a spinach salad with most dinners. And while I still don’t love broccoli, I will happily eat it in a stir fry. Not green beans, though, those still bring back too many bad memories.
That’s the ironic thing about it. I no longer mind the taste of vegetables, but I’ve retained my childhood fear of them. When I see a piece of cauliflower on my plate, I have a visceral reaction to the idea of putting it in my mouth, despite knowing that I won’t mind the taste once it is there. I regularly make a chunky chili that I love, and yet when I see that piece of pepper or tomato or a pinto bean on my spoon, I often have a moment of doubt as to whether I want to go through with it. Of course, I always do, and it always tastes good, but nothing can shake me of that uncertainty. Which is how all fear works. The fear in anticipation of something is generally worse than the fear (or pain) in actually doing it.
You know a simple flue shot isn’t going to hurt more than a pinch, so why are you still nervous to see the needle? Getting a cavity filled doesn’t hurt, though it might feel a little funny, so why is everyone afraid of the dentist? My daughter can do crazy flips in gymnastics, but she’s only recently overcome the fear of going upside-down on a theme park ride, and now she loves it. My wife will agonize for weeks about some business decision, but the moment she’s gone through with it, whether it works out or not, she doesn’t worry anymore. For a long time I would get so worked up by my mere presence in a doctor’s office that my blood pressure would be highly elevated. I’m still not sure what I was afraid of in that case, other than having a high blood pressure reading. Funny how that works.
This is a perfectly normal reaction to the uncertainty of life. It’s the nervous feeling you get at the top of a roller coaster or when the airplane wheels leave the ground, when you step up the free throw line during a big game or prepare to go on stage at a big event. The answer isn’t to try to get rid of it. For one, it’s impossible. Even if you could, it would take all the excitement out of life. The fun of a water slide is that feeling of being a little out of control. You know you’re not going to fly off to your death, but its fun to trick your body into thinking it might. The fun of a game is that delicate balance between the capacity to win and the potential to lose. No one enjoys a blowout.
The way to confront fear, whether of veggies on your plate or monsters under the bed or failure at work, is to accept it. It’s not a bad thing on its own. It’s a natural reminder to stop and think about what you are doing. It only becomes bad when it overwhelms you, when it keep you from making any decision at all. When we confront our fears, we don’t get rid of them completely, but we improve our ability to tolerate them, to push through them, knowing we will be alright. No matter my nerves, I still take the bite, still board the ride, still make the plunge. I tell my kids that it’s alright if you’re afraid. I’d be worried if you weren’t. Accept your fears. Welcome them. Just don’t let them keep you from the best tastes of life.
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