A few months ago, I decided to eat more fruit and vegetables for a week to put a real healthy kicking into my daily diet . How hard would it be? How different did I feel?
It’s always been in the back of my head that I should eat five portions of fruit and veg a day. I presume the sheer guilt keeps it on my mind because, through unrestrained laziness, I haven’t had my five a day in years.
Being a freelance journalist means it’s common to spend hours at a desk on a hideous diet of black coffee, snacks and Twitter. However, it means you’re not tied to strict timetables and lunchtime can be whenever you desire. With that in mind, I assumed this “challenge” would be as easy as getting wet after falling into a swimming pool.
I’ve started feeling increasingly incompetent and irresponsible with my own health. A glance on the NHS website (after a fantastic lunch: large sausage roll, chicken and bacon slice washed down with a can of coke) showed it is easy to add fruit to your routine diet.
The point of this task is to show just how easy it is to add fruit and veg into the daily diet, see how I feel physically and mentally as the days go on.
Day One: Monday
Waking up, after little sleep, I skip breakfast but prepare some fruit snacks to take in to work. I use a yogurt pot to transport some red grapes, as well as oranges, an apple and a banana. I am rather proud of myself for attempting this challenge and stupidly line up my snacks on my desk in the same way students organise pens for important exams. It’s an easy way to get a light snack into work, so why not give it ago?
Lunch consists of a small pizza, black coffee, a little chocolate and another orange. I feel this is a sensible lunch, although I have eaten a fair amount I don’t feel particularly full. So I have a few more grapes and get back to work feeling refreshed.
I feel pretty smug with myself as I make a dinner, which consists of delicious omelette filled with pepper, onion, mushrooms and little bits sausage and ham. After a few grapes with a yogurt, I work on another feature for a few hours then fall asleep feeling non-the wiser
Day Two: Tuesday
I am assigned to an interview in London’s Soho in the evening so have a light breakfast of toast and a few grapes. I waste time drinking cups of coffee and researching my interviewee but after such a small breakfast I am inclined to eat the majority of the day’s fruit around the mid-morning mark. This consists of more grapes, a couple of oranges, a banana and an apple. At midday I’m battling a hunger problem again and decide to make a chicken pasta salad. This seems wise, as I probably won’t be eating till late that evening. Furthermore, it’s filling and a way of using up leftover chicken as well as adding a little meat to, what many say, is a boring snack.
After lunch I speed to London and find myself in a quaint pub in Soho interviewing two independent filmmakers about strange tales of their childhood. At 6.30pm and knowing there is a train back home just after 7pm, I pace the laps of the Underground and soon board the train rather than stopping for any food. The train then sits in the station for reasons unknown and I find myself sat in the aisles waiting for a seat to arise as the minutes in which I could have found dinner drift by.
Despite this, the day has been good and I feel inclined to celebrate by hitting a nightclub. I reach my flat looking for some quick food, which I don’t have. However, I do have some cold chicken and some crisps as well as a couple of beers. This isn’t the best way to eat and stay healthy, but I admit this is a completely regular occurrence, in fact it more irregular of me to say no to alcohol. While working your mind and body hard, you are always reminded that you need a healthy intake to keep you going.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens next. Fast-forward an hour or two and I can be found throwing some shapes to Steps and Five before finishing the celebration with a meaty pizza. No vegetables as extra toppings.
Day Three: Wednesday
I wake up early and feeling rather fresh despite smelling like a brewery that hasn’t been cleaned for a number of decades. I have the day off for visiting parents, which involves buying shop sandwiches and sitting around digesting polite conversation. I manage a few grapes again in the morning before gulping down a can of coke. You may now begin to see, the weakest part of my diet is breakfast and, like many workers, I usually skip it because I wake up late or don’t feel hungry. This is something that hasn’t changed whatsoever.
After yesterdays food-fail I still have some fruit including more grapes, three oranges and a banana. The increased amount of fruit and vegetables is making me feel as stressed or as bloated.
Dinner consists of a lighter than usual cheese sauce with broccoli, peppers and onions over spinach pasta. It’s a time consuming process to make the sauce but it is worth it for the delicious but light taste. It is at this point that I reminded that the meals that take time to make are usually the best and healthiest.
Day Four: Thursday
I’ve had enough.
The day didn’t start in such a bad turn. Sleeping for over 10 hours and waking up to a blend of grapes and Friends, I have a spring in my step. I want to treat myself so I buy triple “40% less fat” sandwich from a supermarket and head to a meeting. Near to midday I am struggling to hold back my urges of hunger.
At the same time the meeting begins, 1pm, I devour the sandwiches like a man who hasn’t seen food for a month. I then munch through a small amount of chocolate, an orange, an apple and a trusty banana.
By 2.30pm, I feel hungry again which forces me too lose my temper somewhat and come up with an insulting alternative to nicotine patches to discourage smokers. I reason my anger is directed upon the smoking members of the community because, like a smoker fag-less for a week, I am craving a big juicy burger with a mountain of chips. After a few days of feeling less stressed and better about myself, I feel actually feel worse. I don’t want to do this anymore, somehow I have lost my motivation and I don’t feel as inspired to keep to my new diet.
After the meeting, I have an interview scheduled with a local record label owner. It goes very well discussing matters relevant to us and I then retreat to dinner. After discussing more everyday stresses with my girlfriend, I head to the kitchen hoping that boiling potatoes for mash will magically turn into a wonderful waterfall of chips and the fish in bag I place in the oven will morph in to the meatiest pizza ever. This doesn’t happen, and the meal is served with boiled carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
I have a treat chocolate pudding and head out to present an evening radio show, with an ugly urge to pop into a fast food chain and give in to temptation. Instead I buy a pint from the bar below the station and insist that is my new diet that is making me listen to more Radiohead than usual.
A joke it may be, but I feel like I want to go back to my lazier and, maybe, easier ways. Without motivation it becomes annoying to cut, peel and slice vegetables and make sure there is always a supply of fruit around. But for the results of feeling healthier and eating better, this effort and easily compensated.
Day Five: Friday
After the previous evening, I crave for some fast food to balance things out. I resist temptation as well as breakfast and indulge in a baked potato salad for lunch, with some cheese, tomato, lettuce and cucumber.
I am expecting a phone call to interview a major label representative, so prepare myself for the wait by sending out emails to future interviewees. After 10 minutes my Internet dies and I am forced to find something else to do. I decide to eat fruit that ups the count my daily intake but, yet again, doesn’t make me feel full. So I have some more until I feel the hunger has passed.
With it being Friday night and a planned evening ahead, I plan to cook something a little special for my girlfriend. Chicken in a creamy mushroom and tarragon sauce with small boiled potatoes and mash is delicious and by far the best meal of the week.
Day Six: Saturday
I have a part-time job at the local football club working at the coffee stand on match days. I awake feeling a little under the weather, with a runny nose, sore throat and general bad mood. I have caught up on some more sleep and have a quick breakfast of some toast, oranges and a banana.
I head towards work to start my shift just after midday. The club gives us a bottle of water and a Mars bar to feed us until we finish. My shift is less than eventful and I spend the majority of it making coffee for myself. I pop into a local shop and pick up a jar of bolognaise sauce for dinner and a reduced-price chocolate and vanilla cheesecake as a treat for my girlfriend.
As always we add more to the bolognaise, such as more mushrooms, onion and peppers and cap it off with the chocolate cheesecake.
Today has been a problematic day to eat in a more healthy way, sure I had some fruit in the morning and extra veg at night but I was restricted to what and when I could during most of the day. Ideally, I could have made more of an effort with breakfast like having a fruit salad, which is something I will try next time.
Day Seven: Sunday
Although nearing the end of the challenge and knowing I can return to life where a packet of caramel digestives is lunch, I struggle to have any fruit at all.
Sunday morning is home to the toasted bacon butty and today is no exception, especially as I haven’t had one in weeks. I rub the sleep from my eyes and get on with a little work and tidying up. I have to go out to work on a magazine article, so have a quick lunch.
The afternoon becomes unusually stressful, fuelled on coffee and a small Kit-Kat. I return to start on the traditional Sunday roast. I prepare the chicken only to find no kitchen foil, I sulk off to the corner shop to stare at an empty shelf where the product should be and then sulk some more to another shop. Feeling angered by the unnecessary trip outside I accidently cut my self under my fingernail whilst peeling a carrot. I throw everything in the oven and sulk until the chicken is done.
Served with a stack of vegetables and a little gravy, it is a perfect Sunday roast that leaves the feeling that the weekend is over and it is pack to the grindstone tomorrow morning, only with more fruit in the lunchbox and better understanding of how my diet affects my daily routine.
Summary of the week:
In one way, I was right. Trying to get more healthy foods into your daily diet isn’t too hard. I swapped crisps and the high intake of chocolate for healthy alternatives in the day but didn’t need to accommodate more vegetables in my main meal as I have plenty.
On the other hand, despite the vast amount I was eating I wasn’t feeling satisfied which in work terms meant that I was struggling to concentrate, unless I ate more fruit or low salt chips. One way around this would be to eat a good hearty breakfast, which many people avoid. Don’t be fooled with two slices of toast, have a bowl of cereal high in fibre but low in sugar and salt such as Weatabix. This is also a great opportunity to up your fruit count for the day by adding a banana or even more exciting fruits like strawberries.
Furthermore, it could be argued that in modern times, we expect food quickly and preparing, peeling and slicing vegetables becomes an unforeseen annoyance. At times during the week I was desperate to come home and eat something quick and easy like oven chips and pie, but with a little effort I made delicious meals that weren’t too stressful or difficult to make. Which, as a result, became a pleasant surprise and is something that anyone can do.
In terms of my state of mind, early in the week I felt less stressed and clear minded about my daily routine. Even after a heavy night out, I woke up the next day feeling great. That being said, towards the end of the week I started to feel increasingly angry, as I had to think about meals with plenty of veg in or snack on some fruit when I was desperate to give in. I also believe because I had a busy working week, where I would work a great deal in the week and then working for a few hours after dinner, I was becoming stressed about succeeding in this challenge as well as the other work commitments and by the end of the week I was back to eating a few bits of fruit here and there.
Regardless of both the negative and positives of this experiment, it is important to remember that this is a change in diet that must last longer than a week to feel the full effects.