Confession: I've eaten a sweet potato almost every day for the past four years.
I eat them roasted and dipped in BBQ sauce or baked and topped with cinnamon and maple syrup, to which my husband says: "Syrup on sweet potatoes? You're so weird."
Even after two years of marriage he still thinks it's crazy.
My mom's sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving dinner was my favorite. I could easily put away three or four servings. That's how I fell in love with them. The way my mother cooked sweet potato casserole can't be rivaled. Brown sugar and butter, marshmallows and pecans, these are things I believe heaven will be made of. Hopefully paired with sweet potatoes.
Now, I don't only like or eat sweet potatoes, exclusively. I love any type of vegetable.
But it hasn't always been this way.
As a freshman in college, French fries and pizza took precedence over veggies on my dinner plate. I ballooned to 230 pounds, which I disguised with dark, baggy clothes.
I waged war against my unhealthy lifestyle the summer before my sophomore year.
I started to exercise and eliminate the big 'F's' from my diet: fast food and fried food.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the payoff was sweet. Over the course of a year, I dropped 90 pounds.
Three years later, and I've kept the pounds off. I owe this to healthy lifestyle habits like exercise and portion control--and eating a sweet potato almost every day, of course.
I used to hate vegetables unless they were drowning in butter or gravy, but as I began to lose weight, I had to learn to make them taste good without the fatty toppings.
The first vegetable I experimented with was sweet potatoes.
It didn't require any dicing or seasoning, I just popped one in the microwave and when it was done, sliced it open and sprinkled cinnamon over the fluffy orange flesh. I took my first bite and thought, "this needs butter...a lot of butter." I craved the extra fat because that's what my body had been used to eating.
If I was going to lose weight, I had to reteach myself how and what to eat which meant gradually weaning myself off of excess fat and sugar.
In return, I began to crave healthy foods like fruits and veggies. (Learn the magical cooking technique that will get you to love veggies--and take the learn to love veggies challenge!)
But the produce section at the store can be a scary place for a formerly overweight college kid. The best way for me to make nice with vegetables was to incorporate them into every day, healthy meals, which was tastier and easier than I expected. I gave my go-to comfort foods like pizza and casseroles healthy makeovers by bulking them up with colorful veggies.
I always try to have a bag of spinach on hand for this reason. I can hardly taste a handful of it blended into a smoothie, cooked into an omelet, or thrown on a sandwich. It's cheap and rich with nutrients.
Dishes like quiches, stir-fry, and couscous taste better to me with the addition of extra veggies like asparagus, mushrooms, and onion. A stir-fry gives me room to be creative and toss in veggies I'm not used to cooking, like bean sprouts and water chestnuts.
And on busy weeknights, I'll boil a pot of pasta and stir broccoli and peppers in with the tomato sauce, topped off with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. It's an easy, satisfying meal that I can feel good about.
I also love to roast vegetables in the oven with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and simple salt and pepper. If I roast a side of string beans or asparagus, I'll serve them with ketchup or BBQ sauce and eat them with my fingers like French fries.
Because I have a big appetite, "bulking" up my meals with yummy veggies ensures I'll be satisfied while still maintaining a healthy weight.
It's crazy to think there was a time in my life when I regularly ate cake and calzones with no regard for nutrition or my weight. If you would have told my past, size 22 self, about who I would become today, I'd have laughed. I never thought I could get healthy and stay healthy. It was a fantasy I never imagined would someday become my reality, but thanks to learning how to cook and love my veggies, it has become my reality.
And in some way, I owe it all to my beloved sweet potato, my favorite veggie of them all. I don't care how crazy my husband thinks it is. I love them.
And it's a love affair I hope will never end.
About the author: I am a recent transplant to Southern California where I work as a social worker and freelance writer. I married a relentless Chicago Cubs fan and love of my life almost two years ago in Florida, where I grew up, before I became a California girl. I enjoy reading, writing, running, vegetarianism, funfetti cake and Forrest Gump. I truly believe in giving peace a chance.
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