The truth about gardens and feeling better!

Plant a garden and reap the health benefits of the fruits (and vegetables and herbs!) of your labor.

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Summer is here, and with it better weather and the opportunity to plant a garden. Or at least visit a farmer’s market! Fresh, seasonal produce is so delicious and packs a nutritional punch. The full rainbow is represented in a garden: from bright orange carrots to deep red tomatoes and bright green lettuces or deep yellow squash. All this produce – and so much more – is replete with nutrients that we all need to stay healthy: antioxidants such as beta-carotene; necessary nutrients like iron and folate; and bursting with vitamins such as vitamin C. But I think planting a garden is so much more than just the fruits and vegetables that you harvest.

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Planting a garden can be a daunting task. If you are overwhelmed or merely have a small area to work with, consider just starting by planting a pot of fresh herbs. Everything that you add these homegrown herbs to will taste better. If you have little hands to help you, get them to pick the herbs themselves. Let them taste them. See what they like. Maybe it’s basil, maybe it’s dill, or perhaps my fave, cilantro. But I think planting a garden is so much more than just the fruits and vegetables and herbs that you harvest.

What I like about planting a garden is that it is a perfect metaphor for how to feel better, and live a healthy life. What do I mean by that? Every day we make hundreds and hundreds of choices that have a significant impact on our health (i.e. Should I have that donut or a bowl of blueberries? Should I walk up the three flights of stairs or grab the elevator that’s waiting here? Should I smoke or not? And so many more.) Repeatedly, we can choose the right/healthier option, or not. Repeatedly, we have the option to correct a poor choice. We have so many opportunities that one poor one is not going to derail us.  I like that; I like that I have so many opportunities to make the right choice and if I don’t make the right choice, I have so many opportunities to correct it. Perfect is the enemy of the good. Planting a garden is like that for me: so many opportunities to get it right, and yet sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I overwater; sometimes I don’t weed enough; sometimes there is too much sun or not enough. Sometimes the slugs get to the tomatoes before I do.

But sometimes – most times – the garden flourishes. The zucchini plants flower; the basil grows; the tomatoes ripen on the vine. How to start? How to plant a garden and feel better? It’s no different than any other behavioral health guideline:

  1. Choose an Obtainable Goal – If you want to eat a more healthful diet, then start slowly and don’t be upset if it takes a few (at least!) tries. Maybe swap out the bagel and cream cheese for breakfast with cereal and fruit to start. If that’s successful, you can take it a step further. Similarly, If you want to plant a successful garden, maybe start with a few pots and not the whole backyard. A small garden is still a lot of work!
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2. Don’t Do it Alone – Find a friend to take on this challenge with you. Research shows that partnering with someone will motivate you and give you both a better outcome. Maybe plant your garden with a child at home, or join a community garden if your neighborhood has one.

 

3. Give it Time – Nothing happens overnight. Stay focused and know that every extra step you take and every workout you complete is cumulative. Plants, too, take a while to grow and bloom. Have patience; you will be rewarded for it!