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I like salads. I eat ‘em for lunch, I eat ‘em for dinner, and on a scale of one to rabbit I probably fall at about a six on the salad-celebrating spectrum. So when Team Byrdie decided that someone (cough, cough) should stuff their face with greens every morning for a week and see what happens, I was willing.
“Salad and I are homies. I can make this work,” I thought to myself. Plus, I’d been reading articles touting the benefits of starting your day with fruits and vegetables, instead of the general American breakfast of sugar and carbs. "Often, breakfast is missing veggies," notes Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, a Los Angeles–based registered dietitian. "A good breakfast includes protein (to allow for a sustained level of energy), some carbs (for a quick burst of energy), veggies (vitamins, minerals, fiber), and a little heart-healthy fat for taste and satisfaction."
Also, if we’re being totally transparent here, I’d bought a Halloween costume that barely zipped up, so I figured the week leading up to All Hallows’ Eve was a great time to pump up the greens and dial down the breakfast waffles. I gathered my produce and decided there were three specific things I hoped to find out when starting my day with salad:
1. Would it affect my eating habits throughout the day?
2. Would it make me feel any different?
3. Would it improve my skin?
Read on for the answers to those burning questions and a detailed report on my salad for breakfast saga.
What It's Like Eating Salad for a Week
Turns out, there's a formula for a healthy salad. "Start with a generous base of colorful veggies (leafy greens, carrots, cucumbers, radish, peppers)—at least two heaping cups worth," says Sheth. "Add around three ounces of lean protein (beans, lentils, edamame, chicken, fish, eggs); top with one to two tablespoons of heart healthy-fat from avocados, nuts, or seeds; and toss with an extra virgin oil and vinegar dressing." For even more flavor and substance, Sheth recommends adding a handful of fruit or half-a-cup of quinoa.
I started my week off with a fancy bed of mixed greens and colorful veggies topped with a soft-boiled egg. Somehow, anything with egg is instantly transported to the breakfast category, right?
While the veggies were glistening and the egg was perfectly cooked, the real issue for me turned out to be the dressing. What’s a morning-appropriate dressing? Balsamic vinegar just felt too date night, ranch felt too elementary for my “fancy salad,” and that was about all I had. Since poppy seed bagels exist, I decided on poppy seed dressing as the ultimate breakfast salad dressing (not the clearest train of logic, but go with it).
Anyhow, I ate my fancy salad…and ended up starving three hours later. Not the best start.
The next morning, I overslept. Severely. So badly that I skipped my eyeliner (gasp!). Normally on these “oh, snap!” mornings, I’d grab a Luna Bar or some deli meat (gross, but I love it), but instead I scrambled to stuff a fistful of spinach, carrots, and an entire bell pepper into a Ziploc bag.
As I sat in traffic gumming down my greens, I felt a bit like a koala bear. “This is no way to live,” I surmised, my mind saturated with images of bagels and bacon.
Though I resented my vegetable-filled morning at first, a miracle happened: My “salad” sustained me until 3 p.m. I’m usually the type of gal that falls into the “always hungry” category, so I practically felt like I’d walked on water when I looked at the clock late that afternoon.
Benefits of Eating Salad for Breakfast
• Decreased risk for chronic conditions
• More energy
Then came the next miracle. I felt so healthy and proud of myself that I turned down an offer to get In-N-Out for lunch. While it might not seem like a big deal to you, this is only the second time in 26 years of existence that I’ve ever said “no” to In-N-Out (don’t ask about the first). I was feelin’ good.
That feeling wasn't surprising, considering experts say loading up on salads has a host of benefits. "Research shows that enjoying a wide variety of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet can have a positive effect on our health. They can also help us decrease our risk for some chronic conditions," says Sheth.
In an effort to put leftovers to use, I endeavored to put a soft-boiled egg over a bed of brussels sprouts salad. Unfortunately, I overcooked my egg and ended up with a boiled egg and brussels sprouts, the most fragrant breakfast in the history of humanity. (I was not popular in the kitchen that morning.)
Also, I had yet to notice any real difference in my skin or energy level. I felt the same, except tardier, because making a perfect salad takes me a while.
At this point, I officially burned out. Salad sounded about as appetizing as a plate of rocks drizzled with dirt (I never exaggerate) on this particular morning. To up the excitement level, I decided to imitate my favorite breakfast situation (everything bagel with lox and cream cheese) and throw some lox and cheese on top of my greens and veggies.
Turns out, this added fat went a long way in keeping me full longer, and I lasted all the way to late lunch without gnawing on my arm. High five!
Day five just happened to be none other than Halloween. Every sane human knows that the most appropriate thing to eat for breakfast on Halloween (and the morning after) is Halloween candy. So, when faced with a bowl of Reese’s and a bag of lettuce, you can only imagine which road I wanted to take. The orange wrappers seduced me, whispering promises of peanut butter and sugar and happiness.
I considered how to reconcile my need for both salad and sweets, and I decided on fruit salad. I wasn’t totally sure if this counted, but since there was no salad referee in my kitchen at that moment, it counted.
You should also know: I ate a mound of Halloween candy later that night. I felt really bad for a moment…then I grabbed another Snickers.
The final two days were rough. The last thing any hungover soul wants to eat on the morning after Halloween is a salad. But, despite my hurdles, I chugged through, chewing that spinach, snapping those carrots, and nibbling those chickpeas like a champion.
I am definitely not one to eat the same thing for breakfast every morning, so it was really the monotony that got to me most by the end of the week. Seven days of the same anything sounds unappealing to me, so when my challenge finally ended, I couldn’t grab the English muffins fast enough.
The Final Takeaway
To wrap up this scientific report, let’s readdress my initial questions.
1. Did this challenge affect my eating habits throughout the day?
Yes—starting my day with a kick of veggies did make me more inclined to stay on track for the rest of the day—but that desire didn’t affect my habits as much as other factors like accessibility, water intake, or a mean Halloween hangover.
2. Did it make me feel any different?
No, I felt exactly the same. (I know, I was hoping for a more exciting answer, too.)
3. Did it improve my skin?
Not noticeably, but seeing real significant changes would probably take more than a week. I’m sure that getting an increased amount of nutrients and antioxidants certainly only helped my skin and general wellbeing.
The bottom line: Salad and I are still pals, but I’ll stick to lunch and dinner. I’d rather blend up a green juice or pop a multivitamin than nibble mixed greens with my coffee. It’s hard enough for me to wake up in the morning, so I need a little more motivation, like omelets…or bacon...or bagels…or waffles…or oatmeal…