Questionable Food Advice

Fad DietsI was sitting at the pool after my swim lesson and a woman was talking to someone on the phone very authoritatively and sternly:

“Salads have lots of vitamins in them, but if you put dressing on it then your body converts the whole thing to fat and the vitamins lose their nutrition.”

Um no.  World of no. Galaxy of no.  Big flaming sack of no.  Your body does not convert broccoli to fat in the presence of ranch dressing. It just doesn’t.  Vitamins don’t lose their nutrition because they are consumed in concert with vinaigrette.  In fact vitamins A, E, and K  (found or converted from vegetables) are fat soluble – they require dietary fat for absorption.

I don’t know who this person was talking to but I feel bad for them that someone is feeding them (see what I did there) this crap.  I did not say anything – I am adamantly against people giving me unsolicited advice about nutrition so I’m not about to do that to anyone else, but it’s definitely not the first time that I’ve heard something like this.

I think that this kind of thinking is an extension of the all-or-nothing, never-enough messages that get attached to the idea of food in our weight loss obsessed society. It is in this way that a meal with chicken, roasted vegetables, salad, and a brownie becomes a minefield. Is that white meat only?  Was that chicken cooked with the skin on?  It wasn’t cooked with added fat was it?  Were the vegetables roasted in olive oil? Is it possible to just get them steamed. with no salt? Is that cheese on that salad? Oh god is that ranch dressing?!  Do you have a lemon I can squeeze on it instead?  And do you have some fruit instead of the brownie, actually the fruit probably has too much sugar. Screw it, I’ll just have a glass of warm water for dessert.

The overarching, overwhelming discussion about food as a weight loss tool overshadows discussions about food in any other context, including important discussions about accessibility to food. Health is not an obligation or barometer of worthiness, it is not entirely within our control, and is not guaranteed under any circumstances.  Nobody is obligated to eat “healthy” by any definition, but we should all have access to accurate unbiased information from people who don’t lose all sense of objectivity and common sense at the sight of a fat person, and because our society inextricably links food with body size, that unbiased information can be almost impossible to obtain and people end up being scared of food and sincerely believing that salad dressing makes vegetables lose their nutritional value, and passing that information on.

The diet industry gives us questionable information and,  many people who choose to leave diet culture find that it has taught them things that aren’t evidence based, and that it has created a troubled relationship with food that is difficult to repair.  Dressing isn’t ruining our vegetables, diet culture is.

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60 thoughts on “Questionable Food Advice

  1. The ones that get me are people that pass along the dire food-related urban myths. “OMG! The chemical additives in that drink are going to eat HOLES in your BRAIN!” (Do we take their apparent lapses in intelligence as evidence of this?)

    Or the horrible lines intended to help motivate, but are still nothing but bad misinformation. “Once on the lips, forever on the hips!” Really? Are they admitting that weight loss is a futile effort?

    “THAT’S A HEART-ATTACK ON A BUN!” Actually, a great deal of the evidence from ample studies indicates that stress, not diet, is a primary cause of the inflammation leading to coronary artery disease and the resulting heart attacks. I am risking far less health issues by eating the bacon cheeseburger than the self-appointed health eating police are by stressing over what *I* eat.

    Yeah, adding salad dressing to your salad adds calories, so if you’re counting calories, you need to figure that in, either by reducing the amount of dressing you use, or by choosing a lower calorie option.

    Really, though, if the choice is to endure a salad with little or no dressing, or to enjoy one with the dressing you like, I would think enjoying the salad would be far more conducive to long-term dietary habits, as opposed to constantly wishing for something else.

  2. I’m not sure I could have refrained from saying something to that person spouting gibberish, but then I’d have to remind myself that I don’t like it when people offer me unsolicited food advice so I should respect that boundary of theirs.

    And yes, instead of all these conversations about eating for weight loss (or not eating for weight loss), let’s discuss accessibility to food for everyone. Let’s make public health conversations about food be about that instead of this all-out, hate-filled war on obesity.

  3. I was once seated next to a family at an (awesome) Asian buffet. Their little boys very young- an infant in a baby seat, and a toddler of maybe 2 1/2. After finishing his little cup of rainbow sherbet, the toddler asked for more. Mom launched into a lecture (which I felt was partially aimed at me, the fat woman at the next table) about how ice cream had saturated fat which was bad for you, so he couldn’t have any more today if he wanted to be healthy. He was a toddler. And it wasn’t even ice cream, it was sherbet. It was all I could do to keep my head from exploding.

    I know people say they feel sorry for another person’s children as a way to be snarky and superior, but I really did. Those poor kids, having to grow up in such a fucked up environment over food.

  4. Remember, folks, every time you pass on a load of twaddle like that, the Baby Nutritionist Jesus bangs his tiny head against a large brick wall.


  5. I love this post so much because as a dietitian, I hear this crap all day long. What I’ve discovered is that people (and often the most highly educated people) want to believe in magic, especially when they have an impossible task they want to do (lose weight permanently, for instance). They want to believe that there is some hidden information that they just haven’t found yet and *that’s* why they haven’t lost or kept off the weight, or achieved perfect health yet. I often get asked, “What’s the best vegetable I can eat for health?” and my response is always “The one you like best!” Then they always seem disappointed that I didn’t have some juicy, secret tidbit about the hidden, conspiracy-members-only intel about the latest superfood. And yes, I 100% blame the diet and food industries for this, and the culture of fear they perpetuate. It’s like no one is allowed to enjoy their meals anymore, and it makes for really lousy dinner companions.

    1. The “dietitian” that I went to see was a shill, and gave out sheets of “how to cut fat out” and “only use 1 tsp of margarine (not butter) instead of 2tsp”. In Alberta they hand out these food log books that I discovered are based on anorexic websites and “tips”. So basically the party line of nutrition in Alberta is “be very scared of food”.

      I wish there were actual dietitians to see.

      1. I feel horrible for you. I live in Alberta as well and never once had that spewed at me by the dietitian I saw for my ED. That being said I could be one of the lucky ones.

        1. It may also have been the office/clinic she worked in. It was the same as the doc, and they had these other “services” like the dietitian, and a pyschologist that were free because they were part of the same office. They all towed the same line, and were all gung-hoe on weightloss.

          The doc has many reviews on ratemds dot com, and it’s clear from those that he is one of the worst in the city!

          1. In the area I live in you need a referral to see anyone outside of your primary care doc because the clinics aren’t big enough to hold all services, they only have that at our only hospital, which I do not recommend going to unless it really is an emergency.

            Then again my primary doc isn’t gong-Ho on weight loss and would much rather treat the actual problem.

  6. Excellent post. I get so tired of being at a restaurant or a party and most of the conversation is about what they wish they were eating or how they cannot eat this or that. I am so frustrated at the fear that has been spread about food. And it tends to ruin a perfectly good outing.

  7. I always thought the macronutrient combo “rules” to be senseless.

    Talkin’ things like:

    Don’t eat carbs and fats at the same time. Consume them several hours apart.

    Eat carbs with protein only. No fat. Do not eat carbs alone.

    Eat fats with protein only. No carbs.

    There’s very few foods that are 100% carb or 100% fat such that one can plan a menu that abides by these “rules”.

    The “thinking” behind this is that eating fats and carbs together will cause weight gain. But, keeping them separate will prevent weight gain. There’s never a thought that it just might be genetics that kept one from gaining weight.

    1. Yeah, those food “rules” mean that automatically cakes and cookies are out, because they are mostly fat and sugar. My reasoning is that dessert was invented because our meal didn’t have enough fat and sugar, so we had another course of food. In the Middle Ages, people were mostly vegetarian, and there’s wasn’t any sugar yet (New World food), so it wasn’t that exciting. With sugar, you get pastries and cakes.

      There are a couple books out there that look at sugar consumption, and the general historical trend is that the more sugar consumed, the longer the lifespan and fewer diseases. Contrast with today’s scare mongering.

  8. I have some friends who are heavily into “alternative” medicine and “holistic” health. OMG the woo. If I see one more Facebook post about tumeric or fermenting, I may get stabby.

      1. Last year there was a news story about a woman who used turmeric drinks to help with her pain after chemo, and wow it’s a like a miracle. The whole story on tv was how it was amazing, but then at the end they said “don’t treat this as a miracle cure”, but their whole story was designed to show just that.

        1. Turmeric drinks? Blecch!

          Love to hear the explanation behind how a simple spice could combat post-chemo pain.

          Turmeric does do a nice job of staining one’s fingers and clothes. I’ll give it that.

  9. I just had a conversation this morning with a friend. I was telling her that I’ve become a bit militant about the whole weight thing — the victimization of fat people, the misinformation about nutrition and weight, and so on — and she said, yeah, but all the sugar in food is causing so much Type II diabetes, look what people eat these days. I said in response that no one actually knows what causes diabetes, plus overall, people are much healthier and better nourished now than they were in the misty past everyone’s always talking about (before processed food and HFCS), and they also live much longer. She did not seem convinced.

    1. That is true. They like to project this Golden Age into the past, and today we are living in the Lead Age, or the Tungsten Age. In the Middle Ages only 7% of people were old, whereas today it’s over 60%. Better healthcare, food, and sanitation.

    2. I find it a little funny whenever someone brings up some golden age where everyone ate the way the speaker thought was healthiest and it’s always when they were younger, or sometime before it.

  10. Not that I’m saying everyone should rush out and start only eating processed food and simple carbs and HFCS. I don’t eat such a diet myself, but I do think the ill effects are probably vastly overstated and there’s a lot of magical thinking going on with regard to food and nutrition.

  11. I work in a health food store, and the constant stream of people jumping on the Next Miracle Food bandwagon is exhausting. Pomegranate! Goji! Kale! Kombucha! Bone broth! Watermelon! Soy! No soy! Coconut! Turmeric! Fish oil! Tart cherry juice! Every one is touted as THE super nutrient-dense, heal-all miracle food cure that will stop your arthritis, cure your asthma, prevent chronic disease of all kinds, destroy your fat (alarming!), balance your metabolism, make you kids geniuses, paper your living room…I see a lot of genuinely disordered eating (the lady who lives on Romaine comes to mind) accompanied by disordered thinking. Personally, I like to eat low on the food chain mostly, and I like foods with little processing (and due to my job and my location I have a lot of privilege in my food choices).

    There are many options for highly nutritious sustenance.
    But the idea that any ONE food is the key to health and happiness is crazy. We sell food, not magic bullets.
    One of my co-workers summed it up like this: “Food is good for you. Eat some every day.”

    1. Love this last sentence and will sure use it in discussions over food in the future, thank you

      Ah, and my living room sure needs papering, so what should I eat? :))

      I’m mostly vegan, but only for ecological reasons, and it seems to be very confusing to people that I still eat sugar and other “unhealthy” things, that I still put – oh my god – oil on my salad and that I am still not thin. But my impression is that the most unhealthy things are those that we eat without really enjoying them. In the end I eat the most sugar when I try not to eat the brownie, while when I really enjoy how great it tastes, I’m satisfied afterwards

  12. It amused me no end when I did WW that people would only eat a packaged frozen meal or snack food if it was a “Diet” one like the WW branded products or Lean Cuisine or Skinny Cow or whatever as long as it was marketed and packaged as Diet Friendly. They would refuse to eat the regular versions of these things because the diet ones were obviously sooooooooooooooo much healthier. When in reality the “cost” of the regular foods in the same portion sizes were either the same or not much more. Sometimes even less.And the ingredient lists on the regular foods even the heavily processed ones were usually much less scary as well!

    Even now it entertains me. I work in a store and ring out people all day buying those supposedly healthier bars like Fiber 1 and Kind and Zone etc. I also ring out regular candy bars and surprise surprise surprise there is little difference in calorie count and often macronutrients between the 2 types. Some times the Health Bars have more protein and added vitamins. Seriously just have a Snickers and a vitamin pill and maybe protein powder its the same as those Health Bars “Everybody Knows” are better for you than candy.

    1. Those Lean Cuisine always made me feel like there was a lead weight inside me after eating them. And Skinny Cow is loaded sky high with laxatives! They even say on the label that too many will lead to trouble.

      And those Fiber 1 bars are disgusting, worse than a Quaker granola bar. Yuck!

      1. Give me real “junk food” that doesn’t bother to be anything it is but what it is, yummy and delicious and good over some Diet Friendly Decadence that’s only pretending. Or give me something that just happens to also be “diet friendly” without trying because that is its natural state. Those foods are also yummy and delicious and good!

        1. I made homemade cinnamon rolls for the first time in my life the other day. Talk about junk food! They are nothing but a delivery medium for fat, sugar, and carbs. I made just enough for one family dessert, because I don’t think they reheat well. We were all contented and satisfied, enjoying the comfortable warm buzz of sugar, spice, and everything nice. So good.

          I can eat an equivalent amount of Skinny Cow ice cream and get up from the table still hungry.

    2. Years ago, Bicycling magazine examined the “Energy Bars” that are popular with endurance athletes. One of the things from that article that really stuck with me was that a Snickers bar was pretty much equivalent to the more expensive Energy Bar in nutrition, calories, etc.

      Their conclusion was that Rice Krispie Treats were some of the best-bang-for-the-buck you could get in that regard, offering simple sugars for the “quick burst” and slower digesting carbs for the “sustained energy.”

      What I still find rather funny is that in the first Century ride I ever participated in, El Tour de Tucson in 1994, every participant was given one of the big name energy bars in their swag bags. I saw literally hundreds, if not thousands, of those energy bars thrown away uneaten along the route, because the riders would try one bite of them, and toss them. “Healthy” doesn’t do much good, if you can’t stand to eat it.

  13. I remember one day in grade 7 I had taken a salad for lunch and I got harped on by my friends because I had salad dressing and if I was going to “lose weight!” at 13 years old I needed to cut that shit out of my diet.

    I remember I just tossed my lunch out and starved for the rest of the day because I feel so horrible and gross. Now that I think back on it that is likely when my disordered eating habits started and continued until I was 20/21 until my ED came out in the open. Been battling it since.

  14. I use cottage cheese as a dressing on salads and sometimes also put chicken on my salads. Using this logic, I’m going to go ahead and say that transforms my whole salad into protein! lol.

  15. Demonizing certain foods is like demonizing certain people. Judgments miss the point entirely. We’re all in this together. Even the foodstuffs. May I offer a contrarian suggestion for what constitutes “healthy eating”? Whatever you want (guided by Intuition), whenever you want, and as much as you want. In the dnd it’s not at all about *what* you eat, but rather the attitude with which you eat it. And nothing can be *wrong*.

  16. Spooky, Ragen. I was just thinking about this very thing earlier today. There was a conversation elsewhere online once upon a time wherein somebody talked about the bizarreness of eating a green vegetable batter-fried. I couldn’t help but chime in about the fabulous taste/texture of Pakoras and Tempura. Also, I tried to (politely) point out that it’s a big world, and one culture’s idea of bizarre isn’t necessarily like theirs and mine, etc.

    Another poster chimed in to point out that eating a vegetable (any vegetable) fried is pointless because the fat and calories added by frying “cancel out” any health benefits of consuming said vegetable. I sensed that they were speaking metaphorically, but part of me was still irritated (and curious). So I asked them to clarify in a science-y way. Was there something about frying that would do rob the veggie of more nutritional value than some other cooking process (like steaming or baking) would? I never did get a reply. I’d still walk a mile in the rain for a well-done plate of Pakoras or Tempura, though. 😉

    1. How sad that someone would think the ONLY point of eating a vegetable is some magical health “benefit.” How could eating tempura ever be “pointless”????

      1. Silly, Elizabeth! One is only supposed to TAKE vegetables just as one takes vitamin pills. They’re only there to be nutritious, not to be savory/delicious and to keep your Miso soup and Sushi rolls from getting lonely. :p

        1. Mmmmm … this has me thinking about asparagus season (coming in a couple of months) and the wonderful asparagus tempura one of my local restaurants does … But, of course, you’re right. God forbid that I should eat asparagus just because I love it! 😉

          1. Yeah, and then they complain why their kids don’t want to eat veggies … well, that can always be a problem, but if veggies are only allowed if they are prepared tasteless, I wouldn’t want to eat them either, and I love veggies – would love to have some miso soup and sushi rolls and pakoras and tempura and asparagus now …

              1. I’ve even seen The Health Obsessives fight each other over what kind of oatmeal is the bestest to eat! To some of them eating Instant, Quick, or Old Fashioned Rolled Oat Oatmeal is a crime against humanity worthy of a trial, conviction, and serious prison time or even the death penalty. You HAVE to eat only the steel cut or pin cut or Irish or Scottish Oatmeal, dagnabbit! Otherwise the whole universe will unravel! Or something.

              2. ewok, you’re kidding me, right? I mean, I love steel-cut or Scottish oats. That’s because I love the taste of traditional oatmeal, but not its texture. I swear that I wouldn’t badger anyone for choosing the un-trendy hot breakfast cereal, though. Life’s way too short.

                1. No, I’m not kidding. Most unfortunately. People will actually fight over what kind of oatmeal is bestest. Do a search about healthiest oatmeal you’ll see what I mean. Ive seen it for myself with overly health obsessed people I know personally but it does seem to be general thing people fight over

    2. Yes, I’m always interested in the mechanisms behind how vitamins or other nutrients are ‘cancelled out’ by the addition of some other food. Or how combinations of specific foods yield some special, magical result.

      And I always apprise the person that I hold a degree in biochemistry so they need not dumb down their explanation (you wouldn’t want me to take this on blind faith alone, would you?).

      Nuthin’ much is said after that.

      1. Is there a good site online to read about that kind of thing, even if I don’t have much scientific background? So long as I’m dreaming, I’ll take one that has that AND doesn’t permit any diet talk. 😉

      2. That always has me confused. Say, for eg. I have brocccoli and cheese, and the cheese “steals” the nutrients from the broccoli. Shouldn’t I leave the broccoli and eat only the cheese, as the broccoli is now worthless?

    3. There’s also an opposite line of thinking about Magical Vegetable s And Their Amazing Powers that is equally ridonkulous. That’s the one where the Veggies have halos over them and as long as a veggie is involved it becomes The Perfect Magic Food that will instantly solve all your problems and it will never ever ever even have so much as a single one of those pesky obesity causing calories.

      Still remember getting scolded by “friends” in college for occasionally having a second helping of whatever entree the cafeteria served up. “OMG! You are actually gone eat THAT?! HOW DARE YOU!!! You need to be eating A Nice Healthy Salad! Like *I’M* Having” Which always made me snort like the pig they were accusing me of being from laughing at them in hysterics. Because invariably their Nice Healthy Salad was heaped to over flowing on these enormous platters that were available at the salad bar. With about a 1/3rd of a cup of lettuce a lonely tomato and maybe a few stray shreds of carrots. Topped off with many cups of potato, egg, and ham salad, an entire container of bacon bits, a box of croutons, a pound of shredded cheese and several ladlefuls of the creamiest salad dressing. It certainly looked delicious and was. If that was what they liked and wanted to eat more power to them! But to pretend like The Nice Healthy Salad somehow had fewer calories and fat grams and so on that the person was sure would cause me to drop right then and there at age 20 of a combination coronary and stroke from my eating a second helping of Spaghetti and Meat Sauce or Roast Chicken Gravy And Potatoes was just too much to bear! But to them it was Salad Always Equals Health Food.

    4. I could happily eat nothing but a plate of vegetable tempura preceded by a cup of steaming hot miso soup. Just enough fat to satisfy, not enough to cloy, and the different delectable textures of (say) cauliflower and sweet potato are a symphony of delight!

      Speaking of which, I have to go make lunch.

      1. Inspired by this whole thread, I went to my favorite Asian fusion place (mostly Vietnamese, but some extras like tempura!) for lunch. My husband and I split a plate of butternut squash and sweet onion tempura, and then I had a big bowl of steaming hot veggie pho. All of it delicious. So, thank you, ms_xeno, for making me think of tempura!!!

  17. Every time I hear something like that, I really want to say “Nutrition isn’t a game of Rock Paper Scissors”.

    You have no idea how often I hear that chocolate milk “doesn’t count” because it has sugar in it, or the “adding full-fat dressing cancels out the vitamins” thing that sounds more like magic or alchemy, where the right mixture will somehow result in super-health. The weirdest place I’ve heard about the whole “but fat cancels out vitamins!” thing was in an A&P class in college, to show how far it’s spread.

    1. Pleasure of any kind equals automatic sin in the eyes (or stomachs) of modern-day Puritans. (Actually, I like the rock-paper-scissors comparison. I may need to borrow it, if that’s okay.)

      1. RockPaperScissorsLizardSpock! is even more fun! But the Puritanical Flagellating Self Appointed Health Patrol wouldn’t like that either! If its fun or pleasurable then it MUST be bad or wrong be it food or game or whatever.

      2. I have not actually found a book that breaks down this whole nonsense as a derivation/originating in Puritanism. Even though we know that’s where it came from.

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