This has come up in several conversations lately, so I thought it was a good time to update and repost this. Trigger warning: I’m going to write about food, and about diet culture messages about food.
I was talking with a friend about vegetables, specifically that she believed that eating them would support her health, but she was still struggling with eating them. Before we go farther, the usual disclaimers apply – health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed no matter what we do. The field of nutrition is ever-changing and we don’t know more than we know. We each get to prioritize our health and choose the path we want to get there and those choices can be limited by things like socioeconomics, access and more. Finally, even if vegetables were absolutely proven to make us immortal, we still wouldn’t be obligated to eat them.
So she asked me how I get vegetables and I said that one way was salads because I like them and they are fast and easy for me to prepare. She said that she likes salads but there’s no point in eating them because she only likes them with dressing.
And that, y’all, is how the diet culture messes us up. In talking with other people who’ve recovered from diet culture, this kind of mentality was a big obstacle to overcome. The diet world tells us that nothing is ever enough unless it’s the “absolute healthiest” (by which they actually mean the most diet-culture compliant) and that we should sacrifice anything and everything without complaint for the chance of becoming thin.
It is in this way that a meal with chicken, roasted root vegetables, salad, and a brownie becomes a minefield. Is that white meat? 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 some red wine vinegar and Mrs. Dash? And do you have some fruit instead of the brownie, actually the fruit probably has too much sugar. And on, and on, and on.
I’m not interested in telling anybody else what to eat. I am interested in examining the messages that we get around food from diet culture and the way that those messages affect us. Going back to my original conversation with my friend, she had bought into the idea that you “ruin a salad” with dressing. In truth, vegetables have value that is not “ruined” or reduced by adding dressing to them – maybe you just felt like eating a salad, you’re still getting that. Maybe you wanted the nutrition in the vegetables, you’re still getting that (and possibly more than without dressing if your salad contains fat-soluble vitamins,) maybe you wanted roughage, you’re still getting that.
I think we would all be in a much better place in our relationships with food if we weren’t told that health is easily definable, “all or nothing,” and always about “the absolute healthiest” (aka absolute most diet-industry compliant) thing. I think we’d be better off if we looked at our relationship with food as a series of choices made for various reasons that are personal and nobody’s business but our own (and those we choose to include.) I think we’d be better off if we stopped confusing the concepts of health/healthy (which are problematic as it is) with weight/weightloss. It’s not the dressing that’s ruining our salads, it’s the messed up diet industry messages around food.
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