Dressing Doesn’t Ruin Salad (Unless You Don’t Like the Dressing!)

can't ruin a saladThis 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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12 thoughts on “Dressing Doesn’t Ruin Salad (Unless You Don’t Like the Dressing!)

  1. My mom absolutely loves Richard Simmons (and I kind of do too, I mean, he’s is adorable) but I remember this from one of his videos (and I’m sure he said it all the time) along the lines of, “Remember, if you have a salad thinking it’s low fat and then you smother it in dressing, you might as well be eating bacon!” (again, very loosely paraphrasing).

    Also, I love that you mention the fat-soluble vitamins!

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard the same thing before: If you smother it in sauce, you might as well get the burger and fries. With that in mind, I get the burger and fries.

  2. I can hear it. “On the side.” Dude, eat what you want I am too old to give a shit anymore. Doc appt. yesterday, hugely fat, no “weight related diseases” my doc out on maternity leave. New young male doc. Nope, nothing happened. You could tell he wanted to talk about my weight, but I never opened the door. HE was befuddled. Almost forgot to “Check my heart and lungs and thyroid (of course). Then almost walked off with my take home paper work. I just smiled and asked intelligent questions and waited and watched the dance.
    There is a new sign up in the waiting room. We welcome all people everyone is welcome here…” sort of thing. Do, you, do you really? All the while I am thinking, just give me my flu shot, save the lecture sweetie, I’m twice your age and all the fat people in my family live to be 90. Thank you. ( in Duston Hoffman voice from Tootsie.).

  3. This is exactly how I feel! I love both cooked and raw vegetables, and I eat more of them than practically anyone I know because i have no compunction about putting as much butter, sour cream, cheese, or dressing on them as I feel like.

  4. This particular diet culture belief combines what I think are the three worst aspects of diet culture: moralizing, magical thinking, and absolutism. Moralizing = healthy eating means consuming foodstuffs you find unpleasant to show you have the fortitude to choke them down, so any food you actually enjoy is unhealthy, even if it’s carrots and spinach. Magical thinking = your salacious enjoyment of carrots and spinach will actually warp reality and change their composition so all the vitamin A and iron is irradiated and the veggies become nutritionally identical to a donut glazed with bacon grease and the tears of the innocent. Absolutism = foods are either all good or all bad, with no trade-offs or gray areas, and therefore even though a plain carrot and raw spinach leaves are Good, the second you dip them in some dill-infused sour creme, they become fully, irredeemably Bad.

    The end result is that people become so afraid of “corrupting” their vegetables they don’t eat any at all, making this YET ANOTHER way diet culture overtly discourages people from doing things it claims it wants them to do. Throw it on the pile with “treating fat athletes like garbage and/or toddlers whilst claiming it wants more of the fat population to get into fitness,” “talking up ‘whole-person discrimination-free healthcare’ while still just pushing weight loss to patients who’ve come in with pneumonia and broken arms.”

    1. The sad thing is, they probably *think* it’s true, because in their minds fat people are absolutely welcome to come to the doctor’s office… as long as we’re there to buy weight loss products, get referrals to weight loss clinics/bariatric surgeons, and listen to weight loss lectures that use a lot of “compassionate” person-first language to accuse us of gluttony, sloth, and luxuria. Of course, as soon as we request the same kind of medical care thin people go to the doctor’s office to get, we are no longer welcome…

      1. Very. Can’t assume “Welcome” means they are gonna be nice. I knew what the Doc wanted to discuss, just as I know they nurse expects the usual OMG, do I have to, OG help me, have I gained an ounce” response to “Get your weight first.” I really don’t care. Weigh me, I don’t give a turd. I can even hear the woman in the room next to me (very bad sound proofing in new build) going on about her weight loss issues. She is probably a third my size. I must baffle them.

  5. “the usual disclaimers apply” – I love those! You do such a great job of analyzing and revealing what’s behind what’s said which I always appreciate. But the statements made in the disclaimer section are the core thesis of your work, and a powerful litany against the dysfunction, danger of fat phobia.

  6. No no no! There’s FOOD (raw vegetables) and ANTI-FOOD (any thing not plant based, any kind of fat, or any kind of sugar. Anti-food wipes out food every time! It’s SCIENCE!

    Oh, wait, not it isn’t!

    I’ve hit the point of ‘we all gotta die sometime’ and am just trying to minimize my stupid health issues while maximizing enjoyment. Not easy with a combo of diabetes and eosinophilic esophagitis (Food makes your esophagus swell with white blood cells, which foods vary from person to person, and I seem to be affected by most foods).

    I just got blood tests after dealing with my dad’s illness and death (and the financial strain of taking a week of work off for several months in a row) and of course the med staff is freaking out. Hopefully they will chill for a few months while I get my shit back together. I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to be able to take care of themselves in that situation and bad numbers should be par for the course.

    1. Lsstrout, I am sorry you are dealing with so much crap right now. I hope you can shut out the BS and heal on your own time. I know what an uphill battle that is.

  7. Respectfully, I think the comments about salt, Mrs. Dash, etc. are a bit ableist. Many people need to restrict sodium due to hypertension, kidney disease, heart disease, etc, etc. It’s not at all about weight, it’s often about survival. Unfortunately, many American foods have a massive amount of added sodium. But I may be a bit sensitive. I’ve spent the last week dealing with 15 lbs (sorry, that’s how it’s monitored) of fluid retention (which has impacted my heart & lungs) after eating 2 meals out while traveling. But yes, a lovely salad is not “ruined” by adding a lovely dressing!

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