“You can’t have it.” My brain told me. “Nope. You cannot have thousand island salad dressing.”
So there I was standing in the supermarket aisle, scratching my head, pondering this new diet rule I’d discovered buried in my subconscious, while my two boys continued to argue about who would push the shopping trolley. “Mum! Mum! It’s my turn…”
For a split second I almost listened to the diet rule and flicked my eyes upwards to the vinaigrette type of salad dressings. But then it dawned on me… “What the heck?! Who says I can’t have thousand island dressing? Where did this diet rule come from?”
And then it dawned on me as I surveyed the vinaigrette salad dressings that my eyes had automatically flicked towards, trying studiously to avoid seeing the creamy dressings, as if it was my worst fear materialising, you know Netflix Bird Box style, Sandra Bullock warning me, “Argh! don’t look at the creamy salad dressing or cellulite will appear on your thighs!!!”
So there it was. Why couldn’t I have thousand island dressing? “Because you’re only allowed vinaigrette dressings,” the diet police in my head explained. “Creamy dressings are no good. Too fatty. You don’t want to get fat do you?” the diet police asked me.
As it turns out, I no longer take advice from the diet police.
We live in a culture obsessed with dieting and down-sizing, obsessed with becoming thin, thinner, thinnest. And yet it’s an unrealistic goal for almost everyone. Our body size and shape is largely determined by our genetics – I mean, I’m never going to be 6 foot tall no matter how much I eat, and contrary to what my mum told me – eating my bread crusts will never give me curly hair.
What’s more, diets don’t work. Over 95% of diets fail and a whopping one-third to one-half of those dieters end up regaining more weight than they lost. Which basically sucks. And funnily enough, it’s not one of the side effects that ole’ WW and Jenny Craig advertise, right?
So what’s this got to do with creamy salad dressings? Well, I’m a nutritionist and I was trained in the black-art of avoiding dietary fat. Sadly, I have to admit dispensing my ‘avoid fat’ advice via many articles, like those I wrote for the Healthy Food Guide magazine years ago, through my New Zealand Listener column too. And the truth is – I definitely believe the evidence that saturated fat is potentially harmful for our health, and that mono and polyunsaturated fats from all those yummies like nuts, seeds, avocadoes and more and great for our health. But what I never really explained to readers, until I myself understood intuitive eating, is that each of us gets to decide how we want to eat. That our personal preferences actually matter.
Sure butter has a tonne of saturated fat, but if you really hate the taste of margarine and you enjoy butter then you get to make your own choice about what to eat.
And maybe refined carbs aren’t as good for us as wholegrains, but if you love a good “chip buttie” on white bread (google it) some days, then you should go right ahead and eat what you love.
And me? I really love the taste of thousand island salad dressings. I love them when I meet them in restaurant buffets, I literally feel like I’ve hit the salad dressing jackpot. And I have no idea why it took me until this week, to realise that choosing a creamy salad dressing that I love would bring such joy. But it does. And that’s good.
In the book Intuitive Eating, authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch explain that when you enjoy the food you eat, you often end up eating less of it because of the satisfaction you get from the meal. Some cultures know this well, but in western culture we’re so focused on being thin that we’ve forgotten what a joy food could, and should, be.
Yep, your challenge, should you choose to accept it – is to question the diet police in your head at EVERY food opportunity. When they start telling you what you can and can’t eat, remember YOU get to choose what you want to eat, not the diet police. So listen carefully to those conversations in your head, pause and reconsider when you’re faced with foods you’re saying no to, make sure it’s your no and not the diet police’s no, become more mindful of what you’re doing and choosing… in short – eat what you love and what nourishes your body, and if you don’t love it – don’t eat it.