This morning, I was up and out early because I had to take the car into the shop, and I decided to get breakfast at a restaurant before beginning the long bus and train journey home. Breakfast was what I always eat on the rare occasion when I’m out of the house before everyone’s serving lunch: scrambled eggs, sausage, toast, and orange juice.
As I was eating this breakfast, I was thinking about a conversation I’ve had with two different female friends, at two different restaurants, over two of the same breakfasts. It goes like this:
Friend: God, I never order orange juice when I’m already eating a breakfast like this. Do you know how many calories are in a glass of orange juice?
Me: Yeah, I do. But A) if I were counting calories, I wouldn’t be eating eggs and sausage, and B) because I’m eating sausage and eggs, I want to get some fruit in, too. You know, with all the vitamins and shit? And since the only other fruit you can get in a place like this is a lemon wedge or a bowl of anemic melon chunks in nasty syrup, orange juice it is.
Friend: I just can’t do it. If I’m going to consume that many calories, I want them to come from food.
Me: [shrug] I like orange juice.
And thinking about that got me thinking about another conversation with another friend, when I was in college, before my hardcore dieting days. I’d been thinking I needed to eat more vegetables in general, but the dining hall options were never very appealing. One night, I sat down with a plate of dry, pale carrots and some ranch dressing for dipping. Like, a tablespoon and a half of ranch dressing, mind you, not a freakin’ bucket of it.
Friend: Do you know how much fat is in that dressing?
Me: Yeah, I do.
Friend: Then why are you putting it on your carrots?
Me: Because they taste like ass without it.
Friend: But what’s the point of eating carrots if you’re just going to cancel them out with a bunch of fat?
Me: Um… to eat carrots? And since I have no interest in eating dining hall carrots straight, I figure it’s better to eat them with something that makes them palatable than not eat them at all?
Friend: [looks at me as if she now understands precisely why I'm a disgusting, fat cow who will obviously have a heart attack before I'm 30]
This is what happens in a dieting culture. Orange juice is considered solely in terms of calories and sugar, not vitamins. (Or flavonoids. Am I seriously the only one who’s not surprised to learn that o.j. is good for you?) Carrot sticks are what you eat to get thin, not vegetables that have exactly the same nutritional value even if you dip them in ranch dressing or consume them alongside a plate of Buffalo wings. Apples are frightening to the anti-carb crowd. Fat and calories cancel out the “goodness” of fruits and vegetables — because that concept of goodness ultimately refers to your morals, not the food’s nutritional content.
This is bullshit, people. Once again, the conflation of “fattening” with “unhealthy” has completely warped our concept of reasonable eating. I know it took me forever after I stopped dieting to realize that yes, I could eat a salad with full-fat dressing, cheese, croutons, and even — gasp! — bacon, and I would still be getting a nice big dose of greens, peppers, broccoli, carrots, whatever. And, miracle of miracles, I would not secretly feel deprived — like choosing to eat salad was a moral victory but a practical disappointment — and subsequently crave a burger and fries more strongly than ever.
You know what that meant? It meant I started eating a lot more salad. Which meant I started eating a lot more greens, peppers, broccoli, carrots, whatever, than I had previously. After all that dieting, a spinach salad with egg, bacon, croutons, and dressing ON the salad, instead of ferried over to it in tiny droplets on the end of my fork, feels nearly as “indulgent” as a piece of chocolate cake — but you know what it’s got that chocolate cake doesn’t? A BIG FUCKING PILE OF SPINACH. The same principle applies to cooked vegetables served with a pat of butter or a sprinkling of parmesan: if you add a small amount of fat, I’m a hell of a lot more likely to want to eat it. And since the alternative (post-dieting) was not choking down steamed veggies for the good of my soul but eating hardly any vegetables at all, I have to say I like this way better.
And you might like it better, too, but it might not have occurred to you yet that it’s okay. So I’m here to tell you it is. I am not, of course, a health care professional or nutritionist, but from one ex-dieter to another, I hereby give you permission to drink fruit juice and eat your veggies with fat. You will not cancel out their nutritional value. (Well, you’ll lose fiber drinking juice instead of eating fruit, but since you’ll still eat fruit at other times and get fiber from other sources, it’s still okay.) You will not go to hell. You will not even get any fatter, if you’re already at your set point. You’ll just be eating and drinking stuff that tastes good and contains lots of nutrients your body needs.
What a fucking concept.