Here’s a scene that plays out in my life fairly frequently: someone leans in to me over their kale salad / green smoothie / cold-pressed juice and tells me in wide-eyed whispers about the crap they saw so-and-so eating the other day.
Or, a friend relays a story about having seen a colleague in their lunch room eating a salad but dousing it with creamy dressing, which is sad really because it’s like they were trying to be healthy but they just don’t get it.
Or, a colleague holds up an orange from the office fruit bowl and says to me, “this is not good to eat!” Why? I ask, feeling bewildered and wondering if there was some recently released study I haven’t yet come across. “Because,” they tell me, “it’s not organic.”
Friends, let me tell you something important. You are not, in fact, what you eat.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me a green smoothie, but drinking a green smoothie does not a better person make. I shop organic as often as I can, but I’m acutely aware that the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber in that non-organic orange are far and away better than having no orange at all. Or worse, replacing the orange with some factory formed snack just because it happens to be organic.
And, what if that creamy dressing was that person’s one indulgence for the day? What if that person is trying to get more greens into their life and that creamy dressing is helping them make the transition? What if they just got back from a funeral / doctor’s appointment / divorce court and that creamy dressing is the thing that’s getting them through the day? You know, some days just call for a creamy dressing (or whatever).
Friends, judge not.
The prevalence of health shaming, in its many forms, is a real problem. How have we reached a point where we’re not good enough? We’re not gluten-free enough, not raw enough, not level-5 vegan (nothing with a shadow!) enough, not Bulletproof (WTF?!) enough. And should I offer someone a plate of home baked cookies? Oh the horror! I’m not refined sugar free enough.
I’ve spent a decade of my life in the pursuit of higher nutritional knowledge, and the deeper I go the more I learn how different we all are. ‘Health’ doesn’t have an easy definition, nor does it have one that can be stamped out with a cookie cutter.
My version of healthy doesn’t involve creamy salad dressings mostly because I plain old don’t like salad dressing. My version of healthy does involve cookies, even if the sugar and flour is refined and especially if they’re home made because I believe in moderation and balance. And my version of healthy certainly does involve non-organic produce because I plain old can’t afford to buy everything organic but I like to eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
Of course health has some basic guidelines, many of which include eating more vegetables, and if drinking a green smoothie helps you get there, then power to you. If it’s the creamy dressing* that does the trick, that’s ok as well.
We’ve talked before about how self-defeating food guilt can be, so now let’s do our part to end health shaming. Let’s be gentle with one another, because it’s tough out there and we’re all just doing our best.
*A million years ago when I did Weight Watchers I learned a trick with salad dressing that I still use. Keep the dressing on the side and before each bite of salad dip the tines of your fork into the dressing. You’ll be surprised at how little you use, and how much dressing flavour you get.