Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just Say "No" . . . To Salad?

I am a salad addict. This has nothing to do with being a disordered eater and former anorexic, either. Even as a kid, I loved to hit the salad bars at restaurants, and would make wondrous (yes, wondrous) salad beasts for myself in high school and into college.

Unfortunately, not all of the salads I eat are as nutritious and filling as the one pictured above. This particular concoction boasts guacamole, yogurt, black beans, salsa, and maybe a bit of cheese in addition to a hefty pile of veggies. Too many of my salads, however, have been thinly disguised volume eating at times (which I don't think is necessarily bad) and binges or emotional eating at others.

My worst misuse of the humble salad came during my eating disordered days, as you might expect. I would make a humongo bowl of lettuce, low- or no-fat salad dressing, and whatever other odd vegetables I might have on hand and consider that a meal. I liked how the large salad (like the one at left) filled me up with as few calories as possible. This wouldn't be such a terrible offense if I was trying to lose weight, and even if I was the body still needs healthy fats and proteins. And I didn't need to lose weight . . . but did, thanks to these "empty" salads.

As I entered treatment for anorexia, I continued to eat my voluminous salads, but supplemented them with more substantial nutrition. Long after I entered recovery -- i.e., now -- I kept on pairing every dinner and many lunches with a large salad. For example, I might make a homemade pizza for dinner, and then devour at ginormous salad in the same sitting. I've been resisting the reality that these salads are residual disordered behaviors, even though the thought has long been nagging at me. Salads are supposed to be healthy, right? So what's the harm in enjoying a big old bowl of lettuce every day?

The answer (at least for me) is that there is no harm in the salad -- it's the related behavior that's the problem. Salad has become my go-to comfort food. When other folks might curl up in front of the television with chips or trail mix or other more traditional"snacky" items, I throw together a big salad and crunch away. The supposed virtue of salad lets me fool myself into thinking that this is okay. But I'm realizing more and more that it's not okay for me right now. It's time to let this security blanket go.

Again, it's not the salad that's the problem. It's the fact that I'm essentially binging on the salad. Also, my body doesn't need or appreciate downing a massive pile of fiber only a few hours before bedtime, and I often wake up bloated and uncomfortable as a result. What's more, thanks to these salads I go through a sizable store of fresh produce with amazing speed, meaning that the Best Husband Ever and I make weekly Costco trips to restock. We're trying to cut back our grocery spending (which really means my grocery spending, for the most part), and I realized that empty salads have got to go.

Does that mean I won't be eating salads anymore? Not at all. But I will be making sure that my salads comprise a true meal in and of themselves, instead of serving as a massive accompaniment to the "real" meal. I'm hoping that replacing my empty salads with beastly ones will reduce our grocery spending, help my belly both feel and look better, and help defeat the lingering traces of my disordered tendencies.

What is your opinion on this? I'm very interested to hear your thoughts. I think this post could easily become a hot, sensitive topic, especially in the health foodie community.

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  1. sallymandy/bluekimonAugust 3, 2010 at 6:23 AM

    Hi! I found your blog, too. This is a thoughtful and insightful look at salads. I think you're saying that any food can become "unhealthy" if it goes along with unhealthy behavior. That's certainly true for me.

  2. I think this is an interesting observation & connection you've made about your habits.I love salads, same as you. Something I've noticed is that (especially in summer months) craving a salad often means my body is craving some extra water to hydrate myself. Just a thought!I think it is good you're exploring this train of thought & not cutting them out altogether! You can't deny salad love ;]

  3. yogiclarebear.comAugust 3, 2010 at 8:05 PM

    you are really speaking my salad heart here beth. i am right there with you...not giving up my salads but making sure they are more substantial. lately i really love cooking up kale, mushrooms, and shrimp or squid, with fresh bean sprouts, cukes, baby corns, onions, whatever kind of asian type things i can find, dressed with gluten-free tamari and miso dressing. i love salad, but with my fussy tummy, it is better for me to cook most of my veggies a little at least, so they digest easier. if im cooking veggies, i might as well add some good protein to the mix.

  4. Wow! I know I've been thinking this for a while but you just put it all into words for me. What a brilliant observation! It's tough for me to take in because it's so scary to think of giving up salad for me, and like you, I truly, honestly have always LOVED salad. My dream as a 10 year old was to open up a salad restaurant, seriously, I was a freak lol. And also like you, I have used salads in the past for volume and still do, but now I also make them more substantial with much more nutrition and will use a huge mixing bowl sized salad as an accompaniment to the real meal. But while I no longer deprive myself and know I'm getting enough, having the mondo salad as a side is still my security blanket. I have this nagging fear that I will be unhealthy if I don't get in several pounds of greens per day, which means that even if all I'm craving is a big plate of pasta, I'll allow myself the pasta if it comes with a just as big plate of something vegetable-y. While that's not bad in and of itself, you're right that it's the mindset that needs to be broken. Sorry to write such a long comment! I'm just really glad Maggie (salad girl) linked to this because it really spoke to me. I'd love to chat more if you want to share more about our experiences or if you want support so feel free to email me! <3Gaby


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