Forests, Trees & Salad Dressing…

“I love my salad dressing but it’s got lots of artificial stuff added to it and a couple of grams of sugar. Is it ok to use or should I avoid it?”

I could see the anxious look on her face as she awaited my response.

Giving her some spiel about additives, hidden sugar and nasty ingredients would have been a great way to confirm her worst fears about her beloved salad dressing.

But that would have been unhelpful, incorrect and simply an exercise in scaremongering.

What I actually said to that woman as she sat in attendance at a recent seminar of mine, was what I truly believe…

“Remember what we said about the big picture vs. the small insignificant details earlier?” I asked her.
“Well, this is exactly the application of it now:
Is that salad dressing the most “healthful” or nutritious of foods? No.
But does it enable a secondary healthful behaviour?
If you are eating more vegetables, more salads, more good quality food now because you are enjoying the taste because of adding a tablespoon or two of dressing then doesn’t that count as a net win?
If you cut it out completely because you read some article about the nasty “chemicals” in it that will “destroy your health”, would you still eat all those spinach leaves you’re having now? All those nutrient-dense, fibre rich veggies that provide both nutrition and satiety.
Probably not right?”

I think we really underestimate how much impact consistent big picture habits can have (in this case eating a lot of vegetables/salad) and we really overestimate how much effect a small drizzle of salad dressing can have.

Focusing on the *potential* downside of those couple of grams of sugar in some tomato ketchup whilst ignoring the impact it has on your ability to enjoy better quality food overall, is simply missing the forest for the trees.

So how can you apply this to yourself?

Is there anywhere that you may have worried about but looking back you can now see as a “net win”?

For example, you’re trying to drink more water. A good habit to adopt, everyone will agree. But you find it difficult to make yourself drink enough.

Perhaps you’ve still not got over that sweet tooth ingrained from years of poor nutrition.

What’s better?: drinking pure water or sugar-free, calorie-free, artificially-flavoured water?

You may suggest pure water, right?

Well, what if when you try to drink only pure water you find it difficult to drink enough water over the day. But when you can make up some of your fluid intake with a bottle of the artificially sweetened one, you end up being better hydrated and thus experience benefits in the long-term?

Is that a net win? Yep.

Conversely, questions like “is peanut butter healthy?” need to be viewed from the wider perspective…

Can you eat peanut butter and be healthy? Sure. Nut butters can of course be included in a healthy diet.

But if you’ve found yourself on more than one occasion staring into the bottom of an empty jar, in possession of the suspected murder weapon (a licked-clean spoon), having shovelled 1,000 calories of PB down your neck, then that’s obviously not healthy.

Forest. Trees.

Take a step back, think of the bigger picture and remember everything is a trade-off.

So it’s not about either good or bad. It’s about the NET effect when you balance them out.

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