“Everything in moderation” seems like a sensible approach, and in theory, it is. But the problem with moderation is how it’s practiced. Read on to learn what moderation truly means.
At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve been given the advice “everything in moderation.”
Sounds good and all, but I actually have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the saying. On one hand, it’s essentially my food philosophy. Food isn’t labeled good or bad and nothing is off limits. Simply eat mostly nutrient dense foods and less of the not so nutritious stuff – basically the same thing I’ve been blogging about these past three years.
On the other hand, there are some flaws with practicing moderation. There’s the obvious issue that moderation can mean different things to different people. Is eating a small bowl of ice cream every night moderation? Or is it a monthly scoop of mint chocolate chip in a sprinkle cone? Is it a daily diet soda? Or a weekly diet soda?
Also, your personal definition of moderation can change depending on the situation. When I’m home for the holidays, a cookie (or two) a day would qualify as pretty moderate. But right now, I’ve probably gone two months without eating a cookie and I’m fine with that.
My biggest qualm with moderation is how it’s interpreted. Most people would say moderation is about portion control. But actually, moderation has nothing to do with how much you eat. It’s about trusting your body to know when you’ve had enough and what you truly desire. That’s right, moderation isn’t about limiting yourself to 10 french fries or portioning the perfect 1/2 cup serving of ice cream. It’s about opening a bag of chips and trusting that you’ll know when to stop when you’re truly satisfied. Moderation is savoring a small square of dark chocolate, not because it’s your nightly treat to ward off cravings but because you truly desire a square of dark chocolate.
As sensible as it seems, moderation often leads to overeating or deprivation. Let’s say you go out to get sushi. If you order a sushi roll and a ginger salad, that would be a pretty moderate approach. But maybe you really really want both the dragon roll and a spider roll – picking just one you might feel deprived and overeat or binge later as a result. A truly moderate approach would be to order both and trust that it’ll balance itself out over time.
Also, I often hear people using the phrase ‘everything in moderation’ as a way to justify mindless overeating. Recently, Scott and I were celebrating Mother’s Day at his mom’s house and there were a couple bags of kettle chips open. We both love kettle chips (helloooo BBQ!), so we ate a couple handfuls…and then a couple more…and then a couple more. We ended up mindlessly munching on BBQ chips all afternoon, well past the point where we were satisfied. While going back for another handful, Scott remarked “Everything in moderation!” We spurt out the catchphrase instead of asking ourselves the hard questions like “do I truly desire these chips?” Yes. “What is/was enough to leave me feeling satisfied?” About 2-3 handfuls. “Why am I overeating?” Because I’m tired from staying up late and ate too light of a lunch.
I think the problem with the idea of moderation (which I like) and the practice (where I hold issue) is setting strict rules for how to practice it. Guidelines are one thing, but rules are meant to be broken. We set rules because we don’t trust ourselves to make the best decision for ourselves in the moment. Setting blanket rules keeps you from having to build that trust, crucial for achieving your happy weight, but also living a sane and joyful life around food. Instead of setting rules, start to nurture a trusting relationship with yourself and food. Remember, no one knows how to nourish yourself like you!
What does moderation mean to you? How do you practice moderation?
P.S. Most of my clients struggle with knowing how practice moderation with sweets. Check out my Tame Your Sweet Tooth Guide in the nutrition shop, which takes readers through the same process I use with my clients, teaching them how to savor and enjoy sweets without binging or overeating.