HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE!
Earlier this week one of my patients told me that she lives her life with “everything in moderation” and that includes what she eats. That got me thinking this whole week about how dietitians often say you don’t need to restrict any foods, that everything can be enjoyed “in moderation.” That sounds good, but do we really know what moderation truly means or is? That is the question I have been asking myself this entire week.
Is moderation defined on a meal by meal basis, a day, a week, or a month?
Does moderation mean I can have one cookie or is two acceptable? One handful of chips or a bowl? If I have carbs at this meal can I have them with my next meal? How much cheese is too much? So, the question “What is moderation?” becomes “How much can I get away with and not need to feel guilty?”
After a great deal of reflection trying to clearly define “moderation“, I had an unexpected moment of enlightenment. Life in moderation is not and should not be the same for everyone. It also will not be the same throughout your whole life because life is not static, but ever changing and dynamic. What the heck am I talking about?
For me, I define moderation as the 80/20 rule. If 80% of the time I’m making a conscious effort to choose healthy foods and exercising, and 20% of the time I’m enjoying treats then I feel like I am living in moderation. I’ve written before about how my splurges help keep me on track and I’ve written about combating food guilt before. What I haven’t written about is how letting go of my emotional attachment to my food choices made living in moderation seem actually doable. Here are some of things I did:
1) I told myself I could have whatever I want as long as I was hungry. Every day I told myself that food is about fueling and providing energy to the body.
2) I stopped feeling restricted by giving myself little treats/rewards each day.
3) I let go of food guilt (or learned to handle it by retraining my brain) by putting myself in control. I use to think having one treat meant the whole day was shot, now I look at it as an opportunity to eat extra healthy at the next meal.
4) I started thinking of food as nutrient dense fuel for the body and therefore let go of the fear of food making me fat. Now there are some days I look down at my plate and I literally think to myself “Wow this meal has so many nutrients to nurture my body with!”
5) I don’t eat food I don’t like, even if it is healthy (but I will try anything once!). Why force myself to eat squash… I don’t want it!
6) I try and create balance in my meals and in my day so that I never feel restricted of any one food group (like carbs or fat.)
How to Gauge Moderation
We eat when we are hungry yes, but also when we are sad, happy, depressed, anxious, stressed, celebrating, congratulating, and so much more. We are faced with hundreds of different food choices a day and triggers to eat are all around us. So, what is the answer to the how much/many cookie, chips, carbs, cheese, chocolate etc… is a life of moderation? In my opinion the answer is that it is different for everyone, and it changes throughout your life. One or two cookies may be good for me; my 6 foot 2 fiancé is probably going to have more. How do you learn what’s right for you? Like everyone else learns, through trial and error. Through our moments of immoderation we learn where the line was when we crossed it. We might gain a couple pounds, not be able to stop with just one dessert, skip one to many workouts in a week etc. But we learn from these experiences where the line was, where we should have stopped. Then, we make our best effort to not cross it the next time.
A Story of Immoderation
Yesterday was a perfect example; I was struck with a major cookie craving. The cookies at the hospital are so good, and my friend at the register told me they are baked fresh every day! Anyway, I bought four for my roomies and me. (Although I’m now revealing that my story of all four cookies being for my roommate was somewhat entirely false. When asked I was embarrassed I wanted a cookie, because I’m going to be a dietitian so I shouldn’t want a cookie.) I quickly let go of that emotional attachment (embarrassment) by thinking I’m human and I can have a cookie if I want (80/20 rule). I ate mine on the way home, it was so so so good, but it fueled the want for MORE! I came home and forced myself to workout but was still having a major sweet craving even after my workout. I gave it some thought, what is the craving triggered by? I didn’t have a particularly hard day at work so probably a mixture of excitement, stress, and fear of a road trip by myself today. So, for dinner I hooked myself up with a sweet potato which I added chocolate chips too. Yum! I thought I should have some protein post my workout, but gave into the craving instead.
Once dinner was over I was quite honestly thinking, “That was delicious but, I WANT MORE CHOCOLATE!!!!” I started dipping into the dark chocolate almonds. Once this happened I said to myself, “Okay, how many of these before the guilt/regrets set in?” The answer: 3 almonds ago. “Shoot. Okay then, stop now. You can always have more chocolate. Tomorrow you’re having a Caramel Frappaccino for your drive (bribery is fair game).” Then I removed myself from the kitchen. To me this was a moment of immoderation. In the past though, immoderation would have been found two cookies and a lot more dark chocolate almonds later. So living in moderation is part of life’s journey, we get closer to it by learning from our moments of immoderation.
I think all this can be summed up by saying that living in moderation is a lifelong journey toward:
– …not feeling too restricted or deprived.
– …not feeling like you’ve loss control of what you are eating.
– …enjoyment of meals with no guilt.
– …taking care of ourselves by feeding the body with nutrients.
– …indulging in cravings for the soul.