There is a growing trend in the fitness industry to approach your nutrition game plan with an â€œeverything in moderationâ€ mindset. I couldn’t be happier to see this taking place. It wasn’t always this way for me, especially through high school and college, as I took the more extreme â€œit’s all or nothingâ€ approach. My hope was that this â€œall or nothingâ€ approach would squash my desire for the â€œbadâ€ foods, and help me avoid the inevitable guilt that consumed me if I did fall off the wagon and actually allowed myself to have a burger and fries or a slice of pizza. Gasp -How could I allow myself to do such a thing?! Better yet, looking back on all of this, all I can think is â€œWhat was I thinking?â€
Clearly, it didn’t work for me because I would only end up eating too much of a bad thing and then feel the need to go burn it off at the gym with hours of exercise. Not cool, I know -I know, and I really did know better, but I just refused to listen to that little voice of reason inside my head. I think part of the reason I got stuck in this trap was because I read every women’s fitness magazine possible back then, and all the models in these magazines sang the praises of eating grilled chicken and broccoli 6-7 times per day and every freaking day of the week! I became consumed by the idea that I had to follow a stripped down, no fun, no taste nutrition plan most of the time to look and feel good, and I was only allowed a â€œcheat mealâ€ if I had been good most of the week and got my epic workouts in almost every day.
Somewhere in my early twenties is when this way of thinking changed for me and I finally realized that it just wasn’t worth it to eat and be this way. There was life to live, good food to be eaten, and workouts to do that I actually enjoyed and looked forward to doing again. So because of my past experiences combined with everything I have learned along the way as a fitness professional, I will always continue to teach a moderation mindset when it comes to nutrition counseling for my clients.
So with this in mind, I’ve heard lots of people say things like â€œmoderation is just an excuse for people to eat junk food all the timeâ€ and this way of being is â€œfor people that don’t want to work hard enough, or â€œwho don’t take their health and fitness seriously enoughâ€. I am a huge advocate of using a moderation mindset for sustainability and long term health and fitness success, so it gets to me a little bit when I hear comments like this. Let’s take a few minutes and talk about what moderation really is and why it is so important for long term health, well-being, and fat loss. But first let’s set the record straight and talk about what moderations is NOT:
- Eating only fast food all the time is not moderation, it’s extreme.
- Eating a strictly paleo diet is not moderation, it’s extreme.
- Eliminating all sources of sugar or fat from your diet is not moderation, it’s extreme.
- Eliminating entire food groups from your diet is not moderation, it’s extreme (unless you need to do so for legitimate medical reasons).
- Juice cleanses and detox diets are not moderation, they are extreme.
- Eating ONLY processed free, dye free, high fructose corn syrup free, and gluten free is not moderation, it’s extreme.
- Eating grilled chicken and steamed vegetables for every meal is not moderation, it’s extreme.
- Eating strictly organic, farm raised, GMO free, and locally raised everything is not moderation, it’s extreme. This also gets me because while I like to support local farms, and buy organic when I can, it doesn’t always happen -and that’s okay. I can’t stand all the non-organic shaming that goes on, and let’s be honest, not everyone can afford 100% organic all the time. It’s okay if you want to buy organic, but it’s also okay not to buy organic sometimes.
I could continue to go on and on about this, but I think you might be getting the gist here!
So then -what exactly is moderation and what does it look like in this everyday world?
First off -I think this idea of practicing moderation tends to get a bad rap because a lot of people will simply take it to mean being able to eat whatever they want (aka crap) ALL the time and just in smaller portions. Sorry ladies, that’s NOT at all what I am talking about here. It can also be a very vague and subjective term in that we all know more or less what we should be doing, but all too often we flounder about how we should really put it into practice. So, let’s dive in a little bit further and then set up some simple guidelines for you put into place right now. It is very possible to happily exist in that magical place between deprivation and overindulgence, but to get there it will take practice, consistency, patience, acceptance, and an understanding with yourself and your relationship with food.
So back to moderation and what it looks like -. Moderation is consuming a diet that consists MAINLY of a variety of wholesome, healthy, and nutrient dense foods like lean meats and protein, vegetables, fruits, starches, and healthy fats. Since nutrition is such a personal thing, the specifics of what this looks like for everyone will be different based on their tastes, preferences, likes, and dislikes. Moderation also means leaving room for regular treats and â€œindulgencesâ€ that bring us satisfaction and pleasure.
You may be saying to yourself now â€œOkay, this is great and all, but how do I put it into practice?â€ So let’s cover some basic ground rules to help you break the over-indulgence/deprivation cycle, and get you on the path to both feeling healthy and being happy with food. Let me put out a little disclaimer though before we cover the following nutrition habit practices. The last thing I want you to do is to try and completely overhaul all of your nutrition practices all at once. Trying to do too much and all at once is a sure shot way to failure because you’ll get overwhelmed by all the change and just want to throw your hands up in defeat. I want you to approach the following habit changes one step at a time and do what works for you in this very moment. When you feel like you have mastered one, then it’s time to slowly add on another and go from there -baby steps and building blocks to success!
Now with that in mind, let’s talk about some ways in which you can move towards a moderation mindset:
1. First and foremost -keep it simple. For many of us, our relationship with food is just as complicated as some of our relationships with difficult family members or friends. From the food philosophies we inherited as children, to the self-imposed restrictions we place on ourselves, to the overwhelming nutrition messages from mainstream and social media, we have truly forgotten how to eat intuitively and why we eat. If we can silence all the noise, so to speak, and let go of all of the â€œshould’sâ€ and â€œdon’tsâ€, then we can simplify our relationship with food and realize that it is simply there to nourish and sustain us.
2. Take Control. You have absolute control over your own thoughts and actions, so don’t let yourself fall victim to a victim’s mindset. It’s time to begin letting go of negative associations with eating, with certain foods, with your expectations about weight, and to stop depriving yourself. When you find yourself going down that slippery slope of negative thoughts about yourself, stop, take a moment to breathe, and find at least one good thing about yourself, and one action step you CAN start doing now to turn the tide of self-defeating behavior. Stop placing blame on others, and past situations and circumstances, and instead choose to be mindful of your OWN actions and behaviors. Breaking the chain of negative patterns and thoughts begins with you!
3. Listen. Learn to become more in tune with your body and mindful of what your body needs instead of what your mind is telling you what your body wants -most of the time ;). Remember, we still want to allow room for fun foods from time to time. If you listen to your body it will tell you when you are hungry, when you are thirsty, when you are satisfied, or when you are intolerant of a particular food. Eat to feel satisfied, not full. Avoid foods not because they are â€œbadâ€ for you, but rather because they aren’t nourishing for you or don’t agree with you. By listening to your body you can change your relationship with food for the better.Nourish. Remember, we are looking to create habits that will help us to thrive. So, focus on nutrient â€“dense foods that nourish our bodies and allow us to thrive and be well. When you sit down to eat, create a nourishing plate for yourself â€“ one that is mostly comprised of natural and wholesome foods. Fill your plate up first with protein and veggies!
4. Use an 80/20 Rule. Eat clean and healthy meals and foods for 80% of the time while leaving about 20% of the time for treats and less nourishing yet pleasurable foods. Now, I don’t normally like to say eat well for 80% of the week and then let it all hang out for the remaining 20% because I think that can sometimes be too restrictive, and it can cause you to go overboard when you do decide to loosen the reigns a little bit. I prefer to use the 80/20 rule on a daily basis instead of a weekly basis because I feel like it allows you just enough freedom to keep your sanity.
5. Practice Portion Control. Hopefully you know by now that it’s not just what you eat that is important, but it’s also how much of what you eat at every meal that is important. You can eat all the healthy foods in the world, but if you eat too much of them at every meal, they can also cause you to become overweight and develop health problems.
6. Live.Finally, go ahead and enjoy that little piece of cake, small piece of pizza, or whatever little piece of culinary goodness that will make your heart sing! I sure do, and so should you. Why? Because when you are more mindful of and realistic with yourself , there comes a better understanding for how to proceed with food and better self-control.
But what about moderation for weight loss?
What comes to mind for you when you hear the phrase weight loss? If you’re like most people, you probably imagine that in order to do so you’ll have to do things like drastically cut back on calories, go to bed hungry, eat more foods that taste like cardboard, or give up your favorite foods entirelyâ€”and that’s why so many diets fail. Most people just can’t tolerate those kinds of restrictions for very long.
The more you try to eliminate your favorite foods, the more you will build up negative feelings like discomfort, disappointment, deprivation, anger, frustration, and resentment. At some point then, you’ll probably end up snapping and bingeing on all the foods you’ve been denying yourself for some time now, and undoing all of your hard work in a single day. Even if you are able to avoid binging, are you really willing to live a life filled with boring and unappetizing food?
Studies have shown that the vast majority of people that follow a very restrictive diet in order to lose weight will ultimately end up putting the weight back on and then some once they return to a â€œnormalâ€ way of eating again. I have seen people go through this time and time again, and to the point where they get so fed up with trying to lose weight that they simply give up and decide that nothing will work for them. So what’s the alternative? How do you manage to lose weight permanently without all the harsh tactics and behaviors?
Cue moderation! Moderation allows for an emphasis on eating for health and well-being, with plenty of room for treats so you don’t feel deprived and end up spiraling for the worst. When I finally removed the restriction and guilt around eating, and allowed myself to eat more food, and stopped punishing myself and my body with epic long workouts, the vicious and exhausting battle with food went away. It definitely took time to sink in for me, and that’s the hardest part because I am such an impatient person. But it’s so worth it because I now ENJOY food again without resentment, guilt, and fear always looming in the background. And now that I have children, I want to set a healthy example for them so that hopefully they don’t have the same struggles and issues with food that I did earlier in life.
So for those of you reading this that have tried EVERY fad diet and weight loss tactic, and aren’t happy about where you are, have you thought about trying moderation?