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Eating in Moderation: Does it Work?

One bite of donut eating moderation?

The Meaning of Moderation

Does “everything in moderation” work with your eating habits? It depends. First, what does “moderation” with your eating mean to you? How do you define it?

Second, and more importantly, is your definition of eating in “moderation” working for you? To answer this question accurately, you must be tuned in, aware of how certain foods make you feel and consider your current health.

As a Mind Body Nutritionist, I look at “everything in moderation” from two very different nutritional approaches:

1. Moderation from a Purely Nutritional Approach.

Ask your self, “Is moderation creating the health you desire?”

CASE STUDY: Lindsey, 25

Lindsey’s definition of eating everything in moderation included eating small amounts of organic dairy. She had cream in her coffee and butter on her sweet potato or veggies. But her body doesn’t digest dairy well. She took the time to notice and explore how certain foods made her feel. And for Lindsey, dairy creates…gas, bloating, constipation and even skin rashes and acne when she adds in cheese and ice cream. While the small amounts seemed ok, they were still creating inflammation in her body, every single day. Eating dairy in her definition of moderation wasn’t producing optimal health in this case, and over time could create more digestive/health issues.

Lindsey’s exploration:

So what might work better for Lindsey? Of course, since every body is different, we experimented. She substituted coconut milk for her creamer in her coffee or she had hot tea instead (changing the habit). She drizzled olive oil over her veggies instead of butter. She learned how to make her favorite Italian and Mexican dishes with cashew cream instead of dairy cheese. Instead of cheese dips, she had guacamole and hummus. She changed the daily habit of eating something her body didn’t digest well. She added in a few gut healing supplements. As a result, her body began to heal. She started to have daily bowel movements again and her acne went away. Does she never have dairy? For Lindsey, no. But it’s a rare occasion (for her this meant choosing to have to between none and once a month) vs. moderation. And because it’s rare, she is able to maintain the quality of health she desires.

We were able to meet Lindsay’s goal: creating the least restrictive eating style producing the best possible health, with the least amount of stress.

And here’s another way to think of moderation outside of the food context: Would you put small amounts of diesel in a car that takes unleaded fuel? Heck no!

If you did it by accident (a rare occasion), it may cause some damage, but minimal, especially if you resume giving it the fuel it needs to run properly.

2. Moderation: A Perspective of an Eating Psychology Coach

Is “moderation” just another food rule to follow? Notice this statement, “I allow myself to eat anything I want, in moderation.”

Maybe you never thought of moderation as a food rule because it implies balanced eating, which sounds healthy, right? Well, for some. For others, a moderation mindset still means restriction.

Or, In Other Words
self-restraint, restraint, self-control, self-command, self-discipline

Note the word “allow” in the statement above as this is a critical piece to explore if you want the healthiest relationship with food and body possible.

Let me give you two more client examples of healthy eating in “moderation” that wasn’t working for them:

CASE STUDY: Lisa, 75

Moderation for me means allowing myself to eat one bite of dessert at dinner. I rarely have pizza and when I do, I will only have 1 - 2 slices.

  • Lisa

This sounds like a healthy habit on the surface. But what you don’t know about Lisa is that she’s been dieting her whole life, she wants to lose a bunch of weight, she has so many food rules, and she says she “sneak” eats her forbidden foods. She feels like she over eats at her regular meals and is frustrated with her snacking habit. And when she’s “good,” for following her moderation food rules, she feels like she’s earned the reward of eating an ice cream cone (but “sneaks it,” so she’s not judged).

CASE STUDY: Greg, 47

Moderation for me means allowing myself to eat a sandwich (bread) maybe once a week even though I love bread. If I break this rule, I feel badly for eating gluten (bad), too many carbohydrates (bad) and worry about gaining weight.

  • Greg

Again, this sounds like healthy eating. Greg is super stressed about food and maintaining his fit body and is worried about aging and the changes he expects with a slower metabolism.

Give Yourself Permission

So how did we work together to change this moderation/food rule mindset for both Lisa and Greg? The work we explored was giving them unconditional permission to eat any food, in any amount.

This sounds blasphemous coming from a nutritionist! Why would I give someone unconditional permission to eat as much ice cream, bread, pizza as they want? By exploring a few of the Intuitive Eating practices such as habituation, mindfulness and satisfaction, Lisa and Greg were able to move from the rule mindset to the unconditional permission to eat mindset. Over time, with practice, these strategies ultimately guided both clients to choose (verses allow) what to eat without moderation “rules,” without self-judgment and without fear of “getting fat” because these “forbidden” or less healthy foods no longer had power 💥 over them. Thus, they no longer wanted to eat much of them or over-eat them because they could have them any time, in any amount.

Ask Yourself: “What does moderation mean to you? And is it working for you?”

My goal is to help you make peace with food and your body. Nutrition isn’t one size fits it all. And good nutrition is more than purely what you eat. As a team, we explore strategies that are both nutritional as well as dynamic eating psychology based, to help you feel and BE your best!

Have a question, comment about moderation from these two perspectives? I’d love to hear from you,

  • Tanya


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Mindset Dieting Intuitive Eating Food Rules