Is Moderation Really All It's Cracked Up To Be?

By Jen Comas

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” - Oscar Wilde 

“Moderation” is a buzzword creating big waves in the health industry these days—and stirring up some pretty strong emotions.  But I'm not sure it's right for everyone.

On one side, you’ve got those who are rallying for moderation, while the other side are those who decry it as a terrible idea. Most people are stuck somewhere in the middle, so confused and just wanting to know once and for all which is right, and will save them from their food prison.

So which is right? Should you #TreatYoSelf once in a while? Or should you abstain altogether?

moderation-jen-donut-bike-450x388The answer: it depends, and like everything else, context always matters.  A better question is which is right for you?

Moderation is very simple for some, and extremely challenging for others. Many women are used to an all-or-nothing mindset and have a hard time enjoying a few bites of something delicious and then being done with it.

If that sounds like you, let me assure you you’re not alone, and I completely understand. That was my life for I-don’t-know-how-many years! I only had two settings when it came to nutrition: on or off. My eating was either super strict, or I had done a nosedive into a pile of junk food. Eating a bite or two of a cookie and then walking away was not a thought that even crossed my mind; I was in an all-or-nothing mindset.

The Great Debate: To Abstain or To Moderate?

Moderation sounds great in theory, but for some, moderation leads to a lot of questions, and many decisions have to be made.

How much should I have?
How often should I have it?
Can I have some more?
Did I have too much?

Meanwhile, abstaining is one decision and leads to one answer: no. Once that decision is made, no additional thought is required.

Contrary to what some may believe, there is nothing wrong with abstaining.

While I think that developing the skill of enjoying things in moderation is important for many people, it may not be realistic for everybody, or with all kinds of food.

moderation-woman-pizza-450x388For example, I cannot be trusted with pizza. While I’m able to enjoy most foods in small amounts without giving it a second thought, delivery pizza is different for me. I can’t seem to have one slice and call it a day; I want six slices. Yes, six. Since I know that pizza doesn’t agree with my stomach whatsoever, having six slices is truly not in my best interest.

When I used to attempt to indulge in delivery pizza in moderation, I always wanted more and more, agonizing over every slice. I would consistently eat more than I had intended, which left me with a stomachache, and full of guilt. This ended up being significantly more stressful than it would have been had I chosen to abstain altogether.

I’ve learned this about myself by now, and it’s become much easier to simply abstain. I’ve become so accustomed to turning it down, that it’s a very easy decision for me to make.

How Do I Know If Moderation Is Right For Me?

If you feel like moderation may be right for you, there are still a few things you need to take into consideration.

moderation-woman-yuk-face-327x341Physiological Reactions

  • How does your body react to the foods you are thinking of consuming?
  • Does the food that you're considering cause your stomach to reel in pain for days afterwards?
  • Do you have a food allergy or sensitivity?
  • Do you have a blood-sugar related condition that makes certain foods less-than-ideal for you to consume?

It should go without saying that indulging in foods that significant negative physiological consequences are not in your best interest, and could be downright dangerous.  Certain foods, even in the smallest quantities, can have repercussions that just aren’t worth it.

Psychological Ramifications

  • Does it leave you craving more?
  • Does it cause a landslide of cravings for other junk foods?
  • Do you find yourself becoming fixated on this food, unable to stop thinking about the next time that you can have it?
  • Does it stress you out more to have some than it would to refrain altogether?

Like my pizza example, eating certain foods can lead to so much stress that it simply isn’t worth it. If what you’re attempting to eat is going to cause you days of grief, physically or mentally, it’s better to forego it for now.

Tip: Pay attention to the context of your situation.  You may be fine to moderate your consumption of certain foods most of the time, but there may be instances where you simply can't.  For example, you may have no issues moderating your french fry intake on a normal Tuesday, but you may find that if you're exhausted or cranky, you say, "Eff it!" and eat all the fries.  Or you might be good to have a single glass of wine every night with dinner, but when you go out with your old college roommates, it's, "Shots all night, baby!"  Take mental note of these instances, and take them into account when determining whether you want to moderate or abstain.

Moderation How-To

moderation-ben-and-jerrys-450x388Countless women and Girls Gone Strong ‘Strongest You’ coaching clients ask me, How do I start to enjoy such-and-such food in moderation?

The first step in learning how to enjoy treats in moderation is to set yourself up for success by starting small, and going slowly.  Eating in moderation, like anything else we want to "get good at," is a practice.

If ice cream is your jam, start by buying one—yes, one—mini container of ice cream that is sold by the actual 1/2 cup serving size. Then, set aside the time that you’re going to enjoy it, and really take your time. Focus on it completely, and let yourself notice the flavor and the texture. Make it a moment, and relish in every bite, because this is your portion size.

If cookies are your thing, you'll use the same approach. Most grocery stores sell cookies individually in the bakery. Purchase one and only one, and when it comes time to have it, let yourself love every last morsel. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and you won’t have the temptation of having an entire box of cookies in your house.

moderation-pastry-case-bakery-327x341Once you've purchased a single serving of the food you want to indulge in, take some time to notice how it feels to have some ice cream or one cookie, instead of all of the ice cream, or all cookies. This will likely take some getting used to. Many of us have become accustomed to only knowing certain portion sizes, such as an entire pint of ice cream, or a tray of cookies, and it will take some time to break that habit.

However, by setting yourself up for success with reasonable portion sizes, you will be able to retrain the way you think of these things. Better yet, you’ll really start to savor these treats rather than gobbling them down, because you don’t have more on hand to eat.

Most importantly, make eating these foods a positive experience.  Ice cream and cookies are not "bad," and there are no moral implications with consuming them. They are simply more calorie dense, and less nutritious than many other foods, and that's OK.  If you start to notice any guilt or negative thoughts arise when you're eating these foods, remind yourself that these foods are fine within the context of a well-balanced diet.

No guilt or shame necessary. Just pleasure and enjoyment.

Whether we choose to enjoy certain foods in moderation, or to abstain altogether, is a personal preference, based on being in tune with our mind and our body.  You may find that you are great with moderation for some foods, but better off abstaining with others. What is “right” for you is whatever choice keeps you happy and healthy, both mentally and physically.

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About the author:  Jen Comas

Jen Comas is a Girls Gone Strong co-founder and GGS Coaching Head Coach, as well as a NASM Personal Trainer and USAW Level One Weightlifting coach. She has competed in figure and trained as a powerlifter, teaches and practices yoga, and is obsessed with motorcycles, dirt biking, and downhill mountain biking. Learn about Jen on her website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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