Everything in moderation, including moderation. – Oscar Wilde
“Everything in moderation” may sound like a healthy approach to eating, but my personal and professional experience is that this approach actually encourages an unhealthy mindset of restriction, which then leads to excess. It’s also not a personalized approach to health and doesn’t respect the complexity and unique needs of each individual. “Everything” is not healthy for everyone, even when consumed in “moderation”.
Alternatively, if we move towards a philosophy of eating foods that work for our unique bodies and eat those things in abundance – including things that look and taste just like what we used to eat, but actually support our health – we exist in a healthier state, both psychologically and physically.
Restriction and Excess
The general consensus amongst most health professionals is that our modern diet is bankrupt of many of the essential nutrients our bodies need for proper function and in many cases contains ingredients and chemicals that are harmful to our health.
Yet, the common expression and dietary prescription “everything in moderation” basically says we are not to worry about poor quality foods or foods that may be problematic for us as long as we eat them in *smaller* doses at less frequent intervals spread out throughout the day or week under the false idea that this is somehow balanced and sane.
The very idea of moderation implies that you can only eat so much and that there are foods that are inherently “good” or “bad”, otherwise, why can you only eat them in moderation?
This is not a balanced or sane approach. It leaves you constantly calculating and weighing scenarios in your mind: if I eat this “bad” food now, then I need to eat that “good” food later. Just a couple of squares of chocolate a day, a mid afternoon mocha only if I make my lunchtime workout, just one glass of wine a night, pizza just one night a week, a muffin with breakfast two mornings each week, along with something deep fried, again, just once a week. You may attempt to compensate for this, of course, by eating a salad every day at lunch and exercising 5 days a week. All in moderation, right?
All this restriction and mental obsessiveness leads many people to rebel, binge, generally hate themselves and feel trapped in their poor state of health (because nothing feels worse than doing what you think you “should”, but not getting results).
So, in the end, moderation can actually lead to excess.
Excess stress, excess worry and excess consumption of problematic foods (because all those just once a weeks adds up).
Most importantly, it also takes an excess amount of willpower to maintain moderation of foods that trigger us to crave and eat more of the same foods. If you have to exercise willpower with certain foods, they’re likely not supporting your health. Read more about that here.
For me, managing my moderation was a full time job AND I never got the results I was seeking – reversal of my health conditions.
Moderation Doesn’t Heal Most Conditions
The truth is, the things you’re trying to squeeze into your diet in moderation are likely the very things that provoke your immune system, cause inflammation and are behind many of your symptoms and poor health.
If you’re goal is to maintain a healthy weight, prevent disease and even reverse your current symptoms and conditions, eating foods that are inflammatory to you, even in moderation, just keeps you in a chronic state of inflammation. To learn more about how foods cause inflammation and cravings, check out this post.
For me, eating pizza even once a week affected me for at least 2-3 days after that. Headaches, water retention and bloating, constipation, mood changes, etc. But, stuck in my “moderation mindset”, before I could even recover from that, I was having something else (in moderation) that only stoked the problem even more. Of course, I wasn’t connecting my symptoms to what I was eating because no one teaches you these things – they just teach moderation.
The Alternative: Move Towards Abundance
So, if not moderation, then what?
It’s simple: find out what foods and ingredients actually work for you and then eat them with reckless abandon.
Enjoy the freedom of not having to constantly weigh the “good” against the “bad”, because there’s no such thing, there’s only what works for you at this point in your health. The things that make you feel the way you want to feel. Eat without the constant mental calculations and internal negotiations, let go of the “everything in moderation” failure.
I’ve talked about how to determine what foods are going to be best for you in a previous post, but here’s a simple list of options for how you might go about eliminating the need for a “moderation mindset”:
- Look at your relationship to the foods you currently eat. Do you feel “addicted” to any of them? Does the sun not shine unless you get your daily dose of a particular food or foods? Be honest. Then cut those out and anything else made from those same ingredients for 3 weeks before reintroducing them to see how they affect you. If you’re already annoyed by this idea, then you’re thinking about the right foods 🙂 My post on this approach gives you lots of info and shopping guidelines to help you do this self test, also called an elimination/challenge test.
- Use a lab test. Lots of people poo poo food sensitivity testing but it is the hallmark of how I am able to help people regain their health (I like to combine approach #1 and 2). And, the test confirms what many of my clients already know to be problematic foods and identifies others they never considered. It also helps them become more confident in knowing what to eat. The catch is that the test should look at IgM, IgG and IgA reactions (that’s shorthand for three different proteins that are part of your immune response). It’s NOT a food allergy test. That’s a different test to look at foods that cause very pronounced and immediate reactions like throat closures, hives, etc (these are IgE reactions). Most people know if they’re allergic to a food, but few know if they’re sensitive, which is a different reaction all together and much harder to figure out without really learning what to look for in your body. You’ll need to work with a health professional who supplies this test and can properly guide you on how to use implement the results.
- I respect that some people would rather start by following a dietary approach that avoids many of the foods that typically cause inflammation and symptoms. If so, then you’ll want to try an auto-immune (read: anti-inflammatory) paleo diet, often referred to as AIP. This approach was really brought into the mainstream by Terry Wahls, MD who reversed her multiple sclerosis following these principles and is what she uses in her practice. Visit her website and TEDtalk to hear her remarkable story. There are many other sites out there with descriptions of this approach which has worked for countless individuals, especially those with auto-immune conditions. From the get go, this diet removes wheat and grains, dairy, soy, nightshade vegetables, chocolate, peanuts, eggs and a few other common triggers of health problems. This is not my default approach because it’s a big leap and many people can in fact tolerate these foods with no ill effect, so why avoid them entirely? Also, there are some foods that are part of this approach that may not work for you, but it’s still a great place to start to remove the majority of possible triggers. For this dietary approach plus the incorporation of positive psychology, self-love and compassion for ultimate healing, I highly recommend this book.
Have Your Cake and Eat it Too
Once you have a good idea of what your unique body does and does not want right now and what it will most benefit from, you can drop the moderation mindset. Go and eat those things without restriction.
No counting calories, no weighing your food, no internal dialogue about “making up for this later” with calorie restriction or exercise.
What about pizza? What about ice cream?
They’re still on the menu!
Take ice cream for example: someone who is “triggered” by dairy foods will have a difficult time limiting their portions and will continue to crave dairy foods the next day and the day after. And, they will likely experience whatever symptoms dairy causes for them – this could be congestion, ezcema, constipation, etc. However, if they eat ice cream made from a non-dairy source, say cashew milk, they feel satiated without the symptoms and without it triggering more cravings. They can enjoy that ice cream when they feel like it and not have to enforce a “moderation” rule for something that doesn’t negatively affect their health. They can approach their diet with abundance, not restriction.
By just changing what the pizza, cake, ice cream, etc. are made of, cravings naturally reduce, portion sizes naturally go down, inflammation goes down, energy and wellness goes up. Good things happen.
The other long term benefit is that when you do return to eating some of the foods that triggered you after a break from them, many times they don’t have the same “hold” on you. Most of my clients say they just don’t really long for them anymore and they could clearly see how it doesn’t make them feel the way they want to feel.
Here’s the thing: you only feel restricted if you actually want the thing in the first place and this experience removes that element for many people. They just don’t want it. They still eat what they want now, except this time, it happens to be food that loves them back.
Also, many food sensitivities are temporary and are more directly related to the health of your digestive tract. After a period of rest and gut healing, many people can go back to those foods without the negative consequences.
In a direct sense, approaching your health with a mindset of excess and abundance and focusing on the foods that work for you can lead to the moderation, balance and sanity you were originally seeking. And…. symptom relief 🙂
Now I want to hear from you:
What has been your experience with moderation? Has it worked for you? Have you ever done an elimination/challenge test or food sensitivity testing? Share your thoughts and comments below. We all benefit from hearing each other’s experience and stories.
You can also drop me a line if your prefer or have direct questions for me. I look forward to hearing from you!
To your abundance,