is it justified?
“Everything in moderation” seems to be the key to a healthy life and solving obesity rates.
Moderation in food habits. Moderation in drinking habits. Moderation in exercising habits.
Why Is Moderation So Praised?
Moderation is the holy grail of nutritionists for 2 main reasons: no excess and variety.
If you remain moderate, you avoid excess. You pay attention to the size of your portions. Consequently, you won’t put your body under too much stress (alcohol, sport, sugar…). You’ll still have all of this, but in small quantities that should not be able to harm your body.
With the rule of moderation also comes a necessary counterpart: variety. And variety is good for you, especially when talking about food because, with a varied diet, you’re more likely to get the array of vitamins and minerals you need from your diet.
The reason I like moderation myself is because, being moderate, I can have some chocolate, some wine, some coffee and really enjoy them. Food to me is more than nourishment, it’s a pleasure that I enjoy fully (see our mindful eating article). I love good tasty food, spices, flavors. I love indulging in a glass of wine, a good espresso and a piece of dark chocolate. Life would feel very sad if I had to always be “good” and never have a glass of wine or never have chocolate.
But moderation is not for everyone and not for everything.
However much I like moderation, I know it’s not the be-all and end-all it’s sometimes regarded to be.
Moderation Is Not For Everyone
Moderation is difficult.
It certainly is not the solution for everyone.
Some people just can’t do moderation. They open a pack of biscuits, they eat it all. They open a pack of sweets and their hand just automatically goes back and forth from the packet to their mouth – mindlessly – until there are none left. They are so used to the sweet taste that they don’t taste its intensity as much.
Whether it’s an emotional eating issue or an addiction, the result is the same: excess intake which eventually leads to excess weight and health issues.
The higher the addiction (and sugar can definitely be an addiction), the more difficult it is to be moderate.
For people who cannot moderate but still wish to do something to lose weight or curb their ‘bad’ habits, there is a solution:
1. Complete abstinence (to start with)
Radical? Most probably, but necessary.
For people with that level of addiction, going cold-turkey to start with is actually a lot easier to achieve than moderation.
In the example of sugar, it might mean avoiding all simple sugar and edulcorants (no sweets, packets of biscuits, fizzy drinks, ice creams, chocolate). I add edulcorants to this list because the issue with sugar is not just the substance itself but the taste. You’re not just addicted to sugar but you’re addicted to the sweet taste. Consequently, avoiding sugar but still eating/drinking sugar-free but edulcorants-loaded products is useless to fight your addiction.
With such a simple rule, there’s no uncertainty about how much/when. The rule is extremely clear to understand and to follow. It’s so black and white that there can be no doubt about whether you’ve failed or not.
That’s probably why so many restrictive diets are so popular. Their restrictive rules suit abstainers.
But that’s also where restrictive diets often fail over the long-term. They’re too hard to follow over a long period of time.
That’s why it’s important, in a second phase, to find a middle-ground where restrictions can be realistically applied.
2. Re-introduce slowly following simple rules
Once you feel you no longer need sugar as badly, you might try to re-introduce it into your diet.
Why? Why would you re-introduce sugar after having suffered so much to cut it out of your life?
- you might want to be able to indulge in a treat once in a while
- you don’t want to miss out on the benefits of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) contains healthy nutrients (particularly antioxidants and flavonoids) without the sugar and fat of its milk chocolate equivalent.
At this stage, it’s important to set simple rules. It might be re-introduce dark chocolate only (in small quantity which you need to set) or it might mean re-introduce sugar on 1 day of the week only. Whatever the rule is, it needs to be clear and impossible to argue.
Slowly, step by step, you may try to introduce more freedom once you are comfortable you can stick to small portion sizes.
I’ve talked about sugar but introducing moderation applies to other substances. There’s a very interesting free programme out there for problem drinkers called Moderation Management. It aims to offer a choice between abstinence and moderation and help people through a 9 step approach (exercises, goal setting,..) to achieve drinking in moderation. They believe (and research supports it) that abstinence is not necessarily the only option.
Moderation Is Not For Everything
I can’t say I agree with being moderate in everything.
Some things are just not good for you (drugs, smoking, trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup) and you don’t need them, not even in moderation.
The problem is knowing which things are good and which are not. Wine is not good in large quantity but a little bit could be good for your health. The key here is to educate yourself and not to blindly believe the fancy marketing on the labels (‘sugar free’ but loaded with aspartame, ‘one of your 5 a day’ but no fiber and too much sugar).
I personally trust what’s natural and try and avoid man-made or modified food. I like to use the word ‘try’ because that’s how I conceive moderation.
Final Thought: Is Moderation Boring?
I find that point very interesting because there’s no denying that avoiding all excess makes for a very proper but quite constant life … to the verge of boredom?
So I’ll finish with a quote by Thomas Paine which I find inspiring: