When food has been your ‘friend’, a makeshift therapist, your enemy, something you’ve been fighting with for the better part of your life, hearing the words ‘the secret is everything in moderation’ is not only puzzling, frustrating and one hell of an enigma.
‘Everything in Moderation’ is possibly the most famous piece of diet advice ever given. And it seems to be very popular at the moment to the point where I come across this in some motivational and aspirational form or another almost every damn day.
As someone who struggled with disordered eating for years, I loathe this advice, especially for women with a history of disordered eating.
Inspiration for this blog post came about when I stumbled across this piece of advice from a very popular Australian nutritionist on social media:
“Unhealthy foods are only unhealthy if you eat them in excess. Balance is key. Therefore, you can (and should) eat anything you want… as long as you eat it in moderation.”
If you’ve deprived yourself for so long you’re either going to find this makes little to no sense or object: “But I will likely only binge eat”…which I don’t doubt for a moment.
The problem is, moderation works for very few people.
You know this to be true. And I bet my bottom dollar you’ve tried to achieve ‘moderation’ countless times. (And if it actually worked for you long-term, you wouldn’t need any more advice about food, would you?)
Here’s the thing: the concept of “moderation” is intangible, fluffy and therefore meaningless to the majority of us, especially those of us who have been fighting food.
The truth is, most of us haven’t take the time to understand what specifically “moderation” means to us. And even if we did it would be a waste of time because the definition is likely to be so fluffy, unable to be measured and basically will end up boiling down to the degree of your self control.
….Does it mean you only eat one cookie at a time, or cookies once a week, or just one bite of cookie a few times a day?
….Can you drink a glass of wine a night, share a bottle with friends once a week? Have a cocktail too?
….Are you allowed dessert every night, on a certain day, when you feel like it?
Which brings me to say that the term ‘everything in moderation’ is just another diet in disguise
… It’s easy to justify that second glass of wine when the bottle is open and you’d hate to waste it
…It’s easy to negotiate when we are feeling vulnerable such as “I’ll have two slices of cake tonight, but none tomorrow or for the rest of the week”
…It’s easy to say I can have dessert but only one bowl
….It’s easy to tighten the rules and say “I’ve had 2 brownies today, that’s the weekly quota gone!”
But what happens tomorrow?…. What happens when you eat 2 bowls of dessert instead of one?…. Or if you have 2 pieces of cake in a week when you see eating 1 piece of cake per week as ‘eating in moderation’?
As with any diet, this idea of ‘everything in moderation’ seems to be another set of rules we put on ourselves, to help control how and what we eat.
It’s another way of ‘trying to do’ something about our ‘problem’ with food rather than actually trying to do something about the reason driving the problem (which I believe 99% of food related issues has to do with body acceptance issues).
And so when we ‘fail’ to meet the fluffy, vague concept of eating in moderation, it’s easy to suffer a serious case of guilt, shame and self loathing….which inevitably leads to restriction.
Trying to follow ‘everything in moderation’ is essentially just another way of fighting with your willpower to eat fewer of those ‘less healthy foods’ (yes I can have cake but…..only one slice….yes I can drink wine but only a few glasses per week), only to have willpower sling shot you across the room when it ALL backfires (the cake was so good I had to have another slice…..it was more cost effective to buy the bottle of wine…the cookies were opened and I couldn’t bear to watch them go stale….).
AND if you’ve been following my work for some time know you will know that restriction = rebellious eating around food = restriction…and so the cycle goes on.
In other words ‘eating in moderation moderation’ is yet another way to ‘fuel’ the diet-binge cycle.
One thing I know for absolute certain is if you’re approaching ‘eating in moderation’ from a dieting perspective (which is what many people are, I truly believe, trying to do), without any un-certantity you’re going to fail.
Which looks something like:
….still being conscious of everything you eat (and usually judgmental of what you eat)
….feeling ashamed whenever you think you’ve “eaten too much”
…finding yourself still trying to control yourself around food even though you’re not “technically” following a specific eating plan
And, generally speaking, ‘eating everything in moderation’ advice does not suddenly help the woman- who has been battling with food related issues for possibly most of her life, suddenly leap towards the chocolate cake she’s been restricting herself from for so long. Why? Because the act of ‘physically permitting food’ does NOT address the fear-based emotional restriction preventing many women from eating like ‘normal eaters’. More on this topic here.
A practical piece of non fluffy, non BS and tangiable advice is to underatand that moderation has little to do with what you are or are not putting in your mouth — and everything to do with how you feel and think about what you put in your mouth.
Unless your thinking changes, neither will your behaviors.
So if you’re physically rather than psychologically permitting ‘everything in moderation’, then you’re still going to be stuck in the diet-binge cycle.
So- what do you agree with my comments? What are your thoughts on ‘eating in moderation’. Share your comments below and I’d love for you to share this article if you felt it resonated with you.
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