The Balance of Moderation

balancing rocks

photo source: chiricahua sky island on flickr

Around in the diet and fitness world, there is so much conflict about moderation. It seems moderation has come under scrutiny by many, touting it as a “diet myth” that keeps people from reaching their health goals. I’ve read and heard time and again that moderation doesn’t work for a lot of people. That if they are given an inch, they’ll take a mile. They can’t have “just one” piece of candy, lest they find themselves face-down in a mountain of chocolate.

I can empathize. I was there. I totally believed I had a sugar addiction. I’d abstain completely for weeks, even months, but once I’d give myself permission to eat some treat, I’d find myself sick to my stomach and still unable to stop eating. I felt out of control, and of course, along with feeling sick came the feelings of guilt and shame. Shame that I couldn’t control how much I was eating, shame that I was eating “bad” foods. It was a nasty, vicious cycle.

In order to break that “addiction”, I had to do two very important things.

I had to properly nourish my body. This meant eating enough calories for my size and activity level. At first, I used this calculator to find a starting point, and then I increased my calories. And yes, it took a while to wrap my head around the fact that my body needed that many calories to function. I only used the calculator as a guideline. Over time, I found that I could listen to my body and it would tell me if I was hungry or not. I also ate plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. I no longer restricted any macronutrient (I was previously restricting carbohydrates to a degree.) Doing this ensured I was no longer starving my body.

I had to eliminate stigmas associated with certain foods. Sugar was not “bad”. Candy was not “bad”. Processed foods were not “evil.” I was not a bad person for eating some of these things. And most importantly, I had not “failed” if I ate a great deal of one of these foods. I had to allow myself the freedom to do whatever I wanted and eat whatever I wanted.

It didn’t happen overnight, of course. And yes, at first, I ate a good amount of sugar and treats. It felt like a free-for-all. But once it was finally in my head that I could have these ANYTIME I WANTED, they no longer appealed to me in that “forbidden” way they once did. Over time, I realized my body craved other foods – many of the “healthy” foods I was forcing down my throat before. I listened to my body, and lo and behold, somewhere in there, I found something resembling sanity and peace.

Now, I have candy on my desk at work. In plain sight. Do I eat it? Sometimes. But it’s usually a small piece or two, if at all. It’s just candy. Same with desserts. Do I have them? Sometimes. But not every day. Not because I’m “watching my waistline” or restricting myself. Just because I have no desire to eat them at the moment. When I do have something, though, I enjoy it, eat a reasonable amount, and I don’t criticize or belittle myself for doing so. It’s just dessert. Most other days, my diet is largely filled with fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains – some whole, some refined. But there’s also sugar. And sometimes even dairy and gluten. It’s all good.

This, folks, is moderation. Your moderation may look slightly different than mine, but bottom line? Moderation is a practice of letting go. It’s a balance of a wide variety of foods – foods that make you feel good, physically and mentally. Most importantly, it’s sanity. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. (And they are more related than you think!) Honestly, you could have the “healthiest” diet ever on paper (so to speak), but if your diet causes you anxiety and shakes your sense of self-confidence and worth, then it’s NOT HEALTHY. Eat for your health and eat for joy, for the two are inseparable.