All things in moderation. Who hasn't heard that one? But what exactly does "moderation" mean and how can we apply it to our eating? When I went looking for the dictionary definition of moderation, here's what I found: "quality of being moderate and avoiding extremes", and "the trait of avoiding excesses." Of course this makes perfect sense, but when it comes to eating, "moderation" can be a highly subjective thing. Let me explain: To the person used to drinking six diet cokes a day, going to two is moderation. In the same light, eating one or two donuts twice a week is moderate compared to eating them every morning.
In general, when I think of moderation with food, I think of enjoying all of the foods I love, but consumed with thought or regard, and in limited amounts. This means one cookie for me, and not two. For another person, it might mean two cookies. I tell my clients to practice eating to the point of feeling done and satisfied, but not full. Eating an amount of food that satisfies hunger and provides pleasure without filling us to capacity is a good way to think of moderation. Eating this way helps us feel mental clarity and provides energy for our day.
This brings to mind a conversation I once had with my near 100-year-old grandfather. I asked him how he managed to stay so active and healthy. He replied, "I always push my plate away when I could eat just a little bit more."
A number of studies have suggested that eating fewer calories can lead to a longer, healthier life. While I am not a fan of being hungry all day, there's no doubt that keeping one's food intake down to a "moderate" level can indeed make for feeling lighter, healthier and cleaner-on-the-inside, while imparting a greater sense of well-being. I like the idea of going by how I feel when I eat, and checking in with my body to see when I am done and satisfied. This can take a bit of practice but it's worth it! In fact, I have seen many times that simply by cutting back on portions, weight loss occurs even while eating many favorite foods.
Here are some ideas to begin eating moderately:
- Listen to your body. If you know you overeat, and that's your natural habit, begin to take 75-80% of your normal portions and be conscious about eating slowly and savoring the deliciousness of your meal. In just a few days, you will find you naturally adjust. Going back to previous portion sizes can make you feel overly full! Your stomach is a muscle that expands and contracts, so if you are used to eating moderately, eating the way you once did can cause you to feel really stuffed!
- Don't skip meals. This often leads to hunger that can't be controlled - and that can lead to overeating.
- Keep portions reasonable. This includes snacking. With normal portions, you can eat the foods you love and stay leaner and healthier. Remember, a 6-foot 2-inch man will want and need more food than a 5-foot tall woman.
- Keep most meals simple. It's definitely easier to eat more moderately if the food you choose or prepare is easy and simple. When you are faced with a fabulous buffet or a meal of complex flavors, dishes and exotic spices, it can be really challenging not to overeat.
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly, which gives your body time to register that you've had enough to eat and are full.
- Share and share alike: Share meals and desserts in restaurants. Often the serving sizes are enough for two people anyway. If not, share the main course and order a side of veggies or a salad. Doggie bags are okay, too!
- Don't do away with your favorite foods, just reduce your portions. Eating is meant to pleasurable. The key: Moderation!
- Make changes gradually. Start with dinner or snacking first then go from there, tailoring it back just a bit.
- If you know you can't stop at one or two, have your treats at a restaurant where you can share, or purchase just a couple of items from the store. This way you can limit yourself to only one or two servings.
- Pay attention to your inner voice that says helpful things like: "I don't need this much" or " Maybe I would feel better if I had a little less of this."
- Eat to live, don't live to eat. (But it's okay to love eating well!)
You'll find some more ideas in our guide to healthy eating
Got some ideas for a healthy, moderate way of eating? I would love to hear your thoughts!