“Everything in moderation”- Dietitians have undoubtedly repeated this phrase many times over when it comes to healthy eating. However, what is moderation exactly? And why do some of us find it easier to follow a restrictive diet, avoiding particular foods or entire food groups, rather than enjoying everything we like, but in smaller quantities? How do we ensure that by allowing ourselves a scoop of our favourite ice cream or a small glass of wine that we won’t end up eating a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s or downing that whole bottle of pinot grigio?
I’ve outlined a few simple, yet effective strategies that can help you to eat healthily, but still allow you to eat what you enjoy without going off the rails.
- Let the guidelines guide you.
Although there is no guarantee that simply being aware of the official dietary guidelines will stop you from going for a second helping of ice cream, these guidelines do serve as a good starting point from which you can make smarter choices. Let’s take sugar as an example. Dietitians and other registered health professionals recommend limiting free (refined) sugar to no more than 5% of total daily energy intake (roughly 7 teaspoons or 35 grams of sugar). One regular sized Mars Bar contains roughly 54 grams of sugar. By contrast, one Funsize Mars bar has 8 grams of sugar. The point here is that, you don’t have to cut out your favourite treats completely. You can still enjoy them as part of a healthy diet, but in smaller quantities. Allowing yourself “treats” will not compromise your health, as long as the majority of your diet consists of whole, minimally processed foods.
- All-or-nothing thinking is your worst enemy.
The next challenge is definitely a hard one. How do you stop yourself from having the rest of the pack after that first taste of the Funsize Mars bar? Many of us feel guilty for simply having a treat to begin with. Often we feel as though one bite of something “naughty” has thrown us completely off course. We may as well finish all the chocolate in the house to remove the temptation and start fresh tomorrow! This is known as “all-or-nothing” thinking. However, when you allow yourself a bit of what you really enjoy, you remove the additional pressure on your willpower and lessen the danger of subsequent overeating that often happens with food restriction. If you do want to cut out something completely for health reasons – do it gradually. The key secret is to find healthier alternatives that you will enjoy as much as your current “sins.” Experiment and keep an open mind. Healthy eating does not have to be boring.
- Mindful eating…AGAIN.
We are huge believers in mindful eating here at Kindred! I have discussed the benefits associated with mindful (or intuitive) eating many times. Listening to your body and paying attention to your feelings will provide you with the necessary feedback to help you to understand whether you are truly hungry or whether you are simply seeking comfort in food because you are bored/ stressed/frustrated. If you do end up comforting yourself with food (we all do it from time to time, it is completely normal), do it properly. Pay attention to your feelings with every single bite you take, focusing on texture and taste of your food as well as feelings of hunger and fullness. You may discover that you are completely satisfied after half of your normal portion. Likewise, you may find out that you are not enjoying it quite as much as you thought you would. Being in touch with your body and its response to food may help reduce those cravings the next time you end up in a similar situation.
- Vice and virtue bundle concept.
This is a simple concept offered by scientists (Lee et al 2015) to help consumers to overcome a common dilemma when eating out: Should I order something tasty or should I have something healthy? The idea behind vice and virtue bundles is to place both tasty “vicious” foods (i.e. fries) with “virtuous” healthy foods (i.e. salad) on one plate in different proportions. Researchers have found that the majority of people preferred a quarter of vice with three quarters of virtue and viewed it not only as the healthiest option, but as the tastiest and most fulfilling as option as well (compared to those with a larger proportion of vice!).
- Let technology help you.
If you find calorie counting apps useful, you can incorporate a little “naughtiness” into your day by doing simple maths. If, for example, your goal is to eat 1700 kcal a day, you can allow yourself to eat 170 kcal worth of treats (10% of total intake), which roughly equates either to 3 biscuits, a packet of crisps (varies by brand) or a few squares of milk chocolate.
Although cutting out refined sugar and processed foods and replacing them with wholesome, homemade alternatives is always the healthiest option, it is, by far, not the most realistic scenario. Particularly, if you’re to trying to change the whole diet at once! It is easier to gradually decrease the amount of these foods in the diet and being to replace them with healthier substitutes. Set yourself 1-3 small goals per week (i.e. halving the sugar in your cup of tea). This can help you avoid frustration and make it easier for you to stay on track.
As a famous physician once said:
Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.
Moderation is difficult for many of us, but it really is the key to maintaining a healthy and enjoyable diet. So have a little of what you like!
What are your thoughts on moderation? Let us know in the comments section…