“Everything in moderation” is a popular motto for many nutritionists and coaches. It sounds cool, but it’s kind of meaningless once you actually try it to lose weight.
Anyone can tell you what moderation is not about: Gobbling up an entire pizza in one sitting is not an example of moderation.
But then, how many pizza slices can you have and still call your diet “healthy”?
Let’s take a stab at defining “moderation.” We’ll go over the pros and cons with our BODi experts and provide strategies to use moderation to your weight-loss advantage.
What Does “Everything in Moderation” Even Mean?
For better or for worse, “moderation” is a very subjective word. To you, it may mean half a plate of spaghetti, but someone else may say it’s a whole plate. Then again, we may be getting too stuck in the weeds here by focusing on individual foods.
“Moderation is looking at your diet as a whole, and making sure it’s balanced,” says Krista Maguire, R.D., C.S.S.D., and senior nutrition manager at BODi.
This is even more important if you want to avoid certain foods or food groups out of necessity (think: food allergy) or personal preference.
“Moderation is avoiding excess and extremes,” adds Paige Bente, M.S., R.D. “You don’t want to oust an entire food group from your diet without a good reason.”
The Cons of Everything in Moderation
Before we convince you moderation can be your BFF, let’s take a look at why this advice is problematic when you’re trying to lose weight:
1. It doesn’t tell you how much to eat
Moderation doesn’t help you understand what is an appropriate portion size. Because your eyes are usually bigger than your stomach when you’re hungry, it’s easy to eat more food than you need.
Studies show again and again that people served larger portions will eat more.
Instead of eyeballing your food, pick a better (and more simple) strategy like using Portion-Control Containers. You can use the containers to turn fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats into balanced meals.
2. It doesn’t put a cap on indulgence
“Everything in moderation gives you free reign to load up on many mini treats. All that adds up,” says Maguire.
Instead of using moderation as a crutch to treat yo’self, Maguire has a more practical solution: “Use the 80/20 rule (or even 90/10) during weight loss. Follow a healthy diet 80 to 90 percent of the time, leaving a 10 to 20 percent leeway for treats,” she advises.
When you get more advanced, you’ll have a better internal compass to recover from missteps.
“If you know what you’re doing and you have control, it’s OK to go to extremes. Otherwise, stick with moderation,” says Denis Faye, M.S.
3. It puts you at the mercy of “trigger” foods
Some people have “trigger” foods that can lead them to eat an amount they’ll regret. It’s OK to avoid your trigger food until you develop a better relationship with it.
This can go both ways.
As Faye points out, “Denying yourself food you’ve sought comfort in your entire life can be a trigger in itself.”
If this is you, Maguire recommends replacing the foods you crave with “health-ified” versions that mimic the flavor and texture.
The Pros of Everything in Moderation
The intention of moderation is to give people a simple way to deal with complicated emotions when trying to lose weight.
Here are four reasons why moderation may be helpful for weight loss:
1. It encourages eating a variety of foods
“Everything in moderation” goes against the grain of many trendy restrictive diets, like the mono diet, which was popularized by Australian YouTuber Freelee the Banana Girl, who once ate only bananas for days at a time.
But eliminating whole food groups from your diet is risky. Humans have evolved to eat a variety of foods so we can get all the vitamins and minerals our bodies need.
2. It can renew your willpower
Deep down, most people blame a lack of willpower when they don’t succeed at saying “no” to that plate of fries.
Willpower is not a virtue that you’re born with. According to Roy Baumeister, Ph.D., a researcher at Florida State University, willpower is a “muscle,” and like any muscle, its strength can be depleted if overused.
That’s why eating an occasional treat like chips, cookies, or chocolate can help renew your willpower.
“I have a friend who would eat a small dove chocolate square every day with lunch. She said it was her way of never feeling deprived, but keeping her chocolate consumption in check, ” says Bente.
3. It helps you deal with food guilt
Imagine feeling hollow because you’re eating less for weight loss. You walk by a donut shop and smell the delicious, calorific goods inside. You know better, but you have a nibble (or 12), and then feel immediately guilty.
But if you’re in an “everything in moderation” way of thinking, moderation gives you a guilt-free pass because no food is off-limits; you don’t need to feel guilty for indulging your craving — in moderation, of course!
4. It nourishes a better relationship with food
Let’s face it, you can’t avoid tempting foods forever. Birthday cakes, eating out, and happy hour drinks are all ways we celebrate and connect with other people.
Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and then barring all the bad ones from your diet is extreme.
It’s not a sustainable strategy, because at some point, you may feel deprived and unhappy. Eating everything in moderation can help you have healthier and happier relationship with food.
Moderation can be a useful reminder that “healthy eating” is not “perfect eating.”
Yes, it can feel very vague and open-ended, but that’s not a bad thing, because everyone is different and there is no “one-size-fits-all” method of eating.
So, as you continue on your weight-loss journey, fill in the blanks of “everything in moderation” with what works for you.