Poll: What's Your Definition of Moderation?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  193 comments   :  38,100 Views

Moderation. It's a word that you'll often hear when you're trying to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle. The more you read and learn about healthy habits, the more this word comes up. We're told to eat in moderation, drink in moderation and even exercise in moderation (or at a moderate intensity level. Moderation means that nothing—not even the foods that you know are bad for you and might even hurt your efforts—is off limits. You can lose weight and eat ice cream, too—as long as you do so in moderation. Sounds doable, right?

Why moderation? Well, it works for most people. It's difficult to give up foods you enjoy (after all, food should be pleasurable) forever; and making certain foods completely off limits often causes you to want them—and obsess over them—even more, which could derail your diet. Moderation may sound ordinary or boring, but it's a great way to lose weight, eat better, and still have some fun along the way.

Lately though, I've been thinking about this whole concept of moderation quite a bit. I'm wondering if moderation is very good advice. After all, no one ever really defines it for you. What YOU think is moderation might not be what all the health and nutrition experts have in mind when they counsel you to eat fill-in-the-blank in moderation. Does moderation mean eating a 2,000-calorie fast food value meal once a week or is that still too often? Does eating ice cream in moderation mean having a smaller 100-calorie serving most days? Is a single diet soda per day moderation, or should you drink it less often? If you're applying the concept of moderation to LOTS of food or food groups (high-fat foods, trans fats, desserts, sweet snacks, salty foods, high-fat cuts of meat, etc.) you could be eating small amount of several different unhealthy foods regularly, which means you're not really eating unhealthy foods (as a group) in moderation at all.

So I've been wondering: What does 'moderation' mean to YOU?

I think that we all have our own ideas about what moderation really means. We know that it means avoiding extremes, but should there be more to it?

Consider applying moderation to the "80/20" rule (some people prefer a 90/10 rule though) of healthy eating as an example. Most experts think that if people eat wholesome, healthy foods 80% of the time, and enjoy "other" foods (sometimes referred to as "fun" foods) 20% of the time that they have a healthy relationship with food and are likely consuming a nutrient-rich diet that allows for fun foods in moderation.

But are we talking each day? If so, that means you could spend 300 calories' worth of your daily budget (for a 1,500-calorie diet) on junk. Is that good advice? Should we really be eating 300 calories worth of junk or sugary foods (that's equal to more than 18 teaspoons of sugar) each day and saying that it's healthy to do so?

Does moderation mean eating nothing but healthy foods for 80% of each week? That equals about 5 1/2 days of healthy foods before you can indulge in something on the only-eat-this-in-moderation list. Should it be less frequently than that, such as monthly? If so, that means going 24 days (80% of the month) without "cheating" (I use that term loosely) before you're able to enjoy an ice cream cone (or similar), then going more than 3 weeks again before you enjoy another treat.

Maybe moderation has more to do with portion sizes. You may have eaten a whole chocolate candy bar in the past, but now you can enjoy just a bite and space it out over a few days. Is that moderation?

As you can see, moderation isn't quite so simple. It can mean different things to different people, so I think it's important for you to think about what moderation really means for you. Many of us could be fooling ourselves into thinking that we eat healthy foods liberally and unhealthy ones moderately when we really don't. That could hurt your health and your weight-loss efforts.

Personally, I try to make a conscious effort to eat healthy foods the vast majority most of the time, but I don't set any rules or timelines for myself that dictates how often I can eat my favorite candy (it's strawberry Twizzlers by the way, so thank you in advance for sending your care packages to Nicole at SparkPeople hehe) or how much I can have. Instead, I try to avoid foods that don't enhance my health most of the time. If a craving arises and I really want something, I'll eat it without guilt or concern as long as I've otherwise been adhering to a healthy diet. That's moderation to me—keeping healthy choices in the forefront of my mind, turning down "fun" foods most of the time (hey, they're everywhere!), and enjoying those favorites occasionally, whether it's weekly, monthly, or, occasionally more often.

How about you: What's your idea of eating in moderation? Can someone else define what moderation means for you? Does it (or should it) have a single definition that applies to everyone?

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    I try to do moderation when I eat. So that I want go over board. Smaller portion when I eat. I agree with spoiledsoprano. - 6/8/2013   8:10:50 PM
    Moderation for me is being strict with my gluten-free, sugar-free, healthy fat, low carb, diabetic celiac diet 6 full days a week, and allowing myself a treat on day 7. Treats for me include toast or a toasted English muffin or two crumpets (all gluten free and thus ultra high carb) with a bit of pure butter and some fruit preserve or raw honey, or some pasta (again gluten free and high carb/high GI), oven baked fries, a gluten-free meat pie or sausage roll (home made by my gluten-free bakery, not mass-produced rubbish), and anything that might set off a major craving later in the week. I don't do all of them on one day, nor do I do it every seventh day. Sometimes I go months without having something unhealthy or a bigger portion of even healthy items - and then sometimes I have an incredibly stressful period (like right now in the middle of a major renovation, dealing with trades and a builder who sometimes doesn't listen or communicate very well with me, the paying client) and I will crave every comfort food I've ever loved all in one day/week, and it takes every ounce of willpower I have to remain moderate for a few hours let alone 6 days. So I give in to cravings when they are small, with very small amounts of the craved items (like I will have a snack sized chocolate bar, or a muffin or something like that), so I don't get even bigger cravings by denying them and end up binging later on. It doesn't always work, but 90-95% of the time it does. And it works for me, but not necessarily for anyone else. - 3/12/2013   2:38:15 AM
  • 191
    I know exactly what moderation is when it comes to eating meals.

    Could someone please tell my insides what it is when I crave for something sweet during the evening?! :-(

    Seriously, when I do crave for something sweet I have about 10 M & Ms which, I woudn't have thought was tooo bad.

    Have a wonderful Christmas everyone.....in moderation! - 11/25/2010   6:50:59 PM
    I tend to stay away from the word, because it is so loosely defined, I eat everything in moderation. I use the serving size on packaging to help me. But with chocolate I only do 1/4 of a serving size because a serving is usually like 8 peices and 220 calories - 10/8/2010   1:47:49 PM
    my idea of moderation is eating serving sizes and eating "less heathly" foods only occassionally. - 10/8/2010   12:26:15 PM
    i have been overweight ever since my i was about 14 years old. I dont know what normal portions are. If i look at what my family in law eats i think its not much exactly not enough but if i look at my boyfriend its as much as myself.
    So im confused, i dont know what the right amount of food i should eat.
    So i eat when im hungry, at least if i know what hunger feel like :( - 8/26/2010   5:30:11 AM
  • 187
    I've been reading the comments and agree with many readers. Moderation is balance. It's about not making any food forbidden, which is good for making lifestyle changes instead of just being "on a diet." But it's also being mindful of what you are eating and making decisions. If you used to eat a whole box of cookies or an entire cake in one day's time (yes, I've done that...) then making the decision to have a small slice of cake is practicing moderation.

    Just remember to write down everything you eat. Seeing spikes in our numbers in certain areas means that we may not be as mindful as we could be. - 5/14/2010   11:23:43 AM
  • 186
    My favorite saying "anything in moderation". What a valid thought. It is different for everyone. My moderation means doing everythin I can to have a perfect diet and not feeling guilty to have something outside of that when I feel it is necessary, still keeping "1 serving" in mind. It is not practical to think that I can be 100% at anything all the time but by giving myself room for error sometimes I surprise myself how easy it is not to. :) - 5/12/2010   12:50:33 PM
  • 185
    I think moderation has to be learned. When people are very overweight their concept of a moderate size portion is way out of whack. My nutritionist friend cited a client who thought 2-3 boxes of girl scout cookies was a good pre-dinner snack. Obviously, she thought she was being moderate!

    While cutting out all treats usually only works for a short while, sometimes it is necessary to do so to sort of re-set your food concepts. And, if you really crave something it may be easier to avoid it all together than to have just a bit. - 5/12/2010   8:13:18 AM
  • 184
    Wow, I never thought of the 80/20 rule as being so much! I thought I lived by that rule, but really I think I aim more for 95/5!

    My "moderation" is just about not feeling deprived, and I try to limit it to only three "treats" a week. Yeah, last week I had a brownie sundae after my doctoral recital (I'm a musician), but I can't even remember the last time I had a brownie sundae. It might have been after I gave my masters recital two years ago! But for me, a treat also means having a small serving of potatoes or the sticky rice with my Thai dinner.

    I'll admit, once a day doesn't sound like moderation to me, unless it's truly a taste, and the least of all evils, like a square of dark chocolate. I just try to listen to my body. Something gets tempting, and I try to silence the voice in my head and simply ask, does my body want this right now. If I think about how junk food makes me feel, the answer is often no. It's much easier to accept that I don't want something than it is to accept that I can't have something. - 5/4/2010   8:49:27 AM
  • 183
    Whoops-- Double Post:) - 5/1/2010   2:43:39 PM
  • 182
    Right now moderation means making healthy choices most of the time and treating myself to lessen my chances of emotional eating due to feelings of deprivation. Ultimately it's better for me to eat 1 serving of ice cream every day than 1 pint in a sitting with a bunch of other food thrown in. In eating a serving of ice cream each day, I make a judgment call-- either I have to burn more calories or I have to eat reasonably so that I still have space for it in my caloric budget. Also, if I'm truly not hungry, I choose not to eat it. - 5/1/2010   2:41:16 PM
  • 181
    Moderation to me is to eat as much as you want at the time served, but don't do it very often. Example: Irresistable Girl Scout Cookies - I eat one whole sleeve at a time. But only once or twice a week for about 3 weeks per year. Cake or pie: eat a decent sized slice, big as I want, but I only eat this about once a month. - 4/30/2010   12:55:22 PM
    I don't believe moderation should be the same for everyone.
    For me moderation is eating less of the bad things for me. i've taken a few things out of my diet that were for taste (such a crutons in my salad, i'd rather have a whole piece of toast then a few crutons). But i still allow myself a little sweet after dinner, whether it's a little dark chocolate shaved ontop of my strawberries, or it's the popcorn during a movie on a friday night (i share it). I feel less is more, and i'm usually still within my allowances.
    moderation is what you make it out to be. - 4/27/2010   12:42:07 PM
    I think "moderation" and "common sense" go hand in hand and that we have to exercise self-control. Not the easiest thing to do, but necessay. Our bodies need all kinds of food, even the so called unhealthy ones. In my opinion, unhealthy foods are unhealthy, because we over eat them. A food that has fat isn't necessarily an unhealthy food (unless it's a trans fat) as long as we control our portions as our bodies do need a certain amout of fat per day. - 4/27/2010   9:38:33 AM
  • 178
    Moderation or portion control.The same thing in my mind for foods. As for other issues it doesn't apply.Moderaton is limiting oneself.Not having all that you want or that your body could handle. - 2/20/2010   3:10:29 PM
  • 177
    Great question...what is moderation?

    I think 'moderation' changes with time. Pre-SparkPeople, a staple on the lunch menu was wings at my favourite wing place - Wild Wings. Probably ate there at least 2x per week.

    When I decided to 'get sensible', I cut back to 1x/week. Then gradually, as my journey into healthier eating progressed, I cut back to even more. Now, I have wings about once per month.

    'Moderation' is continuing to evolve for me...but I still like my wings, on occasion. - 2/18/2010   10:00:08 AM
  • 176
    I am no good at moderation. I want it all or nothing at all. When I am in "healthy eating" mode, my usual downfalls (ice cream, chocolate, donuts) don't even appeal to me. But then I get out of that mode and I eat everything. I don't understnad the mental mechanism that triggers the "off" switch, and I wish I could learn to eat the "junk" food in moderation. - 2/18/2010   9:26:02 AM
  • 175
    moderation = once in awhile. I have a burger once in awhile. I eat pizza, once in awhile. To me that is moderation and that is OK for me. I couldn't do Pepsi in moderation, I had to have it every day, so I gave it up. - 2/5/2010   2:34:46 AM
    For me, moderation is balance. Staying in balance foodwise, exercise-wise. If I eat too much one day, I eat less the next. I balance it. When I lose track of the balance, that's when trouble -- and overeating -- get me. Portion control is part of that balance for me -- often my eyes are bigger than my willpower, and once it's on the plate I have trouble leaving it. So controlling the portions helps me stay in balance. - 1/29/2010   12:51:28 AM
  • 173
    This was great, Nicole. Brought up some really interesting points. And love your sense of humor! - 1/25/2010   11:22:55 AM
  • 172
    I have learned so far to make better choices. If I have a craving for a candy bar though I don't tell myself I can never have one. I add the calorie count to my list and then I change some choices for the rest of the day and make sure I have done enough exercise to make up for it. If I tell myself no all the time I will be more likely to fail. I learn how to incorporate these things into my life but not go over board on them. - 1/18/2010   7:25:41 PM
    Moderation, good question. I think it is eating healthy most of the time with an occasional snack with a craving or event. Not to go overboard and jump right back into healthy eating after the snack. - 1/18/2010   7:28:35 AM
  • 170
    Wow. This is a great question. It's extremely hard to answer though and is probably different for every person depending on activity levels and such.

    Sometimes I think that as long as the treat fits into my nutrient ranges for the day it's fine. But there's been times where I tell myself that multiple days in a row, which is obviously not that healthy for me. However, I also try to decrease the portion sizes of my "treats". I will eat half a cookie or just part of something. When I do eat those things I also try to actually savor it instead of just gobbling it down. I think moderation is whatever you personally find acceptable for your given situation and activity level (being completely honest with yourself about what you're eating, how well you're eating healthy and how much you're exercising)

    Today there were some "community" cookies at work. I must have walked by those things half a dozen times and every single time I wanted one. But I'm also self conscious of having other people see me eat bad things so it helped that people were around. I also went back to my desk and ate the apple I packed to try a sweet "alternative". I ate more of that apple than i've ever eaten of an apple before. haha. I still sorta want the cookie but this post and the fact that we went out to dinner Sunday night is keeping me from it. Thanks guys!

    - 1/12/2010   5:16:54 PM
  • 169
    This is good food for thought. I don't have a schedule for when I can have treats. However, if a craving comes up, or an opportunity, that's when I apply my definition of moderation. To me, it means having a little bit of a goody, instead of a lot. That differs by situation: sometimes its a small piece of cake, sometimes it's one cookie instead of a half dozen, sometimes it's one scoop of ice cream instead of three. Sometimes I use serving sizes as a guide, when I'm at home. I eat one serving of something instead of half the box. I guess what it boils down to is portion control.

    Since I log my foods, the ratio of healthy food to junk food is controlled. I simply don't have the calories to spend on a lot of junk food! I know very well that if I splurge on too much junk food, I'll end up being hungry, because those calories are empty and pretty useless for keeping you satisfied! - 12/23/2009   9:11:21 AM
  • 168
    I have a HUGE appetite which ALWAYS gets me into trouble. So, Moderation to me is portion control. I am trying to teach myself that I don't have to have large quantities of the food I love at one time. I can have it even once a week as long as I watch how much I eat. - 12/23/2009   8:04:55 AM
    Moderation: although this is still vague, to me it means a rich dessert (only ONE serving) once a week. It also means "a little bit of everything" as in a varied diet (speaking about vegetables) or at a party/potluck, a little "bite" of several desserts. I need to think more about putting limits with these ideas of mine. - 11/4/2009   12:33:39 PM
  • 166
    Portion control = moderation.....for me.... - 11/3/2009   10:52:51 AM
  • 165
    For me, moderation means don't eat if I'm not hungry, and eat a correct portion size. - 11/3/2009   8:15:06 AM
  • 164
    I found it funny that Nicole's favorite treat is strawberry Twizzlers and that is what I was contemplating eating when I read this article! I love strawberry twizzlers, which I will treat myself with a Halloween treat size one today. - 10/30/2009   7:31:07 AM
  • 163
    I think its all about the portion you eat not how many times you eat it. 1cookie wont make you heavy but half the box will. - 9/11/2009   10:06:16 AM
  • 162
    What's your idea of eating in moderation? Can someone else define what moderation means for you? Does it (or should it) have a single definition that applies to everyone?

    All good questions but I think moderation is different for every person b/c each persons body is different as well as their goals. For me, moderation means that I eat healthy all the time but if Monday I want a fun snack, I have a fun snack, just 1 & that's it. Tuesday I might not want a fun snack, Wednesday I might, Thursday I might.
    Never over induldge & never deprive, there is a safe middle ground & for 1 person might not be moderation for someone else. So 1 definition for all wouldn't work. - 9/9/2009   9:14:46 AM
  • MOM4432
    To me I think eating in moderate depends on the particular foods and the nutritional needs and habits(Healthy and/or unhealthy) of the individual. Personally I have been in the past very unmoderate in my eating choices and eating habits. I craved sugary foods and drinks, chocolate (PMS) monthly, and I would let my body dictate to me what, when, where,and how much to eat and then feel bad later. So now with the help of God, SparkPeople, myself and other encouragers I believe I eat in moderation minus the junk food and drinks. I stick to water most of the time and eat nutritionally healthy foods and snacks. I don't crave junk food as much as I used to. I think because the value I have in eating healthy makes it easier to just say no to junk and mean it. And if I should give in to an occasinal craving it will definitely be in moderation (Serving size portion). I would make sure I am within my daily calories, fat protein, carbs, and other tracked nutrients. - 9/7/2009   1:56:29 PM
    Well, trigger foods for me are trigger foods and while they can't not compare to the damage that alcohol does to an alcoholic, I seem to have pretty much the same reaction. I just can't stop eating them until I am out of the trigger food. So there is no real modification for me. I'm not at that point in my journey. I just have to ask for help when the craving is bad.

    - 8/22/2009   1:02:16 AM
  • 159
    The term "moderation" is an individual judgement call.

    When you eat junk food, you don't get or stay as full as you would when you eat healthier food. So to me, it's a question of how much of filling foods am I willing to give up to eat the junk food.

    For example, if I have ice cream with lunch, it might mean I only get veggies for dinner because I used up calories from my bank toward that ice cream instead... its either that or I end up going over my daily calorie range.

    So, I tend lean toward lower calorie versions instead. - 8/4/2009   3:41:16 PM
  • 158
    I found when I ate what I wanted, I ate reasonably healthily, but ate WAAAAY too much of a good thing. To me, moderation is a gradual thing. I have to do this for the rest of my life, if I don't want diabetes (had it for all 4 of my pregnancies), so moderation is less than I had before. One day I will be eating proper portions, and that day is here for most foods now, and not far away for others. - 7/15/2009   10:20:48 PM
  • RETIRED926
    Eating something in moderation is a great idea--------but--------I many times cannot stop at just a bite or two. If is better to go without completely for most of the time. This is just with things such as candy or chips. The main thing is having control over your eating habits and portion sizes - 7/14/2009   9:59:00 AM
  • SHERI1969
    I don't believe anybody can tell another person what their portion should be ONLY becuase we do not know if there are medical conditions or other reasons for eating a different amount of meals, various portion sizes of one food category as compared to another person. Only the person's doctor or nutritionist can really tell what a person should be eating, how much/little and how often. No website can tell anybody for that matter. - 7/10/2009   11:39:54 PM
  • 155
    When I hear the term "moderation" in regard to food, I say it means portion control. "All things in moderation" would mean don't go overboard on anything you do.
    scribe4christ - 7/10/2009   11:01:49 PM
  • 154
    I think living a healthy lifestyle with moderation means allowing yourself to enjoy a piece of birthday cake or a thanksgiving meal (without pigging out) and then going back to your regular diet. I have found I lose the desire for a large serving of sugary or fatty foods when I have been eating a healthy diet. I also allow my body time off from regular exercise when I start feeling run down. I find that after a few days off, I am ready to get back to working out without feeling like I have to start over. - 7/10/2009   6:57:47 PM
    I like the defintion 'neither denying nor indulging ,myself'. For me, this describes 'moderation' to a tee. - 7/10/2009   12:03:29 PM
  • 152
    I once heard someone put it like this, and it really helped make sense of things for me, "It's not what you do ALL of the time, it's what you do MOST of the time" that's what could be the difference between someone trying to live in moderation and someone that is yoyoing!! - 7/10/2009   12:02:02 PM
  • 151
    Thanks for this blog, it really made me think about what moderation means to me. I tend to think of it in the same terms you do, make healthy choices most of the time. I also do not have timelines or percentages. I don't want to create a lifestyle with to many rules or measurements. My main focus is health - with the joy of losing wait as one of the benefits. That really helps me when I make my food choices. I also think about whether or not is something I really want to track and that often helps me make the choice. - 7/9/2009   6:37:22 PM
    I've always considered moderation simply meaning not doing anything that will seriously set you back. I love snicker doodle cookies, so now and then I get some. But when I do, it sets me back a ton, due to the seriously high calories and sugar. But then again, I once tried to go with out for a few months, the finally broke down and almost binged! That was super unhealthy. So I think the little setbacks are a lot better than the big ones! - 7/9/2009   5:59:48 PM
  • 149
    Moderation is a word used by the health industry to keep people from covering their ears and saying "la, la, la" when the subject of losing weight comes up. IMO it is completely bogus and gives people a free pass to eat whatever they want and just say "everything in moderation" to make the calories disappear. Moderation is not working because a recent study showed that Americans are getting even fatter. Moderation is indeed confusing. One person's moderation is 1 soda a month, another person's might be one a day because they are used to drinking 4 a day. If people want to have their favorite foods and still lose weight - they must have restrictions. Do only single servings of your favorite foods once a week. Or indulge in a calorie bomb once a month at your favorite restaurant. You could even try just indulging on major holidays like Turkey day and Xmas or other rare special occasions. Actual limits must be set, moderation is too vague and is a free pass to binge.

    And that's my opinion. - 7/9/2009   4:48:26 PM
  • MEG518
    We use the word moderation so much in our house we call it the "M" word and we all understand what that means. Moderation isn't just important in what we eat but all aspects of our life. But in regards to food, I try to not just be moderate with calories but also fat, sodium and carbs. A treat may be low in calories but high in sodium, for example. I allow myself a small treat once or twice a day but look at all the facts and think about what I'm eating that day and how it will balance out. Our family has had a tradition of eating frozen pizza on Sundays for years. I have been able to continue with that by adjusting what I eat at the other meals that day. I have recently been told I have diabetics so that is motivating me to lose weight. Sparkpeople is a great help in so many ways. I especially appreciate being able to log my food and find nutrition information so easily. - 7/9/2009   11:57:14 AM
    This is what I love about you sparkies! After reading all the different blogs it appears we are all pretty much in agreement about the meaning of moderation and the way you all explain how you moderate. I actually got some very good ideas about moderation. I personally have been trying to avoid the BAD foods like the plague, so when I can't take it no more I totally pig out on the item I'm craving and then beat myself up for it. I just recently have been trying to limit my cravings but when they hit I'll think back on my meal plans and if I have any spare calories or Na+ (these are what I'm watching closely) and if I can then I will splurge a tiny bit. I have a long way to go to understand moderation. 3 oz. of chicken looks so small! - 7/8/2009   11:12:29 PM
    good idea spark goodies straberry twizleers . I couldn't think of that word before I never did it in moderation. Now I practice moderation thanks Nicole - 7/8/2009   8:26:11 PM
  • 145
    I think of moderation as portion control. Evaluating the serving size and your allotment of calories per day can help determine how much you should eat as a moderate portion. You may be able to have only one serving or two as long as you stay within your calorie range and exercising that day will help too. I think going overboard is skipping meals to have this treat just to meet your calorie intake or going over your calorie range by a significant amount. Also having a treat everyday would be great motivation but I wouldn't recommend that. But once a week would be in "MODERATION". - 7/8/2009   12:27:42 PM
  • 144
    I try to limit myself to lower-fat dessert like a rice cream cone once a week, choosing fruit other nights. If I'm feeling a chocolate craving coming, I'll have a chocolate protein shake or one square of dark chocoate right away to prevent a baking binge later on. - 7/8/2009   11:53:20 AM

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