Motivation Articles

Moderation in All Things

How to Avoid the Diet Blues

What comes to mind for you when you hear the word diet? If you’re like most people, you probably imagine eating carrot sticks, going to bed hungry, and giving up your favorite foods—and that's why so many diets fail. Most people just can’t tolerate those kinds of restrictions for very long.

The more you try to eliminate your favorite foods, the more feelings of discomfort, deprivation and resentment build up. This can result in bingeing on all the foods you’ve been denying yourself, undoing all your hard work in a single day. But even if you can avoid that problem, are you willing to eat like a rabbit for the rest of your life?

Studies show that 95 percent of people who follow a highly restrictive diet to lose weight will put the weight back on when they return to “normal” eating again. So what’s the alternative? How do you manage to lose weight without eliminating the problem foods and problem behaviors that made you overweight to begin with?

The alternative is moderation—in your eating and, perhaps most importantly, in your thinking.

What is Moderation?
On the surface, moderation simply means avoiding extremes. It involves finding strategies and habits that can be maintained over the long-term, without cycling between one extreme and the other.

At a deeper level, moderation is a commitment to balance and wholeness. It is rooted in the recognition that each person has many different (and often competing) needs, desires, abilities, and goals. Living up to your full potential means finding ways to incorporate all of them into your decision-making processes and choices.

Practicing moderation in your weight loss program begins with practical strategies, such as counting calories, measuring portions, learning about your nutritional needs, and planning healthy meals. Achieving a reasonable rate of weight loss (about 1-2 pounds per week) by combining a tolerable calorie restriction with exercise is the moderate way to go. Fad diets, eliminating food groups, severely cutting calories and using diet pills are just as extreme as completely denying yourself foods that you enjoy.

The idea is to follow a healthy, balanced, and enjoyable nutrition and fitness plan that you can stick with—for life. There’s no “ending the diet” or going back to “normal" eating or anything that will cause you to regain the weight you’ve lost. When you reach your goal weight, all you need to do is gradually increase your caloric intake to a level where you can maintain your weight loss.

Sounds simple, right?

Like many things, it's not quite as easy as it sounds. Chances are…you want results quickly. And you probably know that your current routine is problematic in one or more ways—too much fast food, sugar, or fat and not enough physical activity. Your natural inclination is going to be making big, sweeping changes to your diet and activity level right away.

In short, everything in you is clamoring for a very anti-moderate approach. You’re primed to play the extreme diet game, even though your odds of winning are less than five percent.

Moderate Your Thinking
To rescue yourself from your own impatience (and the clutches of the diet industry that feeds on it), you need to moderate your thinking. Here are two core concepts that will help you do that:

Concept #1: Food is not the enemy. There are no "good" or "bad" foods. True, some foods offer you a better nutritional deal than others. Refined sugar, for example, provides calories for energy but no other nutrients, while fruit is sweet but also provides vitamins and fiber in a low-calorie package. But refined sugar isn't evil or bad—it can have a place in a healthy diet. It's important to know what you need nutritionally and where you can find it, so you can take charge of balancing your needs for pleasure, nutrition, and fuel.

The Payoff: When you stop labeling foods as good or bad, diet or non-diet, you won't feel guilty when you eat a food that isn't on your "approved" list. Instead you'll have more energy to learn about nutrition and improve your ability to make informed choices. And you won't have to give up your favorite treats if you find ways to work them into your meal plans so they don’t interfere with your health goals. Without the guilt and deprivation, you’ll be able to break the pattern of cravings, emotional swings, and binges that defeats so many diets. Without all those "diet" rules to follow, you’ll learn to trust your own instincts and make good judgments.

Concept #2: Progress—not perfection—is important. To be successful, you don't have to always make perfect decisions and have perfect days where things go exactly as you planned. If you eat more or exercise less than you wanted to one day, you can make up for it over the next several days if you want, or you can just chalk it up to experience and move on. Remind yourself that what happens on any one day is not going to make or break your whole effort. This is not a contest or a race, where every little misstep could mean the difference between winning and losing. It’s your life—and you’ll enjoy it a lot more when you can keep the daily ups and downs of your eating and exercise routine in perspective.

The Payoff: By refusing to be a perfectionist, you can take most of the stress out of weight loss. You’ll see small problems as what they are—very small problems, not major calamities that mean you've blown it. You'll be able to find pleasure and satisfaction in the fact you’re learning as you go and doing a little better all the time. No more making things worse because your perfectionism caused you to write off the rest of the day or week after one little slip.

There are many more ways practicing moderation can help you both with weight loss and with creating your healthy lifestyle. Be sure to check out the new Wellness Resource Center for additional ideas on how to balance your life and meet all of your needs.

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Member Comments

  • this is soo true.
  • 2 1/2 years ago I began SP. It was a solid place to reconstruct my health plan. Moderation was at center. It worked and I lost 60#. A devastating health issue caused me to lose my job and I was in intense pain for the next 6 months. Life, cancer, death, travel, living in a tiny berg for a few months taking care of a toddler grandson while moving that family into a new home followed. Arriving home, I was called very unexpectedly to transplant myself into my mom's home for 3 1/2 months when we discovered she was battling dementia. All took their toll. I continued to walk, maintaining much of the healthy food choice/preparatio
    n learned at SP. I did regain over 25# but it could have been so much worse. I am now back in contact with computer access and SP. After 2/12 weeks back on track things are looking up and I feel a lot bettter. Indeed, moderation does work and I plan to keep it front and center from here on out.
  • Moderation is a winner. Made it through all the holidays meeting my 1# a week goal ... new year off to a less stellar start. Maintaining but there aren't new challenges for me on Challenge Central. The ones I could do (and should do) I did. Like this one I started a couple over but it's a groundhog day start - no new information. Wish the site were more intuitive so that there'd be new info for those of us who repeat. Otherwise happy. And we do need more Central Challenges.
  • I liked this article and still strive to moderate. While I am older and lots less mobile I still see/feel the younger athletic me and want to eat that way. I'm 2+ weeks in and have lost 2-1/2 pounds so a sound, safe and reasonable beginning and certainly moderate. Would love to see a bigger drop but not likely.
  • I have surprised myself by being able to control my portions, create nutritious meals and avoid sugar while meeting almost all my nutrition goals. I've also gotten into serious workouts and amping them up with weights. I am on day 19 and have made big changes in my lifestyle and have lost 8 lbs. along the way. I couldn't have done this without the resources in the SPARK program! Thank you so much.
  • These articles have been a real boost to my progress. Learning so much.
  • MY09FLEX
    I began dealing with an eating disorder at the age of 18. I spent the next 50 years seeking "moderation". What I learned was that "moderation" is not, and never can be, a rule.
    I CANNOT eat sugar in any form, and omitting ALL refined foods leaves me a wide selection of food choices.
    THAT is where "moderation" is in MY LIFE.
    I have been happily living in MY moderation following a loss of 85 pounds. I no longer feel as though I'm doing something destructive to myself if I make my OWN nutritious choices. I enjoy what I eat without feeling enslaved to someone else's rules.
    My health overall is better than it was 30 years ago.
    Find YOUR moderation and live with it.
  • Moderation is a completely subjective concept. And not everyone can moderate every substance. "Moderation in all things" irritates the hell out of me. If you can do it, fine. Years of experience in recovery and relapse tells me that I cannot. For me, "moderation in all things" is not only bad but dangerous advice.
    Martha324 - I'm completely on board with you! I started this year focusing on just eating healthier, instead of setting a number goal on the scale. Some days I do better than others, but I don't really deny myself any food in particular. I think what has really helped me for the past 8 MONTHS NOW (just realized that - yay me!) is tracking everything as faithfully as possible and striving to be active as much as possible. (I wear a FitBit and find that helps me as well.)
  • BUNSOFALUMINUM- I hear you. It is much easier for me to skip some of my triggers all together than it is to take a small amount. Once I have a piece of cake - I could eat the whole thing. Better not to have any to begin with.
  • I struggled with the concept of moderation for years and it wasn't until I stopped dieting and started focusing on living. While I choose to eat healthy most of the time, the key word for me is "most." I love French fries and will have them on the weekend; usually only eat about a 1/3 of the order.
    No food is really off limits except some that are bad for my heart or I won't eat due to animal rights i=reasons. It took me about 2 years to lose the 80 lbs and I was in no rush because I knew that what I was doing was what I'd be doing for life so it would take the time it would take.

    I've been at or under goal for over 3 years and feel great and am not deprived. Love the way I eat and really enjoy exercising every day. A new life!
    There is no Wellness Resource Center page! It gives a 404 error. I've noticed a lot of your articles do, when you click on the link to them. They've been removed, but their links around. This needs to be corrected! Stop erasing things, to start with! You obviously don't know what you're doing, SparkPeople!
    This is one of those articles I want to save for future re-reading.

    Not because I didn't know all this before, but because it is so easy to forget - once you're caught in the weight-loss frenzy.
  • I'm trying to eat small portions and eating slow, so I hope that it will help me.
    Wow....this really dovetails with where my head is right now. Thanks for this article. It helped me cement the idea that moderation is the best tactic to use and helped me understand why my thoughts turn the way they do to extremism.

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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