The Moderation Myth

Monday, December 07, 2009

Over the past 5 (I'm going to have to change that to 6 soon since I started this process on January 5, 2004!) 6 years I've developed a lot of tools and tricks to help me lose weight and keep it off. I've had to do this. And you have to do it too. There is almost nothing of my pre-January 2004 lifestyle that contributed to health - most of it, in fact, can firmly be looked at as a direct cause of or, at the least, contributing factor to, my obesity. And so, a lot of things have had to change, permanently.

One of the hardest things I've had to do is eliminate foods from my diet. Now, if you read all of the helpful dieticians' advice out there, most of it will tell you moderation in all things is the key to successful weight loss. But, somehow they neglect to define moderation.

When I've lost weight in the past, I've used moderation - instead of a full piece of cake, I'd have a half. Instead of a full chocolate bar, I'd eat a third. Instead of french fries with gravy, I'd have french fries plain - and leave a few on my plate. I'd do these three things on the same day and feel virtuous with my restraint. Technically, that's moderation - I was certainly eating less than I had before but I was still eating way too much and didn't lose weight. I'd also spend the next week sucking back every piece of sugar laced drug I could find - jonesing for that other half of cake like an addict selling her soul for a hit of cocaine.

The other issue with moderation is that I can't moderate all foods - I can't, for example, eat a single potato chip - not even if it is the only potato chip in the house and the corner store up the street is completely sold out. I have a car. I know where the grocery store is. I cannot eat potato chips in moderation because I have no control over potato chips. They hold all the power. I think most of us with obesity (and many who are overweight) have foods that are more powerful than we are; that trigger binge eating and the resultant psychic stress. My list is a mile long - chips, french fries, gummy bears, M&Ms, peanuts, pistachios, chocolate chip cookies, white chocolate, fudge, pizza, marshmallows, shortbread cookies, raspberries, etc... raspberries? Yes, they make the list - I've been known to eat 2 quarts in a single sitting - check out the NI for that indulgence!

The list is very long - I wish it weren't. I also wish I were a millionaire and could spend my days oil painting so, I've learned that I can't have everything. And so I have foods from which I abstain. No moderation is currently possible.

To me, moderation applies simply to portion control of healthy foods - not trigger foods. Until I learned that moderation meant 3 ounces of steak was okay, 8 ounces not so much, I could diet until I was blue in the face and sabotage my efforts at every turn. I would LOVE to have a normal relationship with food - where a bowl of Cheetos sitting on a table at a party would NOT call to me all night making me anxious as I desperately employ all of my non-food reward tricks to avoid eating them. Cheetos can't be moderated either. Dr. Kessler (author of "The End of Overeating" ) assures me that, with the passage of time and successful application of strategies to reward myself for not indulging, I'll be able to approach a bowl of Cheetos with confidence. I'm doubtful - maybe that'll happen within the next 6 years! In the meantime, I'll abstain.

I'm also learning that many, many, many things that I used to eat aren't worth the price of admission whether they are in moderate amounts or not. My dietary history is filled with so many over-processed, chemical laden catastrophes masquerading as food that I feel a little queasy recalling their presence in my life. There simply is no point in eating these "foods" in any quantity ever again.

Initially it was hard to give up favourite foods. KFC is my drug of choice. I struggled with striking things from my life - and I took a long time doing so, eliminating one food at a time and making sure it was "out of my system" before taking another off my list. (I wrote a long blog about foods I no longer eat in my www.fatchickthinbody.blogspot.
com blog if you're interested) It's one of the reasons it took me so long to lose 85 pounds but is THE reason I know I will never be fat again.

So - moderation may be a useful carrot to dangle in front of those new to weight loss: "Come on, it won't be so bad, you can still eat all of your favourties, I promise" but I'm not a fan. For me, it's an unsustainable illusion and I have 20 years of chronic dieting and obesity to back that up. Good foods in moderation and exercise in moderation - those are the moderate things I can live with.

January 11, 2010

Ilove this contribution from Lauren145 who wrote:

"To add to the discussion about moderation which you introduced in your blog I found the following quote:

Extremism in pursuit of permanent lifestyle change is no vice. Moderation in defense of failure to change is no virtue.

This comes from a book I read recently called "The Nine Truths about Weight Loss" by Daniel Kirschenbaum. He claims that people who want to control their weight permanently have to approach it the way athletes approach their training. Many of us have very resistant biology and will not lose any other way. "

I'm am so tired of being accused by my friends and family of being "obsessed" because of my rigid approach to eating. While I doubt I will ever be erudite enough to quote this precisely correct, I may have it printed on business cards to hand out when words fail.

Thanks Lauren!!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    That's what I'm doing wrong!! I've been trying to "moderate" crappy food when I can more easily skip it. I am thinking wrong.

    Moderating crappy food is not more honorable. It does not make me a better person. I must just leave it at the grocery store and be done with bad habits.

    This is liberating. I was getting caught up in the 'why am I sabotaging' psycho-babble. I need to use the common sense approach here and I will be fine.

    Great blog-thanks.
    3736 days ago
  • LAUREN145
    Prohibition is easier than moderation!

    I have been trying to eat in moderation, and it just hasn't been working for me.
    there do seem to be some foods that I can have in limited amounts occasionally, but there are several that simply have to be eliminated.

    I did eat some shortbread cookies over Christmas and it took me a couple of weeks to get the cravings out of my system.

    Great blog.
    3794 days ago
    Thank you for countering the deceptive prevailing diet "wisdom" out there. Every weight loss article repeats the same tired "moderation" slogan, among others. You have helped me a lot with this - I thought something didn't seem right about the moderation thing, but couldn't articulate it. I remember feeling similarly relieved when I read an interview with Victoria Beckham, and she responded to the question "Do you ever eat a piece of cake?" with an unqualified "No." I was like, finally someone is being straight. As opposed to stick-thin celebrities telling us that they "eat whatever they want."
    3801 days ago
    Hi, I'm Mazzy. Wow, you nailed it. YOU ARE SO RIGHT!
    3805 days ago
    YOU ARE SO RIGHT!! There are so many people out there that say those things, that moderation is key and all that. I've had to do the same... cut things out of my life like a bad relationship. For me, it was wine, all sweets, and movie popcorn.

    You are an amazing writer, by the way. Maybe Canadians are more educated? But here in the states, I work as an editor and WISH I could get my employees to write even one sentence with even half your style and proper use of punctuation.

    3806 days ago
  • AUFAN1989
    Funny thing, I just did a search on calories in shortbread cookies because I'm suddenly having a serious cookie craving, and found your blog. I can't tell you the last time I had a cookie, because they are off my list - one cookie and I'll be hooked for a month. But here I am craving them anyway.
    I appreciate your insight that moderation doesn't work for you. I just figured I had to get over my "all or nothing" attitude. I think I'll check out Dr. Kessler's "The End of Overeating". I have never considered rewarding myself for not indulging. What a concept! I need to think of a reward fast, because I am about to leave for the grocery store - and Christmas cookies will be lurking in every aisle!

    3814 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Great food for thought. Some stuff needed to be banished in my life too.
    Thanks for sharing.
    3826 days ago
    I know you are right. And I gave up many foods years ago that I have taken back, believing that in moderation I can handle them now. The thing is, I am still here.. at 224 pounds. Coincidence? I had a talk with myself yesterday about being diabetic and how I am not following the current guidelines for diabetes because, and I did believe it, I am already eating healthily. And then I wondered if that was true. If health means eating what you need and not what you want, then no. And if it is no, then am I willing to change that?

    Thank you for your timely blog my friend.
    3826 days ago
    Amen, brother! What a powerful admission and so true for me too. I can eat one potato chip, but not one piece of banana cream pie. Glory to you for your insight and writing skills!

    3826 days ago
  • KO1215
    Wow! Awesome blog. Thanks for sharing.
    3827 days ago
  • no profile photo CD4357551
    That was very very well said. I hate to admit it but I have some things that I cannot do in moderation so your blog is spot on for me!!

    Thanks for posting.


    > emoticon

    3827 days ago
  • no profile photo CD2560890
    Thank you for this blog. I have been thinking that I must be very screwed up because moderation is not possible for me with some things. Like cake, chocolate, M&M's the list is likely as long as yours. I now understand that I DO need to eliminate some foods from my diet because I cannot eat them moderately. You give me new hope for my diet . YES THE D WORD!!! This is a diet. One I will have to adapt myself to for the rest of my life if I want to get anywhere. So thanks for letting me know that I am not alone.

    3827 days ago
    How I appreciate this post! I know people (mostly) mean well when they say "a little won't hurt you," but the fact is that a little just sets me off craving more more MORE. And I know some people don't understand that kind of behavior. My dad, bless his skinny little heart, once said, "I think you're a nervous eater." Uh, YEAH. But he finally "got it." I remember one time one of my WW members brought me this great divinity type candy that she had made and it was like 3 for a Point or something and she was so proud. I ate one and the entire day I was going from one sugar fix to another. GOOD GRIEF. I learned a really good lesson from that!

    You've done wonderfully well and I believe you when you say you're not going back!! emoticon
    3828 days ago
    Great blog! I have employed substitutes more than moderation; I have a wicked sweet tooth but I have learned that I can generally satisfy it with some lower calorie version of a favorite. I can eat a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich and have no problem stopping at that one sandwich. However, if you give me "real" ice cream, one bite turns to two, two turns to five, and suddenly all that's left of the pint of Ben & Jerry's is the cardboard container.
    3828 days ago
    thanx for this

    i so envy the people who can eat just a little

    that's not me either

    so glad i'm not alone

    even tho- it stinks!

    you sound like you're truly doing this- the only way- the right way for you!
    3828 days ago
    This is a terrific blog and I agree with you completely: can't eat potato chips or French fries in moderation, had one tiny sliver of pecan pie over (American) Thanksgiving which set off huge cravings; etc. etc. I could make a list a mile long of foods I CANNOT eat in moderation. So cannot eat at all.

    What works for me is eating pretty much the same things (highly nutritious, fairly high volume, relatively low calorie) day after day after day with tiny variations: oatmeal, salads, lean protein (fish, chicken), home made soups (with beans and lentils), some nuts including peanut butter, and a little low fat dairy. I do seem to be able to eat cheese in moderation most of the time -- but if starts getting out of hand, I eliminate cheese too. Lots of diversity in the fruits and veggies for the salads and for the soup contents too.

    Thinking about what I WANT to eat if just not a good idea. If I could eat what I want to eat then I wouldn't have had a life-long struggle with weight control!
    3828 days ago
    You know, I've given lip service to that old adage about moderation for years but reading your blog I don't think it works for me either. Cheese is a trigger for me - one of those things turns me into a raving maniac licking the plate to get the last dregs before heading to the store. Fettucini Alfredo truly makes me think it has a drug in it that incites me to way beyond the point of fullness.

    Your comments are helpful to me. I just fall into the salt and bread catagory more than the sweet stuff. Thanks for sharing.
    3828 days ago
    Another great read thanks ! I couldnt agree with you more. You described me again to a "T"and you always make me crack up .
    One question though, are Cheetos really considered food ? I mean they DISSOLVE in your mouth! I would consider them a manufactured food-like PRODUCT..hehe
    3829 days ago
    I agree with you completely! I've tried but honestly, once I have that first chocolate kiss or single serving of ice cream, all I can think of is MORE, MORE, MORE! So I just have to say NO, NO, NO to moderation - and say No, thanks anyway!
    3829 days ago
  • no profile photo CD1345136
    I agree with you 100%! I, too, have a long list of foods I can't be moderate with. A little always leads to a lot. And there are some foods that even a little bit CAN hurt you when they are processed and full of additives, chemicals, and other harmful ingredients. I'm with you that abstenance is sometimes the only way. And when I feel sorry for myself because I have to give up some favorite foods, I remind myself of something I read in John Robbins' book "The Food Revolution":...."how much pleasure is there in iillness?" Over time, unhealthy foods start to lose their appeal once you've gotten completely away from them and it gets easier. The cost of eating these foods is too high. Good health is priceless.

    Congratulations on the great achievement of dropping 85 pounds. And your commitment to keeping with a healthy lifestyle. You are a great inspiration to me.
    3829 days ago
  • RENA1965
    Bravo- many people don't know the real cost of a healthy life style.. I also leave stuff alone I can't control.. We are dried out foodaholics and always will- take a bite of the trigger and bang- hell again..
    I like a small amount of licorice, this small taste can start a eating flip of anything sweet healthy.. I am phasing out all my sweets- sad but they mess up my brain wanting more..
    I now eat more of what I can control. Not the most interesting reading for most people but I am still sober and not craving..

    3829 days ago
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