Web MD -- I was reading my favorite salon magazine when my hairdresser informed me that he was going vegan, cutting all sugar out of his diet, and using only lemon on his salads.
None of this sounded appealing to me — and I'm a dietitian!
I'll admit that I used to be more extreme in my eating habits — and it stressed me out. I would bring my own food, spend hours deciding whether or not to have a cookie and let guilt crowd out what could have otherwise been enjoyable eating.
Then the day came, about 15 years ago, that I discovered the joys of moderation. And believe it or not, my eating changed for the better. And it's all because I developed a strategy — the same one I'm sharing with you today.
1. Change your mindset: In order to be moderate with food, you have to think moderately about food. That means food is not "good" or "bad," it just "is." And there's a very important reason for that: food stereotypes affect how much we eat.
Take a recent study published in Health Psychology. Forty six people were given the same 360 calorie shake but half were told the shake was an indulgent 610-calorie shake while the other half were told they were drinking a sensible 140 calorie shake. Researchers measured the hunger hormone ghrelin before, during and after people drank the shake and found those who thought they were drinking the indulgent shake had sharper declines in ghrelin after drinking, meaning they felt more satiated.
Bottom line: Beliefs about foods have a powerful impact on eating habits (including physiological responses!), so stay neutral and ditch the good-and-bad food thinking.
2. Experiment with health-promoting foods: The foundation of a well balanced diet includes plenty of health-promoting fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, beans and healthy fats.
The key is to add these foods to meals in ways that are especially pleasing — and that takes experimentation. Fruits and veggies, for example, make excellent complements to meals, whether it be fruit in cereal, veggies in omelets, beans on salads or side salads with lunch and dinner.
Experimenting with healthy foods, instead of imposing a list of "shoulds," empowers individuals to choose food combinations that bring optimal taste and meal satisfaction.
3. Use just enough of those "in between" foods: "In between" foods are items that have both good nutrition and some undesirables. They include full fat dairy products, juices, refined grains and higher fat meats.
The best thing about these foods is that a little goes a long way — adding taste with some nutrition. For example, a small amount of cheese adds a ton of flavor and a modest piece of a higher fat meat hits the spot every now and again.
4. Be picky about sweets and fried foods: Instead of trying to eliminate items that offer very little in the way of nutrition, the moderate person makes it a point to include the ones they love in their diet.
By making favorite treats a priority instead of a curse, these foods lose their power. And because they provide enjoyment, not nourishment, consuming them less frequently makes sense.
5. Listen to your body: One of the most important aspects of moderation is listening to your body's signals, trusting what they have to say. Help your body along by offering yourself regular meals and snacks all day long, slowing down and being mindful with each bite.
What I really love about moderation is my healthy eating has evolved over time, instead of becoming a series of stops and starts. By leveling the food playing field, focusing on balance, and above all trusting myself, I find that each year my eating gets cleaner.
Do you believe in moderation? Has it been easy (or hard) for you to achieve?