The Meaning of Moderation... Can All Foods Fit?

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This year's National Nutrition Month theme is "Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle." Have you ever thought about what a healthy lifestyle means to you?

If you haven't, it's worth pondering. What would it take to achieve and maintain your version of a healthy lifestyle? How would that lifestyle align (or not) with your personal values, or with other people's idea of a healthy lifestyle?

To me, "moderation" really is the perfect word to sum up what I believe is a healthy lifestyle, based on my training as a dietitian and personal experience maintaining a significant weight loss.

A few years ago, I had an argument with a colleague. He said that the concept of moderation "operates on the inane – and utterly insane – notion that peaches, Pop-Tarts, muffins, soda, lentils, and tomatoes should all be approached the same way."

But to me, moderation means the ability, or flexibility, to include all foods in our diets, soda and Pop-Tarts notwithstanding. Heck, you don't have to tell me twice to enjoy cookies as part of a healthy diet.

The problem with moderation, though -- as with so many other things -- is finding balance. We can easily be lulled into a false sense of security and think we're eating healthier than we really are, leading us to overindulge.

But as much as some people love the idea of moderation and run with it, others never enjoy treats because they fear being unable to stop. Although resisting temptation may help with weight management in the short-term, over time it can be just as detrimental as being too lax.

While some people have superhuman willpower, most of us will eventually give in. To our chagrin, we may end up eating much more than the one slice we initially resisted. It's like when someone tells you not to think of pink elephants; the harder you try to not think about that chocolate cake, the harder it is to not think about it.

Instead of going to either extreme, what we really need to do is start by being honest with ourselves. Moderation is not a license to eat whatever we want, whenever we want it. Neither is it a challenge to have 99% perfect eating habits.

Let's get back to the fundamentals: fruits and vegetables should be our dietary staples, rounded out by whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. The first step should be to fuel our bodies with necessary nutrients. Then, be as physically active as possible.

Once those conditions are met, feel free to enjoy a scoop of ice cream or a second helping of spaghetti carbonara. See the scale going up? Have one slice of pizza instead of two, or jog an extra 30 minutes – it's your choice.

Although the balance may be different for everyone, we ALL have room for moderation. And that, my friends, is something you can really sink your teeth into.

Today's post was written by Leia Kedem. Leia Kedem, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator covering Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion Counties. She appears weekly on WCIA-3/WCIX-49 and is a biweekly contributor to the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. She also maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts where she regularly posts health tips and answers nutrition questions for free.