Every so often, we scramble to shift how we eat in response to the latest diet news. First we aim to avoid fats as if they add instant pounds. Then we learn we can eat all the fats we want, but they have to be the right kind. First we seek “high carbohydrate living”, then we set to banish carbs forever, now we again seek the right kind. We know alcohol’s bad, but now we hear that a daily drink is good. And so on. In the end, we always come back to: everything in moderation. Few people argue with that. But still so many struggle. Somehow we’re more likely to go for the drastic measures, like eliminating food groups, even if they’re doomed to fail.

Why is it so hard to eat in moderation? Moderate portion sizes, moderate allowances for treats, moderate levels of fat or sugar or salt?

Well, some would say that we Americans have no cultural tradition, as people do in European or Asian countries, for example, to teach us how to eat available local foods in satisfying ways that have worked for generations. Others would certainly point to the addictive quality of the highly processed, artificially palatable foods—think cookie dough ice cream and nacho chips—that tempt us in huge quantities wherever we go.
It’s true that our culture lacks food traditions that are stable and healthy. It’s also true that we’re surrounded by foods that make weight gain easy. In addition to all that, ours is a culture that encourages fast gratification of needs, along with the idea that we’re actually entitled to that gratification. So often when people think “moderation”, they really think “deprivation”. That first caramel truffle , then, cries out for another, and then another. And we’re pulled between the idea that we shouldn’t and the idea that we should be able to. We want it that very moment, and the want wins out. It’s pretty uncomfortable to respond differently, at least at first.

How do we make moderation our “normal”, or what we do most of the time? True moderation usually calls for a rethinking of what food is for us. Yes, it is a source of pleasure, but it is not only that. It nourishes our bodies, first and foremost. The kinds of foods that trouble us, and the amounts that damage us, go far beyond basic nutritional needs. After that, food becomes recreation, or sensory pleasure. And those are things we don’t engage in unlimitedly. We find places for them in our lives so that our lives are enhanced and not hurt.

That shift in perception, or how we think about food and diet, starts us in a better direction. Then we face a lifetime of compelling, but unhealthy, habits. The pull toward the cookie dough and chips won’t relax the minute you opt for moderation. Like so many of the issues discussed on this site, and in the Eat Sanely course, the next steps call for trial and error, practice and repetition, until the moderate course seems the easier one.

What’s important is to start. Starting in a moderate way, even, may have some advantages. If you look back at the March 5, 2010 blog “Change One Small Thing…”, you’ll note that small changes may not lead to rapid weight loss, but they do lead to more healthy behaviors over time. They open the door, in a way, perhaps preparing us to choose differently in the future, where moderation will seem much more comfortable.