Why eating everything in moderation does not work

The popular notion – eat everything in moderation – does not work. It is not effective. It is not helpful. And in some cases, it might even be detrimental.

While I currently practice a form of eating “everything” in moderation, this advice lacks specificity and consideration for an individual’s true needs. Having altered my eating behaviors in 2009, I spent the first 2 years mindfully monitoring everything I ate, avoiding social and food triggers, and planning my snacks and meals. I ate following my template – religiously. Prone to nighttime eating, if I became ‘hungry’ at  night after all my meals and snack were consumed, I went to sleep.

Used to eating anything you want

If you are used to eating whatever you want, the advice of eating everything in moderation can offer you a justification to continue doing so. “But, I am just eating everything in moderation.” And your results will reflect the inadequacy of this advice.

Many individuals cannot stop at a little of something when it comes to food. If this is you, you ARE NOT alone. We have trigger foods. There are physiological and psychological explanations for these food addictions. These are associated with binge eating disorder, as well as common to many – disordered eating behaviors.

A real-life example

I immediately think about a former client who ate 6+ full-size Hershey’s bars each day, sometimes a full pizza for breakfast, and 2 Whoppers for lunch. He wanted to listen to the advice – everything in moderation – and reduced his Hershey’s bar intake to 2 bars each day, half a pizza for breakfast, and 1 Whopper for lunch. Do you think he saw results? (He did not – despite intense workouts 3 times a week.)

He followed the advice – everything in moderation

Comparatively speaking, he was eating in moderation! Is it effective for weight loss? The answer, more often than not – NO!

Abstinence

Recovery from food addiction requires abstinence. You need to eliminate trigger foods completely. For how long? At least 28 days, but the length of abstinence required depends on various individual factors – other psychological factors, length of addiction, strength of motivation to overcome, and more. NOTE: For those who may be addicted to food in general, more aggressive strategies are needed and professional advice should be sought.

I have talked about trigger foods. One of my trigger foods is Starburst Jelly Beans – one leads to the full bag. To be successful in weight loss and health – you must identify and abstain from your trigger foods.

Assessing the advice

If you are on your weight loss journey, ask yourself – how many people have offered this advice to eat everything in moderation. Now tell me – how has this worked for you? 

Have you lost weight, only to put it back on?

Have you not lost at all?

Or, has it worked?

The bottomline

Eating everything in moderation sounds glorious. It will work for a select few. If it has not and does not work for you – please know that you are not alone. If only it was so easy!

Better, is to have more specific advice to meal and snack creation. Please click the link for more specific and helpful guidance. The best plan is to invest in a personalized, customized plan. Each of us has a different experience with foods – past and present. Each of us has different dietary needs, wants, and restrictions. Not sure where to start?

I can help and point you in the right direction.

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Break through a weight loss plateau with REST

Anyone who has tried to lose weight has experienced a weight loss plateau – large or small. You lose, you lose, you lose – and then it stops. Some times you regain weight that was lost. Sometimes the plateau is a week or two. Other times it lasts months.

Plateaus occur in part because the human body has set points. Your body will reach a new set point approximately every 12 weeks. What does that mean? You can expect a plateau every 12 weeks – if not every six. NOTE: This varies on an individual basis, but these are common benchmarks.

Research shows that we can use plateaus to benefit the long term journey (Fairburn, 2008). The best plan is to be prepared.

Six month rule

For a client who is looking to lose a significant amount of weight (>40% of her bodyweight), I implement a six month rule. We work together to set weekly and monthly short-term goals and six-month, long-term goals. At the six month milestone, all weight goals pertain to weight maintenance.

Yes, maintenance, not loss.

Physiologically, the body has been in a deprived state for a significant amount of time. While the ideal program will have guided you to avoid reaching the physiological starvation mode, at some point your body is going to adapt to the deprivation. NOTE: I do not even like using the word deprivation, as a weight loss that results from deprivation is a band-aid, not a long-term solution. Further, deprivation bares a negative connotation and negativity is detrimental to goal attainment.

Maintenance

After six months of dedication to strict meal planning and lifestyle changes, it is a good idea for you to allow yourself to simply BE. Maintain what you have worked so hard to achieve. Accept it. Appreciate it. Recognize it. At this point on your journey, it may be difficult to see what is real when you look in the mirror – and you may see a previous version of yourself. The phantom fat phenomenon may be preventing you from being able to see your results. This can add discouragement and frustration to a lengthy, taxing process.

I encourage clients to take at least a month to focus on maintenance at the six month mark. During this time goals do not increase physical activity, nor do they change eating habits. Goals focus on the established lifestyle. If a client had previous goals of working out 3 times a week, we retain that goal for the 4 weeks – but we do not reach for more. I do not encourage her to stretch herself. We work to maintain the changes made so far and adopt them as part of a lasting, healthy lifestyle.

If you choose to maintain – you retain the control instead of allowing the plateau to control you.

A time to rest
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Sometimes we just need a break. Sometimes you just need to be easy on yourself. You also need to know, that it is OKAY to rest. In fact, you need to rest. Why do most individuals quit weight loss programs?

Grow tired and weary?

The mental fatigue of constantly thinking about what you need to do next?

The lack of results?

We often view the plateau as a failure. Change your thinking and use that time as an opportunity for rest. Rest the mind – knowing that where you are today is better than where you were yesterday. Stop thinking about what you need to do differently or more of this week or next. Just allow yourself to BE.

A time to check in

A plateau is an opportunity to rest. It is also an opportunity to check in with yourself. Be honest.

How are things working?

Are you putting forth enough effort?

Do the workouts fit into your lifestyle as a long-term addition?

Can you maintain the ‘diet’ in the long term?

Are your goals still realistic or do they need to be modified?

Something has got to change

This is the common advice for anyone looking to break through a plateau – you have to change in order to see change. This is true. The human body is highly adaptive – it takes six exposures (give or take) to an exercise before the body adapts to it. What does this mean? You need to change – the load, mode, duration, etc. For once the body adapts, you will no longer obtain results by doing that same thing.

However, it is not that simple. Most individuals who experience significant weight loss followed by a lengthy plateau lost the weight by creating a huge dietary intake deficit. To some of you this may sound good. It can actually be detrimental to long-term success. The result is a slow and groggy metabolism. Sometimes the necessary change is to eat more – revving up that metabolism. Example: I spent a summer working for a weight loss resort, essentially eating what the guests ate. I gained almost 15 pounds – my dietary needs were not being met and it slowed my metabolism WAY down. I lost that weight quickly and easily by eating more.

The bottomline

Plateaus are going to happen. It is best to be prepared for them. There are ways to reduce the frequency of plateaus, using science-based workouts and programming. You will not find this in a DVD or in a standard group fitness class. You will not get this programming from your average personal trainer, either.

My best advice to you – plan for maintenance every 3 to 6 months. Use this time to be proud and regroup. Rejuvinate. Enjoy what you have earned.

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References

Cooper, Z., Fairburn, C. G., & Hawker, D. M. (2003). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Obesity: A Clinician’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Fairburn, C. G. (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders. New York: The Guilford Press.

Make peace with food – GOAL 4

I have an unhealthy relationship with food. I have tendencies towards emotional eating and binge eating. I cannot tell you the last time I had a serious bingeing episode – it has been more than six months but less than a year. But I work at it! Distractions, such as reading my Bible or other texts, appear to work the best for me. Unfortunately, emotional eating – such as gravitating towards unhealthy comfort foods or mindless munching – is a regular occurrence.

GOAL 4 – Make peace with food

In 2013, I will increase mindfulness and implement the use of old or new habits in place of emotional eating behaviors. I will find comfort in life! Certainly not the most well thought through of my goals, and I will work on that. One strategy will be to utilize real-time self-monitoring to track not only my dietary intake; but also, my associated thoughts and feelings.

Any suggestions? I’m all ears!