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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Recovering from binge eating

I am a recovering binge eater. I say recoverING rather than recovered because it is a weekly – sometimes daily – battle. I believe it will be a long battle. I have been shrugged off and disregarded when sharing this fact with others – being told that I am fine and there is nothing. Please know, this rejection is the worst reaction you can ever have to someone who is forthcoming about such behaviors. Luckily, I am excessively independent and this didn’t effect me in anyway other than temporarily reducing my desire to increase my interdependence (which is critical to becoming a highly effective individual according to Stephen Covey).

Coming from a long ancestral line of addicts known for episodes of binge drinking – I am genetically susceptible to addiction. This is not an excuse, this is a heightened awareness of what to watch for. After a period of binge drinking – and developing a fear of becoming an alcoholic – I eventually replaced alcohol with food. You might say, but you are not overweight. I once was. Further, my binges did not occur every day (though there were periods of consecutive days) and I maintain an incredibly high level of physical activity (often compensatory).

Food = comfort

My most frequent binges occur when I am under the most stress. I eat for comfort. I eat because it was one thing that I still had complete control over when I feel like everything else around me is falling apart. I eat because food tastes good. I eat to stay awake to get through work demands. I eat for the temporary benefits of increased energy and improved mood. Some individuals might now say that I have shifted to finding comfort with coffee – I may assess this at a later date! I did come to realize that I binged for comfort and I was not satisfied with this behavior, not at all.

Do you eat for comfort? Is it excessive?

Awareness

How do you stop an undesirable behavior? First, you need to be aware of the behavior. Second, you have to want to change. For a long time, I had no idea that I was bingeing – because in today’s society binges have become a norm and many individuals even binge at every meal. It was when my mind began towards thoughts of compensatory behaviors – specifically purging – thatI knew something had to change. I sought professional help – while this may not be necessary for everyone and I am not promoting it as such.

Are you aware of existing problematic eating behaviors?

Environment & triggers

My most dangerous times are periods of sadness. Specifically when I am disappointed in myself or life. Sometimes this is the result of comments other people make – but more often than not it is the result of my negative self-talk. Therefore, it is critical to catch these negative thoughts early, before they can dwell in my brain and set themselves as real. I use a dysfunctional thought record (DTR) to monitor these thoughts on a semi-regular basis.

Another trigger for me is hunger – I cannot let myself become hungry. This is one reason I tend to gain weight when training for endurance running – it makes me hungry. If I allow myself to reach the point of stomach grumbling, it is likely that I will excessively eat.

Do you know your triggers?

Self-monitoring

I tell all of my clients – log your food. Write down everything you eat. EVERYTHING. Often times, writing down everything you eat can be enough to increase your awareness and ultimately change problematic eating behaviors. It can be enlightening to see on paper exactly what you eat. Other times, simply writing it down is not enough.

There are numerous additions and modifications that can be made to a food log. Struggling with compensatory behaviors? Begin tracking the engaging in and thoughts of performing these behaviors within your food log – it is important to know the time it occurs and what you may have eaten as either or both can be triggers.

I like hand writing my food log – as opposed to using an app or online system – because I can add whatever I want. I astrick any consumption that I feel is excessive. I highlight anything that I perceive to be a binge.

Other things to monitor include but are not limited to:

  • Context – where did you eat and who were you with?
  • Mood (& feelings) – what was your mood prior to eating?
  • Thoughts – what were your thoughts prior to, during, and after eating?
  • Physical pain & illness – did you have a headache, sore muscles, a cold, etc?
  • Weather – Sunny or cloudy? Warm or cold? Humid or dry?

I recently wrote about the Recovery Record app, which allows you to track all of these factors and more! I find this app to be one of the best and most useful I have ever seen. And best of all, it does not track calories (unless YOU do it independently). I do not promote tracking caloric intake nor expenditure.

The bottomline

Often times, what you eat is not the determining factor of weight loss or maintenance. When and how much, along with your psychological state, can significantly effect digestive processes and your ongoing psychological state. External and internal stressors have a powerful impact on our eating behaviors.

Further – you cannot spot a binge eater. They come in all shapes, sizes, and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are more of us out there than you may suspect. Be kind to those who express concern with eating – because more than likely there is something going on inside.

For those who may suffer from binge eating – you are not alone. This does not make it easier, but it is always nice to know when you are not alone.

Yours in health,

Becca Rose