“Our brains compartmentalise each event of ‘unhealthy’ eating and we struggle to see the big patterns of eating which are undermining our progress,” writes dietitian CLARE WOLSKI
IT’S all about moderation, right? Nothing is good or bad if you have it in moderation. The problem is – what does moderation look like?
Memories can be warped by our emotions and state of mind and we are notorious for unintentionally underestimating and over-exaggerating. And this is why the idea of “moderation” becomes problematic.
It usually follows a pattern something like this:
- Monday 9pm: “I ate really well today. I can afford to have a bit of dark chocolate with a cuppa. I haven’t had chocolate in a week and it’s good to include things in moderation.”
- Tuesday 10.30am: “Oh, someone has brought in cakes for Deborah’s birthday. How nice! I’ll have a cake. I never have cake these days.”
- Tuesday 5pm: “There’s some marshmallows left in the cupboard from the weekend. I’ll finish off the packet. That way they are out of the house.”
- Wednesday 7pm: “I’m going to have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. I haven’t had anything to drink all week.”
- Thursday 1pm: “This is going to be a long meeting. I’m going to need a big coffee. I might grab a muffin with that. I never buy muffins from this café anymore.”
- Thursday 6pm: “Will get a dessert when out to dinner because I rarely have dessert at home.”
- Friday 5pm: “I’ll grab something for dinner on the way home. I’ll pick up some chips as a treat for the end of the week. I haven’t had chips all week. I’ll stop in at the bottle shop as well, I really feel like a cider. I can’t remember the last time I had cider.”
- Looking back on the week: “I think I was a little better on the junk food this week. I didn’t buy any lollies and only had chips on Friday night. I can relax my efforts over the weekend and have some treats.”
I am not exaggerating; this is what happens. I know, because this is what happens to me!
I am not trying to find a loophole or avoid the truth, it’s just that my brain can be selective about what it remembers. Our brains compartmentalise each event of “unhealthy” eating and we struggle to see the big patterns of eating which are undermining our progress. We just don’t see the bigger picture.
So how do we really get moderation?
Moderation is a flexible term because it is determined by context. If you are in the habit of having something sweet after dinner every night, moderating might mean moving to five days a week.
Moderation comes down to being fully aware of what you are currently doing and deciding if you are happy with that.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to moderation:
What do I want to change?
We know from all of the health information that we want to reduce processed food, junk foods and “treat” foods. The “discretionary” foods are foods that are not necessary to a healthy diet and contain large amounts of sugar, saturated or trans fats and salt. Think lollies, chocolate, cake, biscuits, donuts, soft drink, chips. But what about alcohol? What about homemade muffins? What about crackers? It all becomes very grey.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as you clearly define it from the beginning so that you aren’t accidentally finding loopholes. Saying that I am going to reduce dessert and then I start having a hot chocolate instead. Is that a reduction or a deferral? That’s up to you and your nutritionist.
What’s my current average?
Honestly tracking your current patterns, without judgment is the key to making change. You need to understand what triggers a food decision and when food choices are happening unconsciously.
Create a goal and strategy to change
There is no right or wrong with how frequently you enjoy a discretionary food. Once you have determined how often you currently have something, the aim of moderation is just to reduce it a bit. So:
- make sure your goal or target is realistic. There’s no point saying you will cut something out if it is going to be a personal form of torture.
- plan for how you will achieve it. What are you going to do when someone offers you biscuits at work? How will you prevent yourself getting ravenously hungry at 3pm and buy the chocolate?
- be kind to yourself. If you don’t meet your goal one day or one week it’s okay! It’s all about progress not perfection.
Track your progress
We need feedback on how we are progressing. So we say: “I think I am doing better” or “I feel like I am eating well more often”. But as we saw before, our memory is not an accurate tool. You need some concrete data to really be able to tell if things are improving.
Clare Wolski is a practising dietitian at The Healthy Eating Hub, call 6174 4663.