I read a very interesting nutrition article a few days ago, written by ACE Senior Consultant for Personal Training, Jonathan Ross. It’s title intrigued me, because it implied that a dietary approach based on “everything in moderation” simply doesn’t work. I had to keep reading of course, because for years now that’s exactly the kind of dietary approach I have lived by (and advocated), and for the most part I feel that it does work.
So what exactly does Ross have to say about the “everything in moderation” approach? Let me break it down into three parts:
1. His first point is that moderation, as understood and practiced by the majority, is not moderation at all but a lifestyle. He argues that if a person successfully resists the temptation to eat 90% of all the unhealthy foods that he or she is daily exposed to, yet still chooses to indulge in 10% of those foods, then that is essentially a habit, and habits form lifestyles. For example, a female athlete eats healthy and wholesome foods all day, but allows herself a tall size Starbucks Frappucino each afternoon. Ross claims that such daily rewards, even though small, can’t really fit into the realm of moderate consumption, because if it’s daily it’s therefore a habit and therefore a way of life.
2. Ross brings up the topic of “super” foods. In recent nutrition news, we’ve been hearing a lot about “super” foods that supposedly have extraordinary health benefits. Ross claims that there is nothing extraordinary about these foods; that they are really just normal foods that have been around for centuries and which nourish the body as normal, wholesome foods should. On the other hand, it’s the unhealthy foods – those foods that we love to eat, but strive to eat in moderation – that should be identified as having “super” adverse effects.
Ross believes that if you eat healthfully (as in, you eat normal, healthy and natural foods) most of the day, but also have an unhealthy treat each day, you’re actually creating an imbalance. He explains that the effects of ingesting small, but regular amounts of chemically-laden, or high sugar/high-fat foods, can have a “super” detrimental effect that can’t be compensated for by simply reverting back to wholesome and nutritious meals. It can take “weeks or months,” he says, to clear internal inflammation caused by dietary imbalances.
3. His final point is that too many people see their food choices as being either “good” or “bad.” The problem with this, says Ross, is that it sets people up to say “yes” more often, to the not-so-healthy foods. When eating mostly healthy foods over the course of a day is viewed as “good” (or successful), it then becomes easy to tell yourself that tomorrow, you deserve a cheat day. This is a typical pattern with most people, and one of the reasons why Ross believes so many struggle to have a healthy relationship with food. He suggests that eating healthy foods is neither good nor bad; it’s simply “getting more healthful.”
Ross’ takeaway is that the general perception of eating everything in moderation is skewed. He believes that most people who “feel” like they eat everything in moderation, really don’t, and consequently we have a society of people who are moderately unhealthy instead of thriving.
My takeaway is this:
1. I like to eat a small sugary dessert every night, something like custard mochi, or chocolate, or home-baked cookies, to name a few. And every other night (or occasionally on consecutive nights), I like to drink a glass of wine with my meal. I also like to carry my favourite New Zealand lollies (candy) in my handbag and reach for one or two when I have a sudden sugar craving. Until I read this article however, I had never thought of my small daily indulgences as a lifestyle habit that doesn’t conform to the dictionary definition of moderation.
2. Ross’ suggestion that healthy foods are not “super” foods, while unhealthy foods on the other hand, have “super” harmful effects, is a notion I had also never considered – yet it does make sense. I’m just not sure how accurate Ross’ claims are about small amounts of unhealthy foods having such a significant impact on health.
3. Ross says that the concept of “everything in moderation” oversimplifies an idea that isn’t that simple at all. Yet he also infers that we can improve our relationship with food by not acknowledging our food choices as either “good” or “bad,” but by telling ourselves that choosing a healthy food is “getting more healthful.” But isn’t that also oversimplifying? The alternative is that eating an unhealthy food means that we are getting less healthful. Anyway you slice it – good or bad, or more healthful versus less healthful – the end result will surely be the same.
In summary, when I look at my overall dietary intake, it consists mostly of healthy and nourishing foods, with a few unhealthy choices making up a much smaller percentage. By Ross’ standards, my daily indulgences are enough to label me as a “moderately unhealthy person.” I’m okay with that though, because if I’m moderately unhealthy, that means that I am also moderately healthy. Additionally, if being a “thriving” person means that I must practice moderation in it’s strictest form, I’d have to be willing to live a life so disciplined that achieving “thriving” status would surely come about at the cost of happiness. And if that’s what it takes, then being “moderately unhealthy,” and “moderately thriving,” is what works – for me.