By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
A topic that comes up regularly in my day, is the discussion of what is healthy moderation. I find that very few women I have met can practically maintain moderation in sweets, alcohol, eating out and even exercise. It is not for lack of trying, rather it is related to constantly restricting, dieting and trying not to indulge at all. What happens instead is a cycle of restricting, then overdoing it. In some cases this may be an outright binge, but more commonly it looks like eating a handful of cookies every day, or having a fancy coffee and a pastry too often for breakfast, or drinking more alcohol than is optimal for your health.
It saddens me to see so many women with guilt around food, since it takes the enjoyment and pleasure out of eating. If treats and indulgences really were done moderately, there would be no need for this guilt. Our bodies can balance out occasional indulgences.
My suggestion is first to commit to eating healthy foods. Learn to eat real, whole foods, and minimize packaged foods, fast foods, and diet foods. If this is the normal routine of eating, a diet is rarely necessary, nor measured portions, and no more counting calories. The constant rebound of restricting, then overeating can messes up the metabolism.
Enjoying your food is possible while eating well. If you don’t find that healthy food tastes great, then consider taking a cooking class to learn how to transform fresh, whole foods into satisfying meals. Eating well, certainly does not mean a salad with chicken every day of the week!
I also recommend that you build treats, or foods you enjoy into your plan, and don’t frame it as cheating. The psychology is different. When you allow yourself foods you enjoy, this is being respectful of yourself, and also acknowledging that these foods are not healthy to include every day. When you frame foods that you enjoy as a ‘cheat’, it can snowball into a cycle of bingeing and restricting again.
These treats can include alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and any other food that you know is not very healthy, and should be kept to moderation. What you may find with a moderate approach, is that some of the cravings and pull of the off-limit foods ease up when there’s no longer any guilt.
Even better, is to find healthier versions of your favourite foods. For example, learn to bake cookies and desserts sweetened with maple syrup, or try a wonderfully rich raw dessert. If fries are your favourite, then make baked sweet potato fries at home with olive oil, sea salt and herbs.
As we approach the holiday season, my advice is to enjoy life, but do not compromise your health. A few tips for social events, as you consider moderation:
- Limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per night out. For many women, after two drinks, it is hard to make sensible choices.
- Avoid appetizer trays, unless you can settle on veggies with hummus, a little good quality cheese or sushi rolls.
- Fill up on the most nutritious options you can find, and allow yourself one treat. Choose it carefully and enjoy thoroughly.
- Just because it’s free food, you don’t need to eat all of it!
- Stay on a healthy routine at home – over-compensate for nights out with green smoothies, big salads and lots of fresh foods.
- Stay active – don’t let your exercise routine get taken over by holiday entertaining.
- Think ahead – will you regret your actions tomorrow?
- Choose quality over quantity. If you are offered an excellent quality chocolate, then definitely enjoy it, but skip the poor quality candies on your co-worker’s desk.
If you find that your cravings are very intense for sugar, alcohol or caffeine and, that you cannot maintain reasonable portions or moderation, you may need to take steps to break the habits first. This is where a short-term cleanse may help. Again, I would not recommend something too restrictive, but rather a cleanse where you are still eating, but including lots of healthy, whole foods in the plan, and for a short-time eliminating your trigger foods 100%. This will reset your body and your cravings, so that the daily need for sugar, caffeine or alcohol is broken.
If sugar is your main craving that you struggle with maintaining moderation, it may also mean that there is an imbalance in your intestinal flora, in particular too much yeast. In this case, a yeast cleanse to rebalance, will greatly minimize your need for sweets, and help you to find a better balance.
The aim with nutrition is not perfection, as this creates to much emotional stress, and unrealistic expectations. Take some time now to consider what healthy moderation looks like for you, and see if you can break the cycle of restricting and overdoing, even during the holiday season.
If you would like further support on this topic, please ask at your next appointment.
I hope you have a fantastic, healthy holiday season!