Take a second: think about what the word “moderation” means. What does a political moderate believe? How much do you need to save to have a moderate retirement? How many episodes of The Walking Dead is a moderate amount to watch in one sitting? What’s a moderate amount of beer to drink at a backyard barbecue? How many chocolate chip cookies is a moderate amount to eat in a day?
Do you think your answers look anything like mine? It’s unlikely at best.
Research in the journal Appetite assessed the way people interpret the meaning of “moderation” when it comes to food intake. In two different trials, they found that people defined moderate intake as more than they should consume.
A third trial found that definitions of moderation were greater than the subjects’ own personal consumption. Meaning they used their own consumption as a baseline and defined “moderate” as more than what they already ate! So if I were to eat a medium brownie for dessert every night, I might define moderate as a large brownie. And just imagine the diet a hot dog eating contest winner would suggest!
Our definition of moderation in a dietary context is biased by our own consumption. How can we rely on it to guide our dietary choices?
Now, if you use moderation as your guide and maintain healthy weight without health issues, your definition of moderation is working for you. Carry on.
But for the two-thirds of the population who are overweight or obese, successful weight loss is going to call for a more specific approach than just “all things in moderation.”
Further, consuming a “moderate” amount of refined grains and sugars – by any definition - is probably not going to help you reach your weight loss goals. But, if you want to consume more than a moderate amount of broccoli, it won’t negatively impact your weight loss unless it’s part of a casserole that includes cream of mushroom soup and fried onion strings.
So if the “all things in moderation” approach is bad, and diets are bad, what are we to do?
Write it down. Andrew Hallam wrote about the Kaiser Permanente research that made an important revelation: those who write down their food intake have the best weight loss results.
This makes sense. If you haven’t been getting the results you want, then you can look at your record and make adjustments. And just the requirement to write it down acts as a disincentive to eating too much. It’s one thing to eat an entire sleeve of Thin Mints. It’s another thing altogether to record it for posterity - like a confession of sorts.
If weight loss is your goal, throw the moderation concept out the window. If you really want results, get a fancy app or a low-tech notebook and start making notes.
Now, who wants to explain this to our politicians?