The term “in moderation” gets thrown around a lot, particularly in relation to food and living a healthy lifestyle. The idea is that it is okay to partake in less healthy behaviour such as eating junk food, drinking alcohol – sometimes to excess – as long as these behaviours do not form part of our daily routine. That is, we partake in them less frequently – in moderation.
When I started to eat healthier, my new diet was viewed by some as being a little extreme. I was constantly told – and still am – “It’s okay to eat sweets and pizza and drink wine occasionally”, and I agree – it is fine to do these things. Occasionally.
But when our ‘occasionally’ becomes more frequent, is it still okay?
Our diet today has become heavily processed. Even “healthy” options such as muesli bars, “wholegrain” crackers and breads, and low-fat dairy options (including yoghurt) are often quite refined and contain added sugar and other additives and preservatives, making them a less ideal option. Therefore when we are eating these foods regularly thinking that we are eating healthily, and then having a less healthy treat on the odd occasion, we may actually be consuming more sugar and additives than what we actually think.
If you are constantly tired and lacking in motivation, if your hair is dull and your skin prone to breakouts, if you are struggling to manage your weight, it could be that you are eating more processed foods than you think.
So what’s the alternative? Should we be depriving ourselves of all treats, all of the time?
In short… No
Healthy eating is not about depriving yourself. In fact, it can be healthier to have a treat occasionally than what it can be to deprive yourself and consequently worry or stress about food. Some occasions call for special treats – your favorite cake on your birthday, a glass (or two ;) of champagne at a wedding, or a few cocktails and canapes poolside on holiday. And there may be times in your regular life where you may wish to indulge a little – a glass of wine at your weekly catch-up with the girls, a take-out meal on the weekend. But these ‘treats’ really should be that – something that happens only on special or infrequent occasions, and shouldn’t feature in your daily routine.
As a general rule, and something that I try my best to stick to, is aiming to eat healthy, clean, unprocessed foods 80% of the time, allowing 20% leeway for a few treats throughout the week. But for the rest of the time we should be eating whole, healthy foods that are nutritionally dense and will nourish our bodies and provide the fuel and support that our body needs to function properly and stay healthy.
So how do you kick the habit so that you really are eating treats “in moderation”?
For me, after my “occasional” sweet treat turned into an everyday sweet treat after my insatiable sweet tooth got the better of me, I chose to do a cleanse. 10 days of only whole foods – no added nasties, no sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol. Just pure, clean foods that would nourish my body, reset my cravings and get rid of the bad habits I’d slowly started developing.
But if you think that feels a little extreme for you or the timing isn’t quite right at the moment to do a full cleanse, there are other things you can do to get back on track.
1. Read labels – make sure that the foods that form your daily diet are predominately clean, wholefoods without any added junk – no sugars or preservatives, or artificial colours or flavours. Even better, focus on eating food that doesn’t come in a packet (go crazy on those fresh veg!)
2. Be mindful – think about what you are eating before it goes in your mouth. Do you really need that chocolate bar in the afternoon? Are you actually hungry, or are you bored/irritated/eating out of habit. Try drinking a big glass of water or go for a little walk instead and then see how you feel.
3. Listen to your body – if you are staring to feel run down, and you know you haven’t been eating well lately, listen to your body and give it what it needs – more fresh veggies and wholefoods, and less treats.
4. Try allowing yourself a treat day and see if that works for you – pick a day, perhaps a Friday or Saturday, where you can have a guilt-free indulgent meal or a treat, perhaps a few glasses of wine, that you won’t beat yourself up about lately. Have that as your one “treat” day for the week, and try to eat as healthy as possible for the rest of the week.
5. Choose healthier treats. Treats don’t need to be a overly processed chocolate bar loaded with additives, loads of refined sugar and artificial flavours. Try making healthier versions of your favorite treats like peanut butter cups or chocolate-coated berries.
And one last thing – it’s important to try out a few different techniques to alter your habits and eating patterns when trying to eat healthier. If one fails, don’t feel defeated, just no that that doesn’t work for you, and try another. You’ll get there in the end, and the more healthier your diet is, the less you will crave those unhealthy treats – promise!