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Should You Avoid Certain Foods or Practice Moderation?

You may have noticed the diets or eating plans fall into one of two camps:

· You can eat any food in moderation

· You must avoid certain foods, period

WW is an example of the former, saying that with their points system, you can have some amount of any food you want. On the opposite side is a program called Brightline Eating that says you can never, ever have sugar or flour.

Seeing such opposing views can be quite confusing to those trying to figure out a healthy way to eat.

After all, these approaches can’t both be true. Or can they?

The answer is – it depends on the person. For some, moderation is the key. For others, complete avoidance works better. The trick is figuring out which approach is right for you.

When to moderate

If you’ve struggled a lot with your relationship with food, you may think you could never eat some foods in moderation. Those tend to be foods like candy, sweets, chips, ice cream, etc.

Of course, the reality is that we all have some foods that we can easily eat in moderation. Those foods may differ by person, but as an example, much as I love fruits, I can’t imagine eating a whole bag of apples or a big bunch of bananas in a single sitting, or even a single day. It has zero appeal to me.

On the flip side, you may also find that you become rebellious at the mere whiff of absolute restriction, which means you may want to give moderation a chance. That’s where I fall.

I used to worry that I’d never be able to eat sweets in moderation. But after my negative experiences with diets, I also knew that if I said I could never have sweets again, ever, with no exception, I’d immediately want sweets even more and find a way to get them.

If that sounds like you, then you’re better off finding a way to moderate. That may mean not keeping many sweets in the house and only having them on special occasions. Or you might keep something around that you like okay but isn’t your absolute favorite – something to satisfy the craving without making you feel like going overboard.

You may also find that if you eat mindfully, moderation comes more easily. The times that I ate lots of sweets at once, I wasn’t paying attention at all to what I ate, and things might have been different if I had.

And I’ve found that moderation has gotten easier over time. These days, a batch of cookies can last a couple of months (mostly frozen until I thaw a few out), and my jar of M&Ms lasts a long time since I only have three or four pieces a day.

When avoidance can work

But some people struggle with moderation. For those folks, having a single sweet, or a single bite of a certain food, makes them want another… and another… and another. People in those situations may feel like they have no control and will simply keep eating and eating.

This could be a broad category of foods, like all sweets, or a particular kind. For example, you might be able to eat cake or pie in moderation but not ice cream. Or perhaps you can eat store-bought cake in moderation but not homemade, or something like that.

And if you fall into that category, it may feel like a relief to have a very clear, non-negotiable rule that you simply won’t have the problem food or category of food.

If that’s a rule you choose for yourself, and you can live with it, then go with it.

I’ll add that if you feel like you need these rules, it may also be worth trying to sit down and eat the “forbidden” food mindfully to see if that changes things. If you’re used to eating something in a rush and without much thought, it can make a surprising amount of difference to sit at the table, use a nice plate, eat slowly, and savor every bite.

But either way is your choice – just make sure it truly works for you.

Food isn’t “one size fits all”

I’m always wary of anything that claims to be “one size fits all” – and that goes double (or even triple) for food. We all have different bodies and different experiences with food, and that’s going to change how we approach eating.

The key is to find what works for you. Really pay attention to how you feel about the question of moderation vs. avoidance for different foods and go with what works best in your situation.


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