It's the catchphrase of dietitians all over the United States. Why do they have to say it? Because people expect dietitians to eat "perfectly", to live on kale and quinoa and smoothies. I'm just beginning my journey in dietetics, but already I have people looking at me strangely as I eat a warm chocolate chip cookie or sip a deliciously icy Starbucks frappuccino.
Just to clarify - dietitians and other healthful eating advocates eat sugar. And McDonald's. And doughnuts.
I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time this year alongside dietitians at various locations across Ohio as well as at school. Whenever we have some time to kill, we enjoy talking about food philosophies. Thus, I've been able to learn first hand what healthy eating is really all about. And that's where the "everything in moderation" phrase comes in.
One remark that an older dietetic student said in my presence that really made an impact on me was that eating healthfully isn't necessarily about adhering to a strict "diet". She said "Normal, healthy eating is eating one chocolate chip cookie and then saving the rest for tomorrow. And sometimes you just end up eating the whole plate because they taste so good. Both options are normal and okay." She wasn't saying that you should always end up eating the whole plate, but that it really is okay to occasionally indulge. (Of course, if you have a medical condition that strictly forbids a certain food, then you need to do what's necessary to stay healthy.)
I think that that is the idea that has changed me the most since starting my college journey last year. No one needs to feel ashamed in eating a bowl of ice cream. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you're a failure for going through the drive-thru after a hectic day. I can assure you that even those people who have spent years and years studying the body and how it responds to food do it. They just pick their treats and really, really enjoy them. Wouldn't that be a great way to live, instead of feeling guilty?
Having said all of that, I would like to leave you with a couple of really simple tips I've learned along my journey to moderation.
1) Honestly, if you eat all the fruits and vegetables that you need to, you won't have room for a ton else!
Half your plate is supposed to be fruits and vegetables, with a quarter being grains and a quarter being protein. This doesn't have to be the exact proportions at each meal, just a general guideline. If 3/4 of your plate is regularly carbohydrates, then you're probably not eating in moderation.
2) Diet products are tempting, but it's better to just wean yourself off of constantly consuming sweet foods and beverages.
I can speak from experience with this one - sugar is addictive and your taste buds don't know an artificial sweetener from a natural one. I was a sugar fiend growing up, then went for about 6 months without sugar several years ago. It was truly a liberating experience! I have since gotten a bit of my sweet tooth back, but have been slowly but steadily cutting back.
3) Practice "mindful eating."
Basically, mindful eating is using all five senses when eating. For example, let yourself inhale deeply before eating an aromatic food and let your taste buds really taste all the dimensions of the food. You might even take some extra time to make your plate attractive and visibly appealing. It requires you to slow down and enjoy your meal. I am naturally a really fast eater, so this attitude really helps me.
I have had this post on my heart and mind for a long time. If you're like me and tend to have guilt attacks after a helping of a decadent dessert, then please relax. Eat your salads, by all means, but feel free to get that Dairy Queen Blizzard occasionally.
Everything in moderation.