Moderation is not a sexy concept, right? It’s easy to gravitate towards an “all in” mentality: either piling on the sweets and fatty foods, or picking cleanses and deprivation diets. But eating sensibly while occasionally enjoying a decadent treat? It’s countercultural.
Balance is key to my husband Alex and my approach to food. So in our new book, Pretty Simple Cooking, we took a full page spread to highlight it in Lesson 5: Seek balance. Along with 100 vegetarian recipes, the book shares the 10 secrets or “life lessons” to what’s made healthy eating sustainable for us.
Here are some practical ways that we seek balance and eat in moderation:
Develop a guiding principle
Decide what moderation looks like to you. To us, it’s eating meat, sweets, and processed foods occasionally. We generally eat vegetables at home, saving splurges for when we’re out to eat or on vacation. Having no quotas or rules makes it sustainable for us. Before you start pursuing moderation, decide what works best for you and your lifestyle!
Enjoy what’s meant to be enjoyed
Treats are just that: treats! And treats are meant to be enjoyed. Try to avoid the typical guilty talk (“I know I shouldn’t be eating this”) and instead focus on the pleasure of the experience.
Out of sight out of mind
Buying less of the food you’re trying to limit is key to a moderate approach. Alex and I limit purchasing processed and sweet-filled foods since if we can see it in our kitchen, it’s difficult for us to avoid. Instead, stock up on healthy snack foods and desserts like nuts, veggies and hummus, berries and yogurt, small pieces of dark chocolate, etc.
Allow time for your taste buds to change
It took a few months, but once we switched our diet to whole foods, the less we craved sugary and processed foods. If you’re working on this, don’t give up! It takes time for your tastes to change.
Engage in mindfulness
Eating mindfully is being fully aware of the food you are eating—that means no hand-to-mouth snacking or multitasking. This goes hand in hand with Number 2: enjoy your indulgences with a present mind. Practice that mental presence for everyday eating too; you may find it’s more enjoyable in the long run.
Don’t beat yourself up
So you screwed up? It’s okay. We all do it (promise). Instead of being guilty, give yourself the grace to try again tomorrow. You’ll find that over time it’s more sustainable to try with a positive outlook than to beat yourself up with guilt complexes.
Use portion size to your advantage
Try smaller portions of desserts or treat foods. We like to make small desserts so that we can end on a sweet treat instead of a sick stomach. Even just a few bites can fulfill a sugar urge.
Strive for variety and balance
When our dinner is full of interesting flavors and textures with lots of variety in food groups, we don’t tend to crave after dinner snacks or treat foods to make up for a lousy dinner.
Like anything, eating in moderation involves planning ahead to make sure healthy foods are readily available. Take a few moments to be intentional in your food planning and lifestyle patterns to support your guiding principle of moderation.
Sonja Overhiser is author, recipe developer, and healthy and sustainable food advocate behind the award-nominated food blog A Couple Cooks, and author of the hot new vegetarian cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking. Sonja and her husband Alex have garnered a worldwide following for their delicious vegetarian recipes and sustainable approach to cooking and eating well. Their popular blog and book have been featured in national print and online publications, including the Washington Post, Huffington Post and Bon Appetit, and they develop and photograph recipes for major national brands including ALDI and Stonyfield. Sonja and Alex are co-hosts and producers of the A Couple Cooks Podcast, which features conversations in food with personalities from local farmers to celebrity chefs.