The saying “eat everything in moderation” is among the most common diet advice, however, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem. “To me, moderation means that no foods are off limits,” says Mia Syn, RD. All foods can fit in a healthy diet, but that doesn’t mean they all fit all the time. Syn says moderation applies to “sometimes” foods like those high in added sugar, sodium, or saturated fat. “Embracing everything in moderation and not depriving yourself of foods you enjoy will leave you feeling physically and psychologically nourished,” she says.
That said, not all experts use the term. In fact, some try to avoid it completely. “There’s no real definition of the word, and it can’t be applied on a broad scale,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RD, founder and owner of Nutrition Starring You. For instance, using the mantra for a weight-loss goal is one thing, but if you have a medical condition (and perhaps have gotten advice from your doctor to lose weight), then you may not be able to moderate at all. “If your definition is to have one dessert a day, but you have Type 2 diabetes and doing so negatively affects your blood sugar, it’s not moderate — it’s damaging,” says Harris-Pincus.
More likely, calling something moderate is a psychological tactic to make you feel better about your choices. “We really only use that word when we’re talking about foods we aim to have less of, like cake, alcohol or fried foods,” adds Harris-Pincus. Research backs this up: A study published in Appetite found people called a choice moderate to “justify their current or desired consumption.” In other words, it was dubbed “moderate” when someone wanted to eat more of it.
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