Moderation vs. Restriction
by Lisette Cifaldi, LMSW Owner of Eating Sanity & Eating Sanity on Location
If I had a dime for every time someone told me to just eat sweets in moderation, or any other yummy food for that matter, I could have retired by now. The fact that I just used the colloquialism, “If I had a dime…,” probably means I should retire anyway because that’s something my mom would say. The point is, moderation is not a new idea and when someone mentions the concept to me I want to press their mute button (if only…).
People are always giving me dieting advice. Bless their little hearts. Don’t get me wrong, I have an open mind and if I hear advice that is different from something I’ve heard before I will most definitely explore it further. The problem is, the advice I get is seldom new, innovative, or even healthy.
The weight-loss advice I get usually falls into one of two categories. The first category is the dreaded moderation category. It’s vexingly obvious and assumes that I must be an idiot for not having thought of it sooner. The second category is the restriction category. In this category, well-meaning individuals suggest restricting calories or entire categories of food such as carbs, sugar, gluten, etc. You get the picture, right? The restriction category, which ends up feeling a whole lot more like deprivation, is the one where all joy is not-so-ceremoniously ripped from your life. Here’s the catch, for the food addict and compulsive eater, both categories have their problems.
Let’s start with moderation. I would give anything to be able to eat sweets in moderation. I have experimented with the idea for many years. In fact, a very recent experiment ended up with me losing a battle to kettle-corn. Convinced at 35 calories a cup it was a pretty benign food, I opened a big bag. Thirty minutes later, said big bag was gone and evidence of its existence was limited to a few half-kernels stuck to my shirt. Addiction can be humbling indeed.
Moderating trigger foods for the food addict isn’t possible. The way trigger foods affect an addict’s brain is not like that of an average eater. For the food addict or compulsive eater, trigger foods cause a dopamine spike in the brain’s pleasure pathways that comprises the pre-fontal cortex of the brain, otherwise known as the shut-off valve. Even if the food addict is able to eat a trigger food in moderation on a specific occasion, it will most likely cause an increase in food cravings and obsessive food thoughts soon afterwards which can hurt their on-going willpower.
Now let’s talk restriction. Most food addicts battling their weight for years have tried several restriction-themed diets. There are a couple of problems with this weight-loss strategy. First, it’s next to impossible to live on a restrictive calorie-plan without eventually having a psychotic break that lands you in a corner table at McDonald’s downing a super-sized, extra-value meal with a McFlurry chaser. Summed up, restrictive diets are not sustainable and make the food addict go postal. Secondly, for the food addict, restrictive diets increase cravings and obsessive food thoughts without a doubt.
So, what’s an addict to do?
To find real recovery from food addiction, the food addict has to give up trying to moderate foods that trigger their addiction. Most alcoholics don’t try and moderate alcohol and most food addicts don’t try and moderate the specific foods that cause their dysfunction with food to flare up. While they may have to deprive themselves of specific foods, such as chocolate, chips, breads, fast-food (or kettle-corn), being overly restrictive with a food plan isn’t wise either. Low-calorie food plans, or food plans that are overly restrictive with entire categories of food that don’t trigger the addiction, can cause a deprivation mentality that eventually erodes willpower and initiates a nasty relapse-effect.
For the food addict, recovery lies in having patience finding the right food plan for them and a healthy balance of restriction, moderation and a mindful approach to enjoying food. It’s a long process that requires self-compassion.
Lisette Cifaldi is the owner of Eating Sanity, LLC and Eating Sanity on Location. eatingsanity.com