You’ve heard this phrase before, usually during a discussion about a favorite junk food, or maybe out with friends at a restaurant. Someone decides they are going to indulge in an obviously unhealthy dish, announcing that they usually eat better, but this restaurant has the best cheesecake in town. “Everything in moderation!” they happily announce, and their order is settled. Or maybe it’s the well-meaning family member who defends their choice, and uses the phrase as a statement against those health extremists who don’t eat dessert.
Maybe you’ve said it recently, even if just in your own mind. “Just this one personal pizza, it’s just quick and convenient, and then I’ll eat better”. We all do this on one level or another, but let’s be real, after 8 times of “just this once”, it’s time to re-evaluate. I bring this up because I believe “everything in moderation” is one of the most harmful health myths out there. I get very uncomfortable when someone says this, then they wait for a response. I feel obligated to agree and not start a negative conversation, so I often just smile and hope the subject changes. Replying with, “Are you saying I can do heroine in moderation?” doesn’t usually go over well. (Stay tuned to next week’s blog for my mental answers to the most absurd health comment’s I’ve heard.)
Let me share what brought this topic to mind, an incident that occurred just a few days ago. My lovely roommate had a big life event this weekend, and her family brought a cake to celebrate. Now, this was no ordinary ordered-from-Walmart cake. This was a Macedonian layered cake with decadent crème, nuts, and spices, beautifully decorated. The family kindly offered me a piece (they knew I loved it) and next thing I know, I am cutting a piece, saying to myself “one piece won’t hurt!” Keep in mind, I have been gluten-free for a couple years, because of my autoimmune thyroid disorder which happens to be aggravated by gluten. I had also been on one detox for a month, followed by a strict sugar detox for the last 2 weeks. A recipe for disaster, but the beauty of the cake clouded my judgment. Long story short, the cake tasted great, I started to feel weird shortly after, and felt strangely sick and extremely fatigued for the following two days. I was transported right back to the way I felt a few years ago before I changed my diet: like crap! I had to nap, my mood was terrible, and I was too tired to do much meaningful work, let alone have the motivation to exercise! Maybe I needed a reminder like this to keep me committed in the future. I can now think back to how bad I felt, and how good the cake tasted, but for how short a time, and make a better decision.
You may be thinking, “I don’t feel any different, no matter what I eat, and I don’t have any medical conditions that keep me from eating a particular food.” That very well may be! Many people are blessed to not have food affect them immediately. I would have said the same thing years ago, but now that I have cleaned up my diet, I feel so much better, and would NEVER have known that unless I changed my nutrition long term! If you have low energy or digestive issues, would you be willing to be disciplined for just a few months to potentially feel dramatically better for the rest of your life?
And then there is the food addiction piece. This is the part I am sad to admit. Last month I co-led a 4 week series on sugar and its addictive qualities, and how to live “Sugar-free and Satisfied”. We then led a 2-week sugar detox. I had been feeling great, no crashes, no cravings. And then one little piece of cake changed all of that. In the three days that followed, I turned into an addict. I have swiped Justin’s peanut butter cups off the grocery shelf so fast I could barely see my hand. I have walked into Godiva for a free piece of chocolate and came out with a nice little bag which I proceeded to eat for dinner. That’s right, FOR DINNER! And then I did the unthinkable and raided my roommates’ candy stash, only to feel guilty and put it back just the way it was. I feel like a drug addict looking for my next hit. This, dear reader, is why “everything in moderation” is a lie. For me, and millions of other food addicts, just one exposure can dramatically alter our otherwise healthy lifestyle. Food, and most specifically sugar, followed by dairy and bread, is highly addictive. You wouldn’t do just one line of cocaine and expect to never indulge again.
1. Know yourself, respect your history. If you’ve been lactose intolerant for years, a large ice cream cone is not going to be a treat, even if it is for everyone else. It’s just not worth it!
2. It’s ok to say no, both to others and to yourself. There is power in sticking to your convictions, and in this case, a lot of benefit to be had. It’s better to feel good than to comply.
3. Sugar IS addictive. If you don’t think you are addicted, then I dare you to cut it out completely and see what happens. This means that we cannot play around with sugar. One coke, one Snickers, one cheesecake, and our brain and body will call for more sugar. The only way out of this loop, to avoid cravings, crashes, and binges, is to just cut it out completely and enjoy fruit- nature’s dessert.
4. Some foods can be an occasional treat, and some should not. You must have a good understanding of your biology and nutritional science to know the difference.
5. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: for every food ingested there is a consequence, either positive or negative. Find out what your trigger foods are! If you need any guidance in this, let me know. Exploring the way you are uniquely made is an exciting and beautiful process, leading to lots of smiles and energy!