Is eating in moderation a mistake?

We’ve all been told that eating in moderation is the key to a healthy diet, but who decides what moderation entails? A new study suggests that this age-old adage may not actually work as a dietary guideline.

The University of Georgia study, headed up by lead author Michelle vanDellen, who is an expert on self-control, suggests that the term ‘moderation’ varies by individual, and this wide range of interpretations may make it ineffectual as a guide for losing weight or healthy eating.

And the greater your fondness for food, the more ‘flexible’ your definition of moderation becomes.

“Moderation is a relative term,” she said. “When people talk about eating in moderation, it doesn’t allow them a clear, concrete way to guide their behaviour. For both thin and overweight people, people tend to think of moderation through their own objective [sic] lens, and they tend to exaggerate what moderation is.”

“We asked people to tell us what they think moderation is, in terms of quantity,” continued Ms vanDellen. “For instance, the research team asked participants to define how many cookies would be moderation, how many would be indulgence and how many would be considered what you should eat.”

“People do think of moderation as less than overeating, so it does suggest less consumption. But they do think of it as more than what they should eat. So moderation is more forgiving of their current desires. … The more you like a food, the more of it you think you can eat in moderation.”

The study suggests that people are the worst judge of what is the right amount of food to eat, and Ms vanDellen thinks that, with the rising rates of obesity, there is also a rising disbelief that ‘diets’ work.

“People are now saying, ‘Diets don’t work; you shouldn’t go on a diet. You should just live by the rule of moderation’. This is an increasingly popular belief. There are entire healthy eating movements oriented toward this idea of moderation,” she said.

“But those movements assume people can actually be good judges of what they’re eating and what constitutes an appropriate amount. The fact that those movements are gaining in popularity at the same time we are learning people are not good at estimating things like moderation suggests there’s a lot of room to be concerned about growing rates of obesity.”

Do you follow the ‘eat in moderation’ rule of thumb? Do you think the study advances your understanding of dieting? Or are you happy with your interpretation of the word ‘moderation’?

Read the full study at www.sciencedirect.com

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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