Making Sense of Moderation

Moderation isn’t sexy. It’s not going to sweep you off your feet, make you tingly, or cause you to swoon. And yet, moderation is one of the primary keys to overall wellness. It means enjoying what you love, and what feeds you, rather than denying yourself meaningful pleasure. It means seeking out balance in all things–those that are good for you, and healthful, and those that are indulgent and maybe even a bit naughty.

making-sense-moderation-pudding-postPracticing moderation isn’t hard, but it does require some forethought, so you’d be wise to cultivate habits that make it easier to achieve. Here are four points to help you do so:

  • Large dishes encourage you to eat large portions.  In his wonderful and insightful book Mindless Eating, psychologist and Cornell University Food and Brand Lab Director Brian Wansink, PhD, writes of the “mindless margin,” the food we eat unintentionally simply because it’s there in front of us. He suggests serving food on smaller plates to counteract this tendency. That way, you’ll eat only what you actually mean to.
  • Fat promotes satiety. Contrary to still-popular beliefs, a bit of healthy fat served alongside low-calorie foods actually encourages less daily calorie consumption than depriving yourself of fat altogether. Why? Healthy, unsaturated fats like nuts and olive oil promote “satiety;” that feeling of fullness after you eat. If you feel full, you’re less likely to feel famished, or deprived, later in the day. (Learn more about how eating fat helps you stay slim.)
  • Most recipes can be halved.  This is obvious, granted, but how many times do you make a full batch of cookies just because that’s the way the recipe is written? Only make a full batch if you actually want, and plan to eat, a full batch. Or keep out only what you’ll eat in the very near future and freeze the rest for a later date.
  • Acknowledge the law of diminishing returns. A concept borrowed from economics, this theory can also be applied to food. It means that the first few bites of a food are always the best, and each subsequent bite provides diminishing relative pleasure. So don’t skip indulgences, but keep portions small. Doing so will actually help you enjoy them more. Little ramekins are perfect for ice cream, warm apple crumble, and intense chocolaty pudding.

Do I follow these precepts all the time? No, of course not. I’m anti-deprivation, though, so I know that in order to keep my own diet in check, I’ve got to make choices that will minimize the risks of my going overboard.

So don’t tell me not to eat chocolate pudding, because I won’t listen. And don’t tell me it’s not good for me, because it is: it’s good for my soul.  Just don’t laugh when you see me eating my pudding from a tiny bowl with a wee little spoon. It’s how I make moderation work for me.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.


It all started with a box of salt cod I bought on a whim on Friday. I know it’s an odd ingredient, but salt cod reminds me of Greece. And I’d just finished the (hopefully final) edits on my novel (that alone is a good reason to celebrate), which is partially set in Greece. And thinking of salt cod and Greece made me think of the feasts we used to have there–tables groaning with food. So on Saturday, I began shredding the fish and my husband started making calls, and by 8:00 we had a festive crew nibbling on fried salt cod fritters with skordalia (kind of like super-garlicky mashed potatoes beaten with olive oil), vinegary beet salad, charred lamb chops and the pungent yogurt dip called tzatziki.

Now, nutritionists might thumb their noses at our feast and, divided up into grams of fat and sodium, they’d be right to do so. Lord knows, I’ve spent most of my life feeling guilty about living it up after decades of diet indoctrination. But I truly believe that there’s a place for meals like these. Rick Bayless, in his book Mexican Everyday, talks about how occasional celebrations are a natural balance to everyday moderation; “No one ever got fat on a weekly feast, but missing that feast can leave you with strong cravings (both physical and spiritual) all week long.”

I agree. Along wigh moderation, celebration is a foundation of a mindful eating practice. So I went into this weekend with eyes wide open, trusting that Sunday through Friday I would eat simply and wholesomely, that this celebration was yang to the more restrained weekday yin, and that I needed both to remain balanced. And I’ll tell you, what a world of difference it makes entering a Monday feeling fulfilled rather than remorseful.

So this week (or next if you’re not into spontaneity), I challenge you to have a feast. Make a roast, bake a cake, revel in the meal and the company. The one ingredient you’re not allowed to include? Guilt.