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Wanting to learn more about how to practice moderation? Read more below for some tips.
Sometimes in life it is easier to take the all-or-nothing approach. It can be simpler to entirely cut caffeine from your life than to enjoy a small coffee once every few days. It can take less willpower to deactivate your Facebook account than to enjoy it only occasionally. It can be much easier to cut out an entire food group — carbs, high-fat foods, or desserts — than to eat these items in moderation. A good example from society is the latest TLC show, “Extreme Cheapskates.” One episode features a woman who cuts up small squares of old fabric to make “reusable toilet paper,” while another shows an accountant who dives into grocery-store dumpsters for food and uses binder clips to salvage worn, stretched-out shorts:
For these “extreme cheapskates,” it has been easier to live by the rule — “Spend nothing unless you absolutely have to” — than to embrace moderate and flexible frugality.
Of course, in rare circumstances, it makes sense to take the all-or-nothing route. Completely abstaining from alcohol or drugs in cases of severe addiction or forgoing particular foods when you suffer from food allergies makes sense. On the flip side, eating a large portion of vegetables as a part of every meal is an “extreme” that will likely promote health and longevity. However, in most circumstances, we stand to lose a lot by indulging in too much of a good thing, or, conversely, abstaining altogether from pleasures that are not unhealthy in moderation.
And we stand to gain a great deal by practicing the art of moderation. First, it is much easier to socialize if you do not rigidly adhere to a restrictive diet or if you allow yourself to spend money on items that aren’t crucial for your survival. Second, allowing yourself to purchase and enjoy a variety of small pleasures each week — in contrast to abstaining from purchases entirely or spending the same amount of money on one large item — contributes to greater levels of happiness (Dun, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2006). And most obviously, choosing moderation over abstinence allows you to live life fully: you can freely experience all of life’s pleasures without facing the consequences of overindulgence or suffering through life in a prison of rigidity.
Fortunately for us, moderation is possible and can become habit over time in the same way abstinence can (Finney & Moos, 2006; Lovibond & Caddy, 1970). So how do you do it?
- Choose small portions: My healthy, alert, and fun-loving 97-year-old grandmother Mema is the embodiment of moderation, and not surprisingly, is an expert at portioning. As my mother says, Mema has never deprived herself of any one of life’s pleasures. She eats dessert almost every day — a single scoop of ice cream, three bites of cake, or two squares of chocolate. She drinks iced tea in kid-sized cups and wine in glasses barely larger than a shot glass. All her life, she stayed thin by staying active throughout the day rather than engaging in extreme exercise regimens, walking her dogs regularly, doing chores around the house, and, when she moved into a retirement community at the age of 95, getting an apartment on the 3rd floor so that she could take the stairs, energy permitting. To this day, Mema is still free of cancer, heart conditions, joint replacements, dementia, and other conditions that commonly plague us in our advanced years. According to Dan Buettner’s Blue Zone research, the inhabitants of the Japanese island Okinawa live past 100 years at far higher rates than the rest of the world. In addition to regular socializing and active lifestyles, before every meal, they recite “Hari Hachi Bu,” which translates to “Eat until you are only 80 percent full.”
- Dilute your way to moderation: Let’s be honest. Portioning does not work for everyone nor for every pleasure. If I am accustomed to enjoying a 12-ounce coffee every morning on my drive to work, it is going to be difficult for me to settle for a four-ounce coffee and feel the same level of satisfaction. Instead, what I did to rein in my out-of-control caffeine habit (I was known to drink multiple energy drinks and coffee in a day) was to replace my usual caffeinated beverages with herbal tea, decaffeinated green tea, and the occasional caffeinated tea. This way, I am still able to enjoy a warm and comforting beverage in the mornings without experiencing the jitteriness and 3 PM crash that came with drinking way too much of a good thing. When I do need an extra boost, I allow myself caffeinated green tea or iced black tea and I have experienced almost no temptation to return to coffee and energy drinks. The same trick can be applied to alcoholic beverages (drink the same amount of a weaker beverage) and dessert (choose low-fat, low-sugar frozen yogurt instead of ice cream).
- Indulge on occasion: Another way of striking a moderate balance is by partaking in something less frequently. I have a friend who drinks alcohol only one day per week to make sure that it doesn’t become a nightly habit. My brother eats cake only on birthdays. Another friend drinks caffeine only before big tests.
- Allow Relapses: As hard as you might try to practice moderation, you are bound to have the occasional slip-up — an all-out queso and margarita fest after a break up, a 5-hour marathon of junk TV (maybe even “Extreme Cheapskates”…) after a hard day at work, or an over-the-top shopping spree after getting your dream job. And this is okay. By accepting these “slip-ups” rather than beating yourself up, you are more likely to bounce back into moderation instead of indulging in another remorse-driven, guilty binge. After all, to practice the art of moderation moderately, you must accommodate the occasional extreme.
If you are wanting more help in learning how to practice moderation, we can assist you! We have a team of skilled clinicians who have expertise in many areas. You can contact us to make a counseling appointment. You can also get more information on adult counseling from our dedicated page. If you liked this post, you can also read Exploring Intuitive Eating.
Buettner, D. (2012). The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic Books.
Dunn, E. W., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2011). If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(2), 115-125.
Finney, J. W., & Moos, R. H. (2006). Matching clients’ treatment goals with treatment oriented towards abstinence, moderation or harm reduction.Addiction, 101(11), 1540-1542.
Lovibond, S. H., & Caddy, G. (1970). Discriminated aversive control in the moderation of alcoholics’ drinking behavior. Behavior Therapy, 1(4), 437-444.