women eating snacks

(Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels)

“Just eat in moderation” is a phrase many people hear, but few ever get an explanation of what that actually means! This leaves room for misinterpretations and ambiguity among those looking to lose weight or just eat less.

What is ‘eating in moderation’?

To be honest, even among dietitians, there isn’t a clear definition, but the concept is simple. Moderation is defined as “avoidance of excess or extremes.” So when it comes to eating, this can be boiled down to not overdoing it. Most people think that this refers to not eating too many traditionally unhealthy foods like cakes and cookies. However, it also encompasses not going overboard on traditionally healthy foods like fruits and veggies as well. Additionally, the phrase is often used to describe portion size, referring to not eating more than your body truly needs.

Things can get dicey when it comes down to figuring out what “moderation” actually means, though. Is it once a week? Every two weeks? Three times a month? A couple of times per year? The truth is this is the part that varies from person to person. Everyone has different dietary patterns as well as preferences, so do what works for you.

3 benefits of eating in moderation

Getting a better grip on your weight

A common misconception about weight maintenance and weight loss is that you have to restrict your food intake to do it. This is not the case. People often struggle with weight problems as a result of not striking a balance with their diet, or in other words, not eating in moderation in the first place. During weight loss, it’s recommended that you actually increase your intake of nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables and decrease foods like highly processed snacks and desserts. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat junk food at all. You can still reach and maintain your goals so long as you aren’t eating these items in excess.

Relearning your body

Eating in excess can happen for many reasons, from stress to just wanting comfort from food. Regardless of the reason, overeating can throw off your cues and make it difficult for you to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signs. By eating in moderation, you can work with your body and relearn how to listen to it.

Reducing chronic disease risk

By now, we know that overeating fried foods and those high in added fats and sugars is not good for reducing risks of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. However, eating these foods here and there alongside a diet that is already full of healthy foods will keep your risk low.

junk food
(Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels)

3 steps to start eating in moderation

If you want to start practicing this concept but aren’t too sure where to begin, here are some tips:

Eat slower

A lot of people don’t chew their food nearly as long as they should. Studies have suggested that on average, people chew five times before swallowing. It’s recommended you chew close to 30 times prior to doing so. The more you chew, the better your body digests what you’re eating, and allows more time for your body to catch up and realize when it’s full.

Build a healthy plate and mind portion sizes

This one is a bit out of your control if you’re eating out, but at home, you can do it better. Try building your plate like this: half veggies, a quarter of carbs, and a quarter of protein. Take time to enjoy this meal, and then try to listen and process if you are full or if you want more food. If you find you want more food, try to see if you are truly hungry or just want to continue eating.

Avoid distracted eating

This doesn’t refer to not eating with other people but more so to eating while watching TV or a YouTube video. Distractions can often promote overeating, but focusing on your meal can help you savor it more and make you less likely to mindlessly reach for more.

Young shocked woman watching movie on TV and eating popcorn at night.
A woman watching TV with popcorn (© Drazen – stock.adobe.com)

Bottom Line

“Eat in moderation” isn’t commonly said just for fun but because it can appropriately be applied to most people’s lives. Nutrition and dieting can often feel so complicated, especially with wellness influencers and others online always having an opinion to share. However, it’s best to keep things simple and eat in a way that isn’t physically or mentally taxing while still allowing yourself some enjoyment from all foods.

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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  1. Rob Reed says:

    Growing up in the 1940s we were told that moderation meant to ‘eat a bit too little is just enough.’ Leave the table knowing you could have eaten more.

  2. Ellen Hodges says:

    When ever I over eat it cause discomfort bloating even chest pain for hrs . moderation is the only way we can control what we eat