What Does Eating in Moderation Mean Anyway?

Moderation is an important concept to grasp when it comes to eating well, but understanding what it means can prove to be a challenge. It’s one of those words, one of those concepts, that just doesn’t have a clear definition making it easy for us as individuals to fill in the blanks as we see fit.


Since this is a word I use frequently in conversation and part of that whole “all foods can fit” mentality that I enjoy, it’s important we are all on the same page and you understand what I mean. Since definitions can vary widely, it is possible that certain interpretations of “eating in moderation” could make it more difficult to eat well or to achieve and maintain an appropriate weight.

So before we start identifying what moderate eating looks like in everyday life, let’s define it. According to most nutrition textbooks and as highlighted by fellow registered dietitian Toby Amidor, RDN, in a US News and World Report post,  a moderate meal plan is typically one that “avoids excessive amounts of calories or any particular food or nutrient.”  In other words, moderate eating is about avoiding the extremes.

Let’s take our definition one step further. Green Mountain at Fox Run, a weight loss retreat center for women, defines moderate eating as “embracing an all-foods-fit mindset and not depriving yourself of any food that provides you true pleasure.”  By the way, I LOVE that definition. It still takes into account the balance moderate eating should provide while also strongly emphasizing the importance of food enjoyment.

So how do you determine how foods fit into you meal plan in a way that will promote wellness?

Were you asking this question after reading through the definitions? It’s a good question to ask because on their own, these definitions are still pretty subjective. Even though I really like Green Mountain at Fox Run’s take on this term, it may not seem easily applicable or like it will move your eating habits in the right direction.

For me, the all-foods-fit mindset only works when you keep the following factors in mind:

Recognize that you do need a certain amount of energy and nutrients to function each day. Take a look at those definitions again – both only work if you have something to measure your extremes against. For each of us, that may differ because we all have unique requirements we need to meet each day for our body to work as it should. If you don’t know what that amount is, it is impossible to know whether you are eating too little or too much of something. The USDA has a great calculator to help you determine daily needs. This is a great benchmark to build your meals and snacks around.

Make sure your basic food groups are the base of each meal and snack. Moderation isn’t about incorporating all foods evenly. Foods rich in nutrients should always be front and center of your meal plan, getting more face time with you then other foods might. An easy way to keep these foods in focus is to plan out meals with basic food groups in mind.

Determine what each food you want eat will add to your overall wellness plan AND how much of each food you need to actually feel satisfied. Enjoying your food is important – especially when it comes to eating in a way that nourishes you for a lifetime. If you don’t like what you eat, chances are high that you won’t eat it for very long. Instead, think about the foods you want to eat and consider what value they add to your plan. You may want to think about short term benefits, like feeling full or satisfied after eating and how the food tastes, but don’t forget about the long-term benefits too. Food enjoyment isn’t just about how you feel now, but also how you will feel in the future.

Many nutrient-rich foods may not necessarily provide the same immediate pleasure as sweets or salty snacks do, BUT they can support a more enjoyed life. By eating well, you can feel your best each and every day.

And for those foods that do provide more immediate pleasure – take time to think about how much of these foods you actually need to fully enjoy them. In most instances, you may find that you don’t need to eat as much as you think you do – especially if you are eating well throughout the day consistently.

Become more aware of what your body is trying to tell you. We often fail to listen to what our body is telling us, but becoming mindful of what our body is communicating can help us naturally eat in more moderate ways. The more in tune we become, the more likely we are to naturally eat in proper proportions and amounts that work for us. To put this into practice, consider using this awareness checklist from Dr. Susan Albers, founder of EatMindfully.com, at meal times.

Remember, “eating in moderation” isn’t the same as “eating everything in equal proportions.” This is worth repeating because I think this is where the confusion often lies. Eating in moderation doesn’t mean all foods have equal value. They just don’t. All foods can fit and no food is bad, BUT foods are not all the same. Choose foods that are worthy of you and enjoy them. That’s the type of moderate eating I’m equipping people for.