Top 10 Tips to Practice Moderation

{HABIT: Nourish}
Month: 4 / Week: 3

{moderation} the avoidance of excess or extremes

sugarOh moderation. Your best friend and worst enemy. More often than not, “everything in moderation” follows eating a super-size-jumbo portion of a less than healthy food.  And this doesn’t even account for everything else that person ate.  Too many people are using this as an excuse to eat what ever they want.  But, is this moderation… really?

Hate to burst your bubble, but no.

Take a look again at the definition above. AVOIDANCE… of “extremes” or “excess”. When it comes to your diet, think of it in terms of having too much of any single food, nutrient, or food group. A diet in moderation would allow for a little bit of anything… with one little caveat: overall, it must be packed with good nutrition.

Let’s take those “empty calories”. You know what, scratch that. I hate this term. It implies these foods are “bad” and offer nothing more than calories. Let’s just call these less nutrient dense foods. Think: cake and ice cream on birthdays, potato chips during a football game, cookies during the holidays… and so on. Even in just these few examples, we see that food is more than just energy (that is, calories). Food is often a symbol of culture, celebration, social gatherings, and family. When enjoyed now and then, particularly for special occasions, I think these foods are perfectly acceptable.

chocolateI believe the issue isn’t “bad” foods or “bad” ingredients. The real issue is bad diet patterns. We have to consider the bigger picture. Eating a candy bar, drinking a soda, or having some french fries now and then doesn’t lead to all of the health problems we see today. It’s when these things are consumed in excess and combined with lack of exercise, poor sleep, and high stress that we begin to see problems. The more you can limit these foods, the better. But you have to decide what makes sense for you and your life. If you aren’t fitting into your definition of health, you probably need to change something until you are. That may mean limiting the less healthy foods to only special occasions, or only once a week. It also depends on your goals. Are you trying to lose weight or simply live healthier?

With that in mind, let’s redefine moderation for our diet.

{moderation} a diet based on balance and variety of nutritious foods with the addition of less healthy foods on occasion and in appropriate portions

That’s really the key to moderation : balance. variety. portion control.

You already know how to implement balance and variety from the previous challenges. To practice moderation, you need to get to know your serving sizes. Listed below are single servings of the major food groups plus tips on which foods to select from this list.


  • Serving: 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup cooked
  • Tip: choose fresh or frozen. Limit canned and fried options.


  • Serving: 1 medium fruit (or 1/2 cup chopped), 1/4 cup dried fruit, 4oz juice
  • Tip: choose mostly fresh or frozen. Limit dried fruit and fruit juice.


  • Serving: 1 slice of bread, 1/2-1 cup cereal or cooked grains (rice, pasta, oats, quinoa)
  • Tip: pick whole grains when possible. Even if you’re gluten free, whole grains are available.

Dairy / Dairy Substitutes

  • Serving: 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1oz cheese
  • Tip: for cow’s milk dairy, choose reduced or low fat options. Try adding some vegan alternatives too. You might be surprised at how good they are!

Meats, Poultry, & Seafood

  • Serving: 3-4 ounces cooked meat, poultry or seafood
  • Tip: look for fresh or frozen and choose lean cuts

Fats & Oils

  • Serving: 1 tsp oil, butter or margarine.
  • Tip: choose products with unsaturated fats more often

Nuts & Seeds

  • Serving: 1/4 cup nuts or seeds or 2T nut butter
  • Tip: don’t eat from the package. Portion these out. It’s very easy to over do it with nuts or eat peanut butter by the spoonful (or 2 or 3 or 4…)


  • Serving: 1/2 cup cooked beans
  • Tip: if using canned, drain and rinse your beans to cut down on sodium

Sweets & Snacks

  • Serving: 1 tablespoon sweetener (sugar, honey, jelly, maple syrup, agave), a handful of bite size pieces (candy, chips, cookies), or 1/2 cup frozen treats (ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt)
  • Tip: Limit to 1 time or less per day.

moderationNow you know the appropriate serving sizes for each food group, but what does that look like in a day? Sure, you could follow the recommended servings for each food group or some diet that tells you to have a certain amount of “this” or “that” at specific times of day. For me, that isn’t realistic. Even as a dietitian, I don’t get exactly the number of recommended vegetables or only eat whole grains. It just isn’t realistic for me. Instead, I live by these tips. It works for me and I hope it works for you too.


  • {1} 80/20 Rule: Make at least 80% of what you eat come from whole unprocessed foods or made from scratch recipes and 20% or less from processed snacks or empty calorie treats. Tip: If you’re trying to lose weight, make it 90/10 until you reach your goal.
  • {2} Eat at least one vegetable with every meal
  • {3} If you want a snack, choose fresh fruit, a handful of nuts/seeds, or lean protein like string cheese or yogurt
  • {4} Include protein and fiber at each meal to keep you full longer
  • {5} Only pick healthy foods you LOVE. Don’t just pick something because someone said it was good for you. If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be more tempted to give in to less healthy options later.
  • {6} Buy pre-portioned snacks or do it yourself. If it’s something you’ll overeat regardless of the package… don’t buy it at all.
  • {7} When you spot a bowl of goodies or the vending machine and you get “hungry” ask yourself : Would I eat a carrot? Would I eat an apple? If not, you’re not hungry. Find something else to do. Drink some water. Go for a walk. Talk to a friend.
  • {8} If you know you’re going out for dinner or celebrating a special occasion, work it into your daily plan. Eat a lighter breakfast and lunch. Exercise a bit harder or longer that day.
  • {9} Serve yourself on smaller dishes. Smaller plates, smaller bowls, smaller glasses. That way your portion control is built in.
  • {10} Don’t be hard on yourself. If you want a cookie, enjoy a cookie or two. Not the whole box. You know what to do. Trust yourself and do it!

Nourish 3Pick at least 5 of the 10 tips to implement this week, with one of those being the 80/20 rule. Then pick another 4. If you can do all 10, more power to you!

And remember, this is a practice. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect. As long as you keep trying, you’ll continue to make progress.

Comment below with which 5 you picked! I’d love to hear what you’re going to try this week
New to the healthy habits challenge ? Start here.

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