Pictured here is a meal of fish and chips. Many people will look at this picture and think; “fish and chips are loaded with calories and fattening” or “fish and chips are bad for you.”
The wonderful thing about enjoying all food in moderation is that no one type of food will result in you consuming excess calories or will adversely affect your health.
What is moderation?
Moderation is the avoidance of extremes, a place where you don’t completely restrict yourself, or go completely nuts, around food you want to be able to enjoy. Moderation is not a line in the sand that you draw, it looks different to different people and will even vary for the same person depending on factors such as appetite, mood, environment, current circumstances and even the weather! Ultimately, once you find what moderation means to you, you will be able to enjoy your desires without it being excess to the point of regret. But, as Oscar Wild famously said – “everything in moderation, including moderation” – meaning that sometimes going to excess is ok too.
It is very possible to enjoy fried food, such as fish and chips, without needing to worry about excess calories/fat or the meal being “unhealthy”. Provided you are physically hungry for the meal, eat in a mindful manner so as to truly enjoy the food, and you are able to make a choice to stop eating when you’re satisfied (a sense of comfortable fullness and pleasure from the meal), you really do not need to worry about how many calories you are consuming or whether or not the meal is nutritious enough. I might point out here that potatoes and fish are actually very nutritious, even when deep fried.
Worrying about calories can take much of the pleasure out of eating and you may find you’re less likely to feel satisfied at the end of the meal. Thinking you have eaten too many calories may also leave you feeling guilty and saying to yourself “oh well, I’ve blown it now, I may as well just keep eating!” While you may have been slightly past comfortably full after your first round of fish and chips, chances are you will feel uncomfortably full (eaten too much) if you keep eating.
I love this quote by William Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
You can see from this scenario that by thinking you had eaten more calories than “allowed” and “blown it”, you then end up eating excess calories. This type of situation is much more likely to happen if you are following a prescriptive diet or meal plan, or counting calories.
Now some people will think, “but if I followed this philosophy, I’d fish and chips all the time!” Would you? Read the following sentence first and then I want you to close your eyes and imagine. Imagine choosing to eat fish and chips every day, or even 3 times a week, week in week out. What do you think might happen after a few days or weeks? The common response I hear from people is they’d get sick of the food and never want to see that meal again, at least for a time. You can do this same imaginary exercise with any meal, say grilled salmon and a Greek salad, would you really want to eat the same meal day in day out?
Next time you have a meal out (or even at home), try to put aside any thoughts about calories or nutrition. Instead, appreciate how the food looks, how it smells, how it tastes and think about how you feel in terms of your hunger and fullness, before, during and after the meal. Also consider how the food taste changes as you progress through the meal. For many people, this is not as easy at it sounds, and for some people it takes time to be able to reconnect with food, appetite cues and sensations in the body. This is a key part of what the intuitive eating process is about.
If you do choose to avoid a certain food, don’t make that choice because it’s high in calories or because you’re trying to lo lose weight; but because it’s not what you feel like eating right at that moment or because you’re not actually hungry for the food.
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