I have heard lots of nutritionists say that eating these and other kinds of forbidden foods is fine ‘in moderation’; it’s the kind of phrase you hear on news programmes when a nutritionist is speaking about the obesity epidemic or some other public health problem related to food.
My question is what does ‘in moderation’ mean? Who is the moderator? Who says how much you’re allowed to have? Do you have to check in with the Food Police to make sure you’ve not overstepped your quota? I think it can end up feeling like any amount of these off-limits foods is too much.
Really, your own body needs to be the moderator. I think it’s great when you can develop your own sense of how much you need of anything. My friends at Beyond Chocolate call this ‘Be your own guru’. Who else has the right to dictate rules about what’s appropriate for your body? Trust yourself. Your body loves you (because you keep it alive) and it only wants foods that are going to make it feel great. And yes, sometimes that is a bag of chips with plenty of salt and vinegar! Sometimes it’s a roast dinner with loads of green veg. And sometimes it’s a lentil soup with a side of quinoa salad. It could be anything at any given moment.
Personally, I don’t believe it’s possible to purposefully limit or exclude certain foods from your life indefinitely. Sometimes it’s not even possible to do it for a short while. Although I meet plenty of people who believe that they should be doing so, mainly because of the ‘in moderation’ message and resulting confusion. So when they inevitably slip up from this impossible regime, they feel bad about themselves. But still the cycle continues, eating these ‘bad’ foods regularly, whilst desperately trying not to, and feeling guilty about it. And my point is that chocolate (or other forbidden food) is here to stay. It’s here forever, and there’s nothing the Food Police can do about it, so you might as well get used to it.
So once you’ve established that it’s highly likely that you’ll continue to eat chocolate (or other ‘naughty’ food) for the rest of your life – whether you think you should or not – you might as well make peace with it, rather than eating it and feeling guilty. How can you make peace with a food? First try being honest with yourself and accept that you enjoy and eat this food regularly. Be aware of what you’re eating, and how you feel before, during and after.
If you can accept that you are going to eat chocolate regularly (probably for the rest of your life), you might as well enjoy it. Buy the best you can afford, enjoy it and eat it slowly – if you’re doing something you love, surely you want it to last as long as possible to fully appreciate the experience? And why not buy you’re favourite chocolate and your favourite foods to have when you fancy them, rather than depriving yourself and then ending up buying some nasty sweets at the petrol station or local shop (which you might not particularly enjoy) because you’re so desperate? You may worry that if you allow yourself to eat this way, you will end up with an incredibly unhealthy diet, but what usually happens once you give yourself permission to eat it, it just becomes normal. Just another type of food that you love, that appears on the shopping list each week. No urgency or sneaking food. No stress or guilt. And your body would soon start to grumble if you fed it a mono-diet of chocolate, and would soon be craving something green.
After reading this, you may well be wondering what kind of nutritionist I am if I encourage my clients to eat chocolate! Well, this is only part of what I do and my role as a nutritional therapist is to help you find peace with food, and to learn to nourish your body with exactly what it needs. I also help people with all kinds of health problems that can be rectified by changing how they eat, and through using carefully selected nutritional supplements. My earlier blog post here explains more.
PS: I do sometimes drink nettle tea and eat quinoa salad. They’re quite nice.