When There’s No Such Thing as Moderation

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Note from Katie: Please welcome Anne Bogel from the blog “Modern Mrs Darcy” for this guest post on moderation. Anne and I met at a blogging conference I think you’ll really enjoy her writing. Enter Anne.

This year, I made a strategic error during the holiday season.

For this special time of year, I decided to let my kids indulge moderately in some sweet treats. They found chocolate in their stockings. They ate cookies at Grandma’s. We even made healthy homemade chocolate and marshmallows!

But to my 5-year-old, there’s no such thing as moderation. She cannot enjoy just “a little” of a sweet treat. The first taste fuels the desire for a second or third or fourth, till the carton is empty, the bar is demolished, the carton is poured out, yet she’s whining and begging for more. Her body is screaming for more sugar. When it comes to sweets, her body doesn’t seem to have an “off” switch.

Unfortunately, her body shows a remarkably low tolerance for sugar. I’ll spare you the details, but symptoms of misery follow closely behind what does in fact seem like a “reasonable” portion of a sugary treat. Moderation doesn’t work for her.

I want her to be able to enjoy an occasional sweet treat–especially for occasions like these–and moderation seems like such a reasonable approach. But it doesn’t work for her.

This shouldn’t surprise me because I’m the same way. Like my daughter, my body doesn’t seem to have an off switch when it comes to sweets. If I consume any sugar, my body will mercilessly beg for more. And more. And more.

When I finally eliminated all sugars including artificial ones from my diet, the cravings stopped. I don’t have a sweet tooth anymore. It’s so much easier to never eat sweet treats than to eat them sometimes. And I wasn’t surprised when the same strategy worked for my kids.

When I tell people I’ve chosen to forego sweets, they unfailingly chide me for my “extreme” approach. They think I’m depriving myself, and tell me moderation would be a much healthier–and happier–choice.

But that’s nothing compared to the reaction I get when I tell people our kids don’t eat sweets either! When I say that my kids don’t eat sugar, they are horrified. My kids are surely missing out on childhood/doomed to a life of depravation/headed for an eating disorder/just plain hungry.

We do make the occasional exception, especially around the holidays. But I tell you truly: I am nearly always sorry. Because for several of my kids (and for me), there’s no such thing as moderation.

Maybe your weakness isn’t sweets; maybe it’s chips or crackers or jalapeño poppers. Not everyone is necessarily happier abstaining, but if you consistently find yourself having a terribly hard time backing away from whatever your weakness is, you might want to think about whether you’d be happier skipping it altogether.

Just give it a try. See how you feel. And if you turn out to be a moderator after all, I have a wonderful chocolate recipe you can try.

Anne Bogel loves strong coffee, long books, the social graces, and social media. She puts a timely spin on timeless women’s issues at her blog Modern Mrs Darcy.

photo credit: Shauna Younge

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


45 responses to “When There’s No Such Thing as Moderation”

  1. anastasia Avatar

    I can completely relate, our whole family doesn’t have an off switch, It’s funny I wrote about the same thing on my blog today! http://www.eco-babyz.com/2013/01/on-sugar-and-grain-addiction-cure-tooth.html

    Unfortunately, my in-laws just don’t get it. They are the ones who will bring store-bought cheesecake and they will say “Well it’s not like there is sugar in it, it’s cake”. Bwahahahaha! At that comment I had to really try and keep myself from bursting out with laughter just out of respect. It drives me up the wall! There was probably more sugar in one slice of that cheesecake than my kids have consumed in two months. We visit them every couple of weeks and occasionally they come over, ugh, I love them, but I hate this ‘sugar is good’ attitude. 🙂

  2. Kevin Smith Avatar
    Kevin Smith

    You wouldn’t give a child cocaine. Don’t give them sugar.
    They’re both physically addictive, they have similar effects, side effects, and withdrawal symptoms.

    One is legal, because it makes certain “powers that be” very wealthy
    One is illegal, for the same reason

    Neither is good for the body, especially a young developing one

  3. Kelly McNelis Avatar
    Kelly McNelis

    I eat whatever I want in moderation, and it works really well for me. I want my kids to learn how to do the same. If I told myself that something was off-limits, I think I would be more likely to overindulge when I had the chance. Since I don’t see anything like that, I never have that urge.

    I think if you’re doing what’s right for you and your kids, then keep it up. People who think happiness can be found in food have their own issues! 🙂

  4. Amanda Manton Avatar
    Amanda Manton

    Growing up, there was constantly soda in my house. It was pretty much all my mom bought. Once I moved out, I never drank it again. I still only drink carbonated beverages on rare/special occasions (it’s frustrating when I get thirsty at the grocery store, and my only choices are soda and energy drinks!). However, when I diet, I do find it’s much easier to just cut something out, like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or cheese (I really do drop a lot of weight when I stop eating cheese. I don’t regularly eat that much, either). However, I have a mild addiction to caffeine, and I can’t live without a pot of coffee a day.

  5. Jessica Ellis Avatar
    Jessica Ellis

    This is true for me. After going Paleo about 1 1/2 years ago, this is something that I’ve struggled with. The fact is that, I don’t feel deprived when I don’t eat sugar. I suffer more if I do eat it- anxiety, cravings, bloating, blood sugar rollercoaster. I become miserable when all I was doing was giving myself a paleo-fied treat. It’s never worth it. My daughter (2 1/2) has more tantrums and outbursts when she eats too much sweet stuff- and for her that’s fruit/dried fruit. For her I keep fruit limited- berries mostly now. It is hard when we are around others though. I know that I’m doing the best thing for her and that we will always talk about and treat food as healing nourisment for our bodies, because that is really what it is. It’s not just for pleasure, which is what our society teaches us.

  6. Kelly Wiggains Avatar
    Kelly Wiggains

    Thanks for this post, Anne. I’m actually contemplating eliminating sugar in our house, too. I’ve struggled with the decision though: 1) My husband is not on board at all (this is the man who, before he left for college, thought he had to have ice cream before he could sleep, and 2) I’ve heard so many tales of kids gorging themselves on sugar when they are always kept from it. On that note, a funny story. My oldest boys were visiting my in-laws one weekend, and when I went to pick them up, my father-in-law said, “I had a bowl of M&Ms on the counter, but I finally had to put them away because the boys just wouldn’t stop eating them.” The response in my head was, “Duh!” What I actually said, “Well, I just don’t have that kind of stuff in the house.”

  7. Tim Avatar

    Ain’t it great when people tell you that your choices for your family are making your children unhappy? Leave my kids’ food alone!
    There, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I have to say Anne that I am right there with you on not having an off-switch, although for me it’s pepperoni pizza. I don’t want to eat it until I’m full; I want to eat it until it’s gone. And that’s exactly what I used to do. I’m better at it now and can actually enjoy just a couple pieces without continuing all the way around the pizza box to finish them all off.

  8. Kirsten Cleigh Avatar
    Kirsten Cleigh

    I don’t have kids, but I know there is no such thing as moderation for me either. People say “Oh, it won’t ruin your diet to have a couple hersheys kisses here and there if you need a chocolate/sugar fix” But it does ruin your diet if you eat the WHOLE BAG in one, maybe two nights, which is what always ends up happening to me. I have found though that the higher the sugar content of an item, the harder it is for me to “just have one or two”. If I get a really good dark chocolate (such as Theo) then I can moderate myself alot easier. I bought a theo chocolate bar the other day, broke it up into 6 portions and put each portion in a plastic baggie. I’ve been pretty good only having one per day, and I break the portion into even smaller pieces and slowly melt them in my mouth, rather than just crunch, crunch, swallow like I do with every other candy.

    1. Anne Bogel Avatar
      Anne Bogel

      Kirsten, that’s me exactly: “the higher the sugar content of an item, the harder it is for me to have ‘just one or two.’ ” EXACTLY.

      I’ve never tried Theo dark chocolate. I’ll keep my eye out for some (and I promise not to eat the whole bar at once!)

  9. Rachel Avatar

    I grew up in a sugar free house too, but am not a sugar addict as an adult (nor are any of my siblings). We have all been more sugar-nazi types with our own kids, wanting to avoid the damage caused by the excess that most children in our world today exhibit. My brother would get asthma attacks from any sugar or wheat, so we just didn’t have it in the house. We later found out it was a candida overgrowth problem with him, but we were all grown by then. It has also given my brother amazing amounts of self-control in all areas of his life as an adult, the likes to which I’ve never seen in anyone! Our daughter (3) cries over every little thing and also wets herself (night and day) alot more whenever she has sugar. It also takes about 3 days to clear it from her system to get our happy, sweet & dry girl back again. It’s just not worth the few moments of pleasure! Plus, I’d rather splurge on a wild salmon at the grocery store than a few Twinkies any day. And the budget just doesn’t allow for both!

  10. Amber Manzo Avatar
    Amber Manzo

    I made the same mistake over the holidays. My daughter has ADHD and you can tell when her diet is off. After a week of little indulgences her teacher asked me if we were doing something different. I get the same response as you from people when I tell them we are grain and sugar free. I guess they think I would be a better mother if I medicated her and gave her Twinkies. I don’t understand it at all.

    1. Chris Avatar

      Cereal is our major issue. If my daughter has cereal in the morning she just doesn’t function well or at all within a few hours. So I get outrageous responses to “we don’t eat cereal – especially on the weekdays!” lol

  11. Melissa Castleberry Waldrop Avatar
    Melissa Castleberry Waldrop

    I grew up with junk food all around me. Chips, Little Debbies, soda… with no limits or restrictions. Oh how I wish that was different! I am now 40 years old and still working hard to reverse this thinking and the havic it placed on my body. I have no “off” switch when it comes to junk food. I’ve been doing GREAT with a clean eating life style for about 6 mths now and feel the best ever. I allowed myself to splurge around Christmas, and it was a mistake. I got completely out of control. And we’re all three sick from compromised immune systems. Ugh! Now, I’m taking your challenge to get back on track and I’m so ready to feel great again! We’re trying to raise our son with a few treats here and there, but he too does not have an off switch. It’s so hard to know what’s best, but we just take it day-by-day, and situation-by-situation.

    1. Anne Bogel Avatar
      Anne Bogel

      Melissa, thanks for sharing. It’s so interesting that both people who grew up surrounded by junk and people who felt deprived from it both struggle with moderation when they grow up.

  12. Karen B. Avatar
    Karen B.

    You are so right!
    No sugar problem here but salty, starchy potatoes do it every time, so does alcohol. Once I start, it’s hard to stop. I’ll make every excuse why we should have roasted potatoes again with a dirty martini or two, or three. It’s easier to just abstain then to go through all of the guilt and weight gain over and over.
    My mother used to hide her snacks like potato sticks and chips from me when I was a kid. I’d climb the cupboards looking for them and then eat them up right there, sitting or standing on the countertop.

  13. Lily Avatar

    Mum never allowed sweets in the house or for us to receive them away from it. Honestly, I believe that’s why my brother and I are such sweet-hogs as adults.

    I grew up eating food we raised or hunted (meat as well as freggies) and drinking our own spring water; my first 15 years were pretty stinking pristine (plus, being a working ranch, there was about 4 hours of manual labor a day, so we got exercise–if it was never play).

    For US, it created a obsession/ fixation. I’m not saying processed foods are good, I’m not saying sweets are good. I absolutely recall being obsessed with watching the kids at school eat their ‘snack packs’ and wishing I could have a taste. Once I could buy my own? It’s all I wanted.

    While I’ve returned to whole food-eating (stricter than Paleo: I avoid bacon, nightshades, citrus, garlic, sprouts, broccoli and a number of other foods that may cause trouble for my body — most of the time, I’ll still kick back some alcohol or sugar) my brother still can’t break that chain of ‘lookie what I can eat now!’ And to be honest, I can fall back into it SO easily, the fixation.

    1. Liz Avatar

      Maybe fixation was why your parents did not have it around as it worked best for them and their kids behaved better. 2 of my 3 have issues with can sugar and I come from a long line of alcoholics. I did not try to restrict my kids much as soon as they were a bit older, but did not have it in our house. My oldest has found he just can’t do the junk and is a happy abstainer now. The addiction and depression were not worth it. I went through a junk phase when I left home, but got tired of feeling bad and returned to my roots. My daughter started to live on sugar when she left home and wound up with mental problems, physch drugs and alcohol issues. She claims we are crazy. My youngest does not have sugar issues, but other substance issues. I believe this is primarily biological and not how we are raised. I am now grateful that my parents said no to us, although we did sometimes bake sugary treats, there were zero prefab sweets around.

  14. Burgan Avatar

    I don’t have a sugar filter, either. But I don’t know why… Was it being restricted as a kid and constantly put on diets by a parent who struggled with their own moderation/diet/weight/esteem, or was it due to biology? Of was it both nature and nurture? I think there is a place for sweets and working in conjunction withy husband I’m sure there will always be treats at times, but educating my kiddos to make good choices and modeling the behavior is a top priority for me, regardless of why my own sugar meter is broken. I’d like to break that cycle.

  15. joy Avatar

    my daughter is the same way. Santa put some chocolate and other treats in her stocking and she tried to eat the entire contents in one sitting –at 6 o’clock in the morning. she has no off switch and she’s like that for TV too. i try to do things in moderation but it’s better if i keep sugar completely out of the house (she’s ok with foods sweetened with honey) and limit TV to the weekends. But it’s the strangers who are the worst and who are constantly derailing my efforts! Teachers, grocery store workers, other parents, playdates, birthday parties, Santa in the mall, taxi drivers, relatives, farmer’s at the Saturday market…!!! And if I tell them no she doesn’t need it she and the person offering both have a fit. So difficult!

  16. reb Avatar

    The lines about people giving you the crazy look when you tell them you’ve given up sweets and your kids don’t get any either? Yah….I can completely relate.

  17. Monica Avatar

    I understand where you’re coming from but as a child, we NEVER had sweets in the house, not because my mom was necessarily against it, more so just because we were poor. Now as an adult, it’s an act of God to control myself from over-indulging. Based on my own experiences, I would prefer my son to learn how to control his self and consume sweets in moderation, rather than lead him to failure when he becomes an adult and he can make his own choices but has no experience in making them responsibly. It’s kind of like the way I was with money too. I never had any, so when I started making my own, I blew it as fast as I got it. But maybe I’m just an exception and have extremely weak will power.

    1. Anne Bogel Avatar
      Anne Bogel

      Monica, it’s great that you know yourself well enough to know you do better with moderation. Honestly, I’m a little jealous. You’re not an exception–you and I just have different natures and different backgrounds.

  18. Kami McFarland Noland Avatar
    Kami McFarland Noland

    When she wrote “jalapeno poppers,” I felt like she must have read my journal entries from last year’s challenge! 🙂

  19. Malissa McCartney Avatar
    Malissa McCartney

    I agree! It amazes me how many people offer my kids all manner of junk food right in front of me without asking me first. When I say no they have all kinds of shocked responses, mostly along the lines of, oh its just one little treat. Often I end up accepting the “treat” so as not to cause a scene, but my kids know it will be going straight in the trash as soon as we are out of sight. Some may say it is wasteful, but I honestly feel better trashing it than giving it to my kids.

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