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. Lisa Avatar

    I am the same way if I have some sugar I crave more and more. I was doing well the last couple weeks and a couple days ago had some sweets and had some more. I am back off it again and I feel better. I prefer to have fruit as my dessert.

  2. Meghan Avatar

    I used to have a really bad sweet tooth but about 3 year ago my twin sister and I went on a sugar fast for 2 weeks ( it was even during our birthday month and at work they had cake day!) and ever since then I’ve been able to eat sweets in moderation. healthy desserts is all I make now. But if I’m somewhere where there is unhealthy sweets I’m usually ok with just a little bit.

  3. Jenna Avatar

    I am the same way. I cannot stop once I start. Unlike those saying that they think it’s because they were never allowed sugar as a child, that isn’t the case for me, as I was allowed to eat sweets everyday. Sugar is very addicting wether you were allowed to eat it as a child or not.

  4. Indi Avatar

    I know a guy that was brought up with the no junk food and now he drinks cola by the liter…you do have to teach moderation.

  5. Sabrina Avatar

    I don’t buy the whole ‘the kids will gorge if they are deprived’ thing. I think everybody has trouble regulating junk food intake regardless of their upbringing. I would rather get my kids off to a great healthy start to life and then they eat junk as an adult, than feed them junk all their childhoods and then to grow up and eat junk. Face it, if you grow up eating out of a packet your not suddenly going to cook from scratch when you leave home!
    Some of my kids can’t eat junk in moderation either. We eat a very clean diet 99% of the time and I always regret it when we relax and have ‘treats’. My son in particular will eat it until it’s gone, but only a small quantity will result in meltdowns. I like to teach my kids how to nourish their bodies and to pay attention to how they feel after eating different foods so they have the connection of eating well and feeling good vs eating foods that don’t nourish and not feeling so good.
    I’m sure they will go off and eat a heap of junk food as soon as they can but hopefully they will return to eating well as they mature.

    1. Indi Avatar

      If you feel guilt every time you treat yourself when living an ordinarily healthy lifestyle you’ve got an eating disorder.

  6. Brianna Avatar

    Sugar is my weakness. Usually baked goods. I like to bake and I like to eat what I bake. Having said that I do try to follow more of a clean eating ‘paleo’ lifestyle at home typically since my daughter started to eat. As a child we had junk in the house all the time, and all I knew was junk. I wasn’t limited and my mom had a sugar stash that she hid in her room. Sugar aside, we had cabinets full of chips, cookies and pizza bagels. I was overweight from grade school until high school when I developed an eating disorder. I had such a power struggle with food for so long.
    10 years later I still struggle with cravings and hushing them, but I don’t give my child the opportunity to eat the way I did as a kid. I hope that it’s the right call, and I hope it doesn’t harm her later in life, but I can’t undo “knowing better” that sugar is the silent killer. I don’t completely deprive my almost 4 year old….that’s extremely hard to do where we live, but I tend to use alternatives as much as possible. At kids birthday parties, family gatherings, and holidays I will make a dessert usually containing sugar, but home made with quality ingredients so I don’t have to worry about all the other stuff I don’t want my toddler ingesting. I don’t usually use sugar unless we are making special treats, and on a daily basis we use honey and dates I stead when baking/making home made snacks. She isn’t “used to” sugar so she doesn’t crave it.
    It’s such a hard decision trying to figure out what the right move is when it comes to raising children and trying to keep them as healthy and happy as possible. Outside influences like family, friends, teachers at classes she attends make me question my decision sometimes because they think it’s crazy how she eats, and when she’s offered or handed candy or other processed crap I feel bad saying no most of the time, but I am really just trying to keep her healthy.

  7. Melissa Avatar

    To all worried about limiting your kids and having them grow up junkies – I was moderated in the sense that they wouldn’t go buy more once I ate it all and up until a certain age, my mom tried to keep sugar at a minimum before bed…but I still drank kool-aid all summer, had ice cream as a bed time snack, unlimited Popsicles in the summer, candy at every holiday that I kept in my room, girl scout cookies, etc. By the time I started baby-sitting and earning my own money (11-12) , or going out with friends for meals and given money (definitely by 13-14 years old I had my own cash), I determined that there are only so many calories in a day and I was going to spend mine on sugar. In high school I drove to school and realized I could eat more double stuffed oreos than pop-tarts for the same nutritional value…so I did. I carried pure sugar candies (smarties, valentines hearts) in my backpack and ate it ALL DAY LONG. Every meal I ate out (at least 3-5 times a week) I had a milkshake instead of the drink.

    I would say that I had a sugar filled childhood.
    I was taught moderation in a multitude of ways.
    My parents never knew about how moderated I was when it came to making choices away from home.

    To this day, I am very similar to the author. I’d rather have sugar than anything else and once I start it again I can’t stop.

    I have friends like this too. There is no “treat” or “cheat” for us, it’s FULL ON and then so hard to go back.

    I have health issues and genetic factors that I think are connected to mine. I have 3 friends with PCOS that I think are related to theirs. My mother in law says it’s her addictive personality.

    I’m not saying that it’s a health issue so therefore I can’t control it, I just think that some people are seriously wired differently than others and cutting out sugar doesn’t kill that so you can bring it back in moderation later. Some people know themselves and thus recognize it in others (like their kids) and have learned that the only way to solve it is to silence the sugar monster.

    Don’t stop teaching your kids moderation but do it in different areas. Don’t put them in situations you know they are going to fail and thus you are going to have to restrict the. Treat it like when you make a call between “is this willful rebellion or is it something they haven’t learned yet” before punishing them.

  8. Martha Avatar

    My mom didn’t have an ‘off switch’ and recognising this she restricted me and my siblings. I also inherited this tendency towards sugary, high carb foods and have struggled repeatedly through life with my mini addictions. There’s an underlying issue, the addiction of course, but I think my mother’s decision was what contributed to my binge-eating disorder and my siblings uncontrollable urge toward junk food now as adults. We spent years having sweets taken away from us and replaced with apples while other children enjoyed their share, found birthday parties were hi-jacked by our mother’s hovering presence reminding us not to eat too much of this, or indulge in that. We were constantly aware of “bad” food rather than “bad” eating habits. There could be nothing worst! I grew up resentful and gained so much weight as soon as I was old enough to buy and smuggle all the sugary junk goods my friends took for granted into my bedroom. I’ve found my siblings do the same also and feel incredible guilt due to their eating habits which is part of the problem.

    I think balance is key. A kid should learn to associate the sugar crash with the candy bar. That being said, I’m sure the candy bar should be a rarity but even so complete restriction can and may well just end in a ‘flip you mom and dad’ of tweenage candy guzzling. Parents want to protect their children but what happens when you’re not there to say ‘no’? Sometimes learning from experience is more effective than mere say.

  9. sunny Avatar

    For anyone who wants to blame their fixation with sugar on their parents who restricted them from it, definitely take a second look. Instead of pointing blame at your parents, point the blame at SUGAR! It is so terribly addictive-whether or not you are able to moderate yourself. Please research, if you haven’t already, just how addictive sugar is.

    For me, having sugar triggers wanting all sorts of addictive things. Dairy, coffee, fried foods, foods that CONVERT to sugar when I eat them. Not a coincidence. I’ve known this for quite a while. Its just not in the cards for me to *sometimes* have sugar, so I don’t at all. I’m twenty three, and have never even began to consider that my upbringing triggers this addiction.

    Parents who are conscientious about the harmful effects of sugar should be praised. Thank you, mom and dad, for not letting me indulge as a child.

    Using medjool dates in recipes is a really delicious (and completely unaddictive!) way to make pastries. They literally taste just as good as the refined sugar, and in the end, you won’t want it as much because there isn’t an addictive trigger inside of you begging for more. and more and more and more.

    Plus, its a fruit. Theres no wondering about conflicting research on it (stevia/agave) and it isn’t the same type of sugar as brown rice syrup/honey/coconut sugar etc. JUST FRUIT! You can’t really go wrong here.

  10. Trish Avatar

    I never really had sweet cravings until I was an adult. My mom never kept sugary treats in the house. Even though I haven’t detoxed, I have made changes. I have noticed that when I do eat milk chocolate or fake sugars, they hurt my stomach. I have had Rolos in the house for about two weeks because each time I’ve tried to eat them, I get an upset stomach. 🙁

  11. Jennifer Avatar

    I have such a hard time with moderation when it comes to anything sweet.

    I disagree with the accusation that with holding too-sugary “treats” will lead to eating disorders. As someone who has experienced bulimia my entire adult life (I’m currently right around 30) I can confidently say that the times when I completely avoided any “trigger” foods, i.e. anything with too much sugar, I felt much more in control of my whole life and it didn’t set off the binge-exercise cycle. I knew that my body was just going to pretty much beat it out of me relentlessly for more.

    I really think that it’s very difficult, and almost unfair, for other people who don’t actually experience that sensation to understand and then to criticize and say to you, “JUST in moderation.” It’s really not JUST that easy.

  12. Megan Avatar

    I have mostly been avoiding sugar for several months, and you are right, once I “detoxed” I stopped craving it. Then the holidays rolled around and I decided it would be okay to have a little treat here and there. So I indulged in a delicious, rich piece of chocolate cake. I ate the whole thing, and I enjoyed it. What I did NOT enjoy were the immediate digestive problems I experienced in the next couple of hours, followed by a terrible headache the rest of the day. It has truly been enough to keep me away from eating more than say, a few chocolate chips or a square of good chocolate at one time.

  13. Irene Tiger Avatar
    Irene Tiger

    I also don’t have an “Off” switch when it comes to sugar. I can’t have “just a taste” or “just a handful”, I have to have the whole thing! lately I’ve been avoiding most sugars, (no added sugars or grains or starches, limiting my fruit consumption to maybe a handfull or two of berries or grapes per day) and the less sugar I consume, the less I crave it.

  14. Tammy Avatar

    Any suggestions on what to substitute that won’t have the sugar effect? Suggestions for breakfast for elementary-school-aged children that doesn’t require me spending a great deal of time in the kitchen?

    1. Chris Avatar

      We do eggs and toast most mornings. It really only takes like 5 minutes or so for me and my 3.

  15. Nicola Avatar

    Crazy stuff that sugar. I relented and eased up a bit over the holidays and my three year old’s behaviour was terrible! He would cry for more when he already had a treat in his hand. I was appalled! But there is something about the holidays that just make you want to say yes instead of no – isn’t there?

  16. Christine Avatar

    Having been there myself (gorging on sweets because I shouldn’t), I’ve learned that that is our ‘inner child’ taking control: I don’t wanna do my work/clean/fix dinner; I wanna eat as much ice cream/sweets/chips/alcohol/cake as I want!
    The key is to recognize our immaturity and take back control. Speak kindly to your inner child. The most effective sentence for me (to take control) is to say/think: I can have that sweet/cake/chip/cookies, but I don’t want to have it because it causes me to lose control and damages my precious organs/skin/body.
    Good luck with controlling yourself (from your inner child/social pressure/addictions) and enjoy life.

  17. Stacey Simpson Avatar
    Stacey Simpson

    The reason most people do not have an off switch is that sugar is in fact an addictive substance & has the same response in our brains as cocaine & has the same damaging effect on our bodies as alcohol. This is why we avoid it in our home with our family & keep outside influences away from getting it to our children. We treat it like all other drugs we would stay away from & teach our kids to stay away from. A good quick video to refer to the science behind it being a drug is “60 Minutes: Sugar is a Toxin”. When others question our decisions I refer them to this, also, as most people that aren’t educated on real nutrition will at least listen to “60 Minutes”. I use stevia when I make cakes or cookies & to sweeten lemonade, etc. for my kids & they never feel deprived….we let them know how “smart” they are for the choices they make which helps to build their confidence in just saying “no thank you” & , I’m hoping, gets it set in their little minds in a positive way. (They are 4 & 5). It sure helps that my husband & are on the same page, too.

  18. Jessica Avatar

    For me its pop (especially coke) and right along with that its potato chips. They’re just so good together! For me my happy medium is not having it at the house but allowing it as a treat on the rare occasions I eat out. I know if I told myself I could never have any again I would go crazy and drink a gallon at once!

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