By Sara Baker, MS, CSCS
Restrictive meal plans, counting macros, weighing portions or…reject diet culture entirely and eat anything we want? These two extremes appear to be the only options in the diet, nutrition and fitness industries. What if, instead, there was a workable, livable solution that deftly navigates the middle? The moderation mindset teaches just that. Unfortunately, the moderation mindset is tough to clearly define; it is by its very nature subjective, and critics believe it too vague and without enough "rules."
#Moderation365, an ACE Approved certification created by fitness and nutrition expert and JillFit founder Jill Coleman, MS, promotes eating to satisfaction with small indulgences. Importantly, the curriculum also teaches how to listen to biofeedback and re-learn hunger cues. #Moderation365 is based on the MMAD (Moderation, Mindfulness, Abundance Mindset, and Daily Nutritional Commitments) Nutrition Model, which is proven to deliver impactful results. The certification course can be completed in twelve weeks but four of the major concepts, summarized below, can be implemented with clients right away.
Moderation centers itself on neither eating perfectly nor restrictively. The curriculum introduces a concept called the Deprivation Indulgence Scale - essentially, the idea that overindulging will always lead to deprivation and vice versa. If a client is too rigid during the week, for example, they are likely to overindulge on the weekend. Or if a client follows a strict meal plan during the day, they might binge at night. We want to help our clients confidently "navigate the middle." Instead of a low-calorie salad with olive oil and vinegar, "navigating the middle" might include adding nuts, a little cheese, full-fat dressing and a few delicious croutons. Ideally, clients will learn to even out the highs and lows of eating and focus on satisfaction, rather than gluttony or deprivation, after every meal.
Having your clients practice mindfulness around food in the #Moderation365 framework means not eating according to a clock or meal plan, but instead, paying attention to what their body is telling them. People with a long history of dieting tend to only register "starving" or "stuffed", and often do not pay attention to hunger and energy cues. Practicing mindfulness can include simply slowing down or having your client check in with their body and ask:
- How hungry am I right now?
- Is my energy stable?
- How satisfied do I feel with this meal today?
Asking these questions often throughout the day can help hone mindfulness.
Most food behaviors are shaped during adolescence or young adulthood, and unconsciously affect how we eat today. Struggling with a food scarcity mindset is a common affliction; this often involves justifying unhealthy choices or overindulging, in fear of missing out on a "special occasion" food experience. In contrast, practicing an abundance mindset centers on the premise that most foods, even special ones, are actually available at any time. If a client truly loves gingerbread cookies, for example, it isn't necessary to wait until the holidays to enjoy one. Restricting certain foods until a special occasion typically renders that food illicit, and therefore troublesome; when the person finally allows themselves to eat the special food, they're far more likely to overindulge. Simply acknowledging that the special food can be enjoyed at any time reduces the control and power that particular food carries and usually reduces the obsessive desire.
Daily Nutritional Commitments (or DNC’s) are another important concept in this framework. These are 3-5 eating behaviors that keep your clients mostly on track. These habits keep energy balanced, cravings low, and hunger stable. Each habit should be enjoyable, effortless in the sense that it can fit into your client’s schedule, and effective for their goals. Examples include eating protein at every meal, having one large salad every day or having a vegetable at every lunch and dinner. These behaviors are individual to each person and can change over time. When clients are overwhelmed with all of the nutrition information out there or have a hectic schedule, if they can consistently hit their DNC’s 80-85% of time, they are on the right track.
The MMAD model is just a part of the entire curriculum but should give fitness professionals and health coaches a good introduction to #Moderation365 concept as well as some tactical tools to use when helping clients quit the all-or-nothing mindset. Calorie counting and following meal plans or food rules, use a significant amount of mental energy and are not sustainable. The ultimate goals of this eating lifestyle are to unlearn dieting rules, eat similarly regardless of the day or occasion, learn to get back in touch with hunger and energy cues, and to learn how to eat "normally" forever.