Did you ever meet someone who has a different way of eating than you, one that seems restrictive, and say to yourself, “that’s not for me, it seems extreme” or “they can’t enjoy eating like that, it’s so restrictive. Everything in moderation.” It’s a phrase used all the time in conversations about diet between people with different views. After a presentation I gave on a whole foods plant based diet one woman looked at me, shocked at the idea of this way of eating and practically shouted “but…everything in moderation!” The (amazing!) cookie recipes at the end of this post are not 100% whole food recipes. They are desserts. I make desserts like these every once in a while because sometimes you just need a dessert! When you’re about to make these cookies it’s worth considering how your definition of “moderation” has changed as you begin to eat a more whole foods plant based diet.
Before I saw “Forks Over Knives” and changed my way of eating, I thought that I was following the “everything in moderation” guideline. To me that meant pizza or ice cream (or other treat) on the weekend as a given. Saturday night pizza was like my god-given dietary right. There was no way I could gain weight or become less than healthy by eating that (or so I thought)! Friday night gets looped in there too, as I was celebrating the coming weekend. If I had something green during the day, no matter how much oily dressing I put on top of it, in my mind I could “afford” a dinner of cheese and wine that night. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holiday indulgences were just part of my “moderate” diet. A piece of office candy or cake during the week, and dessert at a family dinner on Sunday all counted towards “everything in moderation.” This type of moderation wasn’t working for me as I found myself 20 pounds heavier than optimal and medically “overweight.”
A Note on Exercise
Exercise is essential to health! I had some limited success in managing my weight with exercise. My husband and I joined a 24 hour gym and worked out 6 days per week: strength training, cardio, some crossfit, Les Mills classes, and 3 weeks with a personal trainer. We didn’t give up–we enjoyed it! We also enjoyed going to the Whole Foods store below the gym afterwards, sipping our protein shakes, to pick up a variety of cheeses to eat for dinner and some organic, nitrate-free bacon to cook for breakfast. And when we would take a few days off from exercising (as we all do in times of stress or around the holidays) the weight went right back on. I have to tell you that I never felt as good then as I do now eating a whole food vegan diet with light exercise like walking, swimming, yoga, and playing with my toddler. Have you ever heard a fit friend describe “falling off the wagon” for a few days? When the food we eat makes us feel bloated, headachey, and sluggish maybe we should take it as a sign to redefine our sense of “moderation.”
My New Moderation
When I put an avocado on my salad I am aware that it is high in fat. I try to keep nuts and nut butters down to about a half cup a week without actually measuring. Cashew cheese is a real indulgence! If I want to make veggie sushi with white rice instead of brown, that’s fine. And a teaspoon of plant based sweetener on my morning oatmeal isn’t going to hurt me. I completely eschew beef, chicken, fish, cheese, milk, and oil. Your “moderation” may look a little bit different than mine even on a whole food vegan diet. As my favorite doctor John McDougall says, “there’s a spectrum here from the well and living to the nearly dead.” If you suffer from conditions such as high cholesterol,
diabetes or other illnesses you may not do well with the fatty nuts and treats that I enjoy. Walter Kempner at Duke University used an extremely restricted plant based diet to cure seriously ill patients. He used a diet of rice, fruit, juice, and sugar very successfully. People with psoriasis, kidney disease, chest pain, edema, obesity and hypertension have been cured in this program. Most of us however don’t need serious medical treatment in the metabolic ward. For most of us (healthy, active adults) who only want to maintain optimal health and weight this sense of “moderation” is fine. But compare my weekly avocado to my weekly loaded cheese pizza and you will see how “moderation” is truly relative.
I have heard obese people say “everything in moderation.” I have heard people with chronic conditions of a dietary cause say “everything in moderation.” I have heard the phrase as a warning, an admonition, and in condescension. I have heard it used as a weapon and as a shield. The truth is that the phrase “everything in moderation” really means “nothing in restriction”; it keeps us buying more, eating more, and feeling poorly.
“You’ve had enough…you’ve had more rich food than 99.99% of the people who walk this Earth, and another steak ain’t worth dying for. And once you say that you can have your health back.”John McDougall
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Raspberry Walnut Cookies