More People Turning to Moderate Eating Habits Instead of Diet—And They’re Bad At It

Diet and eating habitsSomewhere between Atkins, the Paleo diet, going gluten-free, and whatever the latest “miracle” from Dr. Oz is—people started to lose faith in diets. The idea of simpler, practical advice like portion control has been gaining traction in the interim.

It is not a new or even novel concept and eating in moderation has been longstanding advice for healthy nutrition. The problem is when ideas of moderation conflict with preferred eating habits.

As a new study in the journal, Appetite, points out, people are simply bad at understanding the amount of food that they eat. This makes “moderation” a very subjective idea that can in some cases hamper weight loss efforts.

Moderation Study: Summary

  • The published research encompasses three different studies that looked at how people perceived moderation and compared this to eating habits and preferences
  • One study asked participants to define how many of certain treats (cookies, gummies, etc.) would be moderation, indulgence, or the amount that should be eaten
  • It found that people tended to perceive “moderation” as being below overeating or indulgence but more than the amount that “should” be eaten
  • Another study compared ideas of moderation based on personal eating habits and preferences. It found that ideas of “moderation” tended to be more generous when dealing with foods the participants liked or wanted
  • The third study found that participants generally considered themselves to eat in moderation and that their definitions of “moderation” tended to be higher than their personal amounts of consumption, regardless of what that consumption actually was

What This Means

Regardless of whether people are skinny or overweight, people tend to perceive ideas of moderation through their own personal lens. This also means that perceptions of moderation become affected by personal bias. Someone who really enjoys cookies may understand that too many can be unhealthy and that moderation is good, but their personal definition of “moderation” tends to be slanted towards amounts that let them continue to enjoy more of their treat. The finding that some participants thought of “moderation” as being more than their personal consumption reflects a form of self-serving bias and emphasizes the way people try to think of personal habits in a positive light.

Bottom Line

  • Portion control and eating in moderation remain important pieces of nutritional advice when trying to manage weight
  • The good news is that people still understand moderation to be the preferred form of eating habit
  • The bad news is that moderation alone is not sufficient guidance because people on their own are bad at defining levels “moderation”, especially regarding foods they enjoy

Sources for Today’s Article:

Flurry, A., “Just a few more bites: Defining moderate eating varies by individual, study finds,” UGA Today web site, June 6, 2016;, last accessed June 10, 2016.

VanDellen, M., et. al., “How do people define moderation?,” Appetite, 2016; 10.1016/j.appet.2016.03.010.