top of page

The Moderation Movement

"Everything in moderation” - a balanced approach to a healthy lifestyle OR an excuse for poor dietary choices?

The idea of moderation when it comes to food choices has long sparked debate in the health industry, largely due to the unquantifiable nature of ‘in moderation’. However, the concept is still popular amongst Dietitians as a tool for improving diet quality, preventing, and managing chronic disease, weight management, building positive relationships with food, and so much more. The important part is understanding what ‘in moderation’ really means and how to make this work for you. So, lets break it down...

What Does ‘In Moderation’ Really Mean? By a Dietitian
"Everything in moderation”

What Does ‘In Moderation’ Really Mean?

If we can't quantify moderation and everyone's dietary needs are different, how do you really know if you're eating in moderation?

It is true that everyone's nutritional needs are going to be different dependent on your age, body type, health and fitness goals, lifestyle, and more, so how much you need from the different food groups will vary. When trying to use an ‘in moderation’ approach in your diet it is important to consider the idea behind the movement – striking a balance between health and quality of life. This doesn’t mean health and nutrition are ignored or not as important, it simply means prioritising your health, including your emotional wellbeing.

How you practice moderation will be up to you and what you believe adds to your quality of life. You might choose to have a small amount of chocolate after dinner, dressing on your salad, maybe you have Friday night dinner at the local pub, or you’re first in line to have a slice of cake at every birthday party. A common method for moderation is the 80/20 balance, with 80% of your diet being made up of nutritious foods from the 5 food groups and 20% of your diet coming from discretionary foods.

At its core, moderation is about removing feelings of guilt associated with food and acknowledging that all foods can play an important role in our diets. If you work with children or have children yourself, check out our article on food-based rewards, this is a must read for families and carers.

Dismantling Diet Culture by removing the lables of good and bad foods

Dismantling Diet Culture

Diet culture is a name for societal values around food, weight, and health, often focusing on thinness as an ideal, and labelling foods and behaviours as “good” or “bad.” Giving foods a black and white label of good or bad often leads to feeling guilty after eating foods deemed as ‘bad’, as well as spending an overwhelming amount of time thinking about food.

Furthermore, this labelling ignores the many other reasons we choose to eat, other than simply for our health, such as for taste, enjoyment, celebration, and as an integral part of building social connections.

This is not to say that focusing on and prioritising your health or wanting to achieve a specific health goal is a negative thing. But if the path to achieving that goal is making you miserable or is unsustainable, it’s time to find a new path.

Instead of restricting your diet or having thoughts such as “I ate too much this weekend so I’m going to undereat this week to balance it out” use the approach of true and guilt free moderation. A rare big weekend of delicious foods will not prevent you from achieving your health goals. If these weekends are more frequent in your life, find a way for moderation that will work for you. This could include choosing one available discretionary food you enjoy the most and eating that alongside of more nutritional food options, or engaging in mindful eating techniques to avoid overeating.

Not Everything Can Be Good for You Though, Right?

Implementing moderation in your diet does not need to be complicated to strike the right balance.

Discretionary foods

Discretionary foods refer to foods that do not provide essential nutrients – meaning you can live without them, but you don't have to! This is where moderation comes into it, the general recommendation is to include 0-2 serves of discretionary foods in your diet each day and these foods shouldn’t replace other more nutrient dense foods, rather they should be a tasty addition.

Portion sizes for discretionary foods include:

  • 2 scoops (75g) regular ice cream

  • 50-60g (about two slices) processed meats, salami, mettwurst

  • 30g salty crackers (a small individual serve packet)

  • 2-3 sweet biscuits

  • 1 (40 g) doughnut

  • 1 slice (40 g) plain cake or small cake-type muffin

  • 40g sugar confectionary (about 5-6 small lollies)

  • 1/2 small bar (25 g) chocolate

  • 1 can (375 mL) soft drink

When we take away the restrictive nature of dieting and move away from labelling foods as good or bad, we can start to remove anxiety around food and take down discretionary foods from their pedestal and instead view them as just another part of our diets.

These foods can add to the enjoyment and quality of our lives, not to mention they can help us improve our diet quality, for example if you hate eating fresh vegetables but will eat a nutritious salad if it has a serve of salad dressing on it, while the dressing may be considered a discretionary food, the overall quality of your diet has still improved with the addition of fresh vegetables.

Green salad with Avocado, cucumber Salad and balsamic dressing
Green salad with Avocado, cucumber Salad and balsamic dressing

A Dietitian’s Role

If any of the above is resonating with you, it may be time to consult a Dietitian on how moderation can help improve your diet and quality of life.

A Dietitian can help you unpack your attitudes and beliefs towards food and diet and identify what might be holding you back from living your best life and optimising your health. A Dietitian is also able to provide personalised advice on how to use moderation as a tool in your diet, helping you to learn about portion sizes, building healthy meal and snack ideas, developing strategies to cope with thoughts and anxieties around food, managing over and under eating, and so much more.

For personalised advice, reach out to one of our OSCAR Care Group Dietitians for support.


bottom of page