Why Moderation Doesn't Work For Me

I have an all-or-nothing approach to life. It’s not a choice — I came that way. And because I’m either all in or all out, moderation has usually been a prelude to failure.

This is especially true with food. There are certain foods I crave and obsess over — I call them Monkey Brains — and when I crave them, you better believe I’m distracted from every other thing that’s happening in my life.

Ever since I was little the message I heard was that moderation as the key to healthy eating. So I go through periods of measuring out proper portions at the dinner table, only to get caught in the kitchen 10 minutes later with a serving spoon in my mouth.

For those us of saddled with compulsion or addiction, moderation can be a steep, slippery slope. But what we know to be true for us — that eating Monkey Brains in moderation just doesn’t work long term — conflicts with the messages we get from outside. We think we should be able to eat Monkey Brains in moderation, because that’s what we’re told. So we keep trying. We keep portioning out a ½ cup here and a tiny slice there, and before long the ½ cup is a frantic fistful and that tiny slice becomes the whole damn thing.

Abstinence is freedom for those of us who can't successfully moderate. We figure out what’s making us crazy, and we set some firm boundaries. Black and white. Yes and no. No more getting a little taste, then forcing ourselves to walk away. Free of having to micromanage, and free of temptation, abstinence grants us the ability to be present. But that’s not all.

Abstinence opens us up to life, we feel better, we’re more involved in our relationships, we sleep better … it’s like we’re on a stage and a crowd of blessings starts to gather at our feet.

But for many of us, the idea lingers that we should be able to eat everything — including Monkey Brains — in moderation. So there we are, looking out at a sea of smiling, supportive faces, but like so many other moments in life, the face we notice most is the scowling jerk in the third row.

For some of us, the jerk is jealousy — "Everyone else can eat Monkey Brains, so why can’t I?!"

For some, the jerk is entitlement — "I deserve to be able to eat whatever I want!"

For some, it’s sadness, grief, or rage. For many, the jerk is a combination of it all, the lingering notion that we should be able to do something that we’ve learned we cannot do.

People like me can have a hard time swallowing abstinence as a way of life, because the jerk in the third row is often louder and more noticeable than all the pleasure and relief and power people like us feel when we abstain from the foods we don’t relate to in a healthy way.

If you’re like me, ditching the Monkey Brains will have a positive impact on how you experience everything in every minute of every day. And if you’re like me, the jerk will always be there.

So let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s make a pact to try to focus our attention on the other faces, on the blessings, in the crowd. Let’s not even look in his direction. Instead, let’s meet every other face in the crowd with a smile. These are the benefits of eating only foods that nourish us.

Oh hey, look — in the mezzanine! — it’s a peaceful mind! And there, in the balcony — increased energy in the afternoon — man, is it good to see you!

Let’s work on noticing and appreciating each of these, every day. Let’s try to enjoy the emotional freedom, the mental peace, the physical comfort, and the sense of empowerment we get to rock when we’re free of craving and obsession. Let’s embrace the idea that the only thing any of us SHOULD feel compelled to do is to take good care of ourselves.

And then, when we hear that bombastic bastard in the third row clear his throat, let’s turn to the rest of the crowd, grounded in presence and power, and say “Thank you. I’m so glad you’re all here.”

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