Making Sense of Moderation

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Moderation isn’t sexy. It’s not going to sweep you off your feet, make you tingly, or cause you to swoon. And yet, moderation is one of the primary keys to overall wellness. It means enjoying what you love, and what feeds you, rather than denying yourself meaningful pleasure. It means seeking out balance in all things–those that are good for you, and healthful, and those that are indulgent and maybe even a bit naughty.

making-sense-moderation-pudding-postPracticing moderation isn’t hard, but it does require some forethought, so you’d be wise to cultivate habits that make it easier to achieve. Here are four points to help you do so:

  • Large dishes encourage you to eat large portions.  In his wonderful and insightful book Mindless Eating, psychologist and Cornell University Food and Brand Lab Director Brian Wansink, PhD, writes of the “mindless margin,” the food we eat unintentionally simply because it’s there in front of us. He suggests serving food on smaller plates to counteract this tendency. That way, you’ll eat only what you actually mean to.
  • Fat promotes satiety. Contrary to still-popular beliefs, a bit of healthy fat served alongside low-calorie foods actually encourages less daily calorie consumption than depriving yourself of fat altogether. Why? Healthy, unsaturated fats like nuts and olive oil promote “satiety;” that feeling of fullness after you eat. If you feel full, you’re less likely to feel famished, or deprived, later in the day. (Learn more about how eating fat helps you stay slim.)
  • Most recipes can be halved.  This is obvious, granted, but how many times do you make a full batch of cookies just because that’s the way the recipe is written? Only make a full batch if you actually want, and plan to eat, a full batch. Or keep out only what you’ll eat in the very near future and freeze the rest for a later date.
  • Acknowledge the law of diminishing returns. A concept borrowed from economics, this theory can also be applied to food. It means that the first few bites of a food are always the best, and each subsequent bite provides diminishing relative pleasure. So don’t skip indulgences, but keep portions small. Doing so will actually help you enjoy them more. Little ramekins are perfect for ice cream, warm apple crumble, and intense chocolaty pudding.

Do I follow these precepts all the time? No, of course not. I’m anti-deprivation, though, so I know that in order to keep my own diet in check, I’ve got to make choices that will minimize the risks of my going overboard.

So don’t tell me not to eat chocolate pudding, because I won’t listen. And don’t tell me it’s not good for me, because it is: it’s good for my soul.  Just don’t laugh when you see me eating my pudding from a tiny bowl with a wee little spoon. It’s how I make moderation work for me.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.

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Mini Dark Chocolate Puddings with Chocolate Shavings

Recipe and photo by Cheryl Sternman Rule

These mini chocolate puddings are proof that good things come in small packages. Most kitchenware stores have inexpensive ramekins in varying sizes, so grab a few 2-ouncers the next time you’re out.  This dessert comes together in less than 15 minutes.

mini-chocolate-pudding-recipe1 ounce 70% dark chocolate
1 large egg
3 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch salt
1 cup 2% milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using a large, heavy knife, “shave” the chocolate into fine shreds by slicing downward at an angle onto your cutting board. Set aside.

Whisk egg in a heavy medium bowl until yolk and white have completely combined.

In a medium saucepan off-heat, whisk brown sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt.  Slowly dribble in milk, whisking all the while. (Mixture may have undissolved bumps.)

Set saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. As pudding cooks, use a heatproof spatula to make figure eights along the pan’s bottom, sweeping the sides occasionally as you stir.  Once it you get a genuine boil, reduce the heat slightly to prevent scorching, but allow to bubble steadily for 2 minutes. Stir constantly with heatproof spatula.

Remove from heat and spoon about 1/4 of mixture atop the beaten egg, whisking egg vigorously as you add the chocolate mixture. Scrape tempered egg mixture back into saucepan, set over low heat, and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute (be gentle with the heat; you don’t want scrambled eggs).

Remove pudding from heat and stir in vanilla and 3/4 of shaved chocolate. Divide among ramekins.

To serve, sprinkle with remaining shaved chocolate.  Enjoy warm, at room temp or cold (cover and refrigerate if waiting for later).

Makes 4 [2-ounce] servings

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  • DianaP

    Ah, moderation. I struggle with this one — even when you eat healthy foods, too much of a good thing is not so good! Thanks for the reminder about the small plate trick and the not-depriving-yourself-thing. I always make the worst food decisions when I think in terms of “good” and “bad” and not in terms of balance.

    Kudos for such a healthy approach!

  • Lia Huber

    I’m right there with you, Diana. Great reminders in this piece for all of us.

  • Memoria

    Yummy! Chocolate pudding in FEWER than 15 minutes?! I’m there. Thanks for the reminder about portion control. I need to work on using smaller plates and smaller portions, especially when whatever I made is uber-delicious! I almost always half my recipes, though…it usually still comes out as excessive since I live alone. So, the freezer is my friend.

    I love the new site! Good job to all the contributors.

  • Lia Huber

    Thanks, Memoria! I like that . . . the freezer is my friend. Look out for some freezer meals coming up.

  • Cheryl Sternman Rule

    Diana and Memoria, thanks for the positive feedback. If this piece resonated with you, I’d highly recommend you get a hold of Wansink’s book. It’s incredibly eye-opening. I’m not a dieter, but he does an excellent job pointing out little fixes that we can all make to make sure we’re really just eating what we mean to.

  • jasonaverykelch

    Very important… Everything in moderation… including moderation….

  • nosugarandspice

    This is a great article, and very helpful just in time for the holiday season. I find that if I “allow” myself to eat any type of snack during the day instead of reaching in the candy drawer I don’t eat nearly as much, stop the sugar high and then crash, and feel better overall.
    Recently I’ve been telling myself “if it’s not made from quality ingredients, then don’t eat it.” Splurging on the good stuff is worth it, far more than eating generic candy every day.