This topic has been rolling around in my head for a long time. Especially since I posted about sugar addiction and was sort of down on myself for 'caving' to my supposed sugar addiction. A friend commented and wrote "addiction" in quotes. I had just talked to her about diet transgressions and we both agreed that occasional treats and moderation were OK and keep most people sane. Hence the implication that she didn't really think I had an addiction, I was just eating like a normal human being.
Moderation seems to be a dirty word in some plant based circles. Dr. Esselstyn says 'moderation kills' and he may be right in certain instances like someone with known heart disease and a history of coronary incidents. I see a lot of shaming and chastising of people on blogs and in online plant based diet communities if anyone even thinks of having anything outside the strict guidelines of each plan (which vary from expert to expert).
I am so back and forth on this topic in my own mind. I want to be a good, healthy example for my clients. I don't want to encourage anyone to eat animal products, sugar, oils, greasy, high fat Standard American Diet (SAD) foods. Yet......I sometimes have sugar or a dessert that most likely has dairy in it or a restaurant meal that has oil in it.
Here is where I am at today. I love the mantra shared by Lindsay Nixon, The Happy Herbivore. She always teaches Progress, Not Perfection. She encourages people to dust themselves off and get back to a healthy diet. Nobody is perfect.
I encourage my students and clients when they ask "can I have this?" "can I get away with this?" I say, "What are your goals?". An occasional treat or off-plan food keeps most people sane, allows them to live a happy life in a decidedly unhealthy food environment, and in most cases doesn't lead to health issues or even weight gain. This is the case with me, I can 'get away with' a few sugary treats or restaurant meals and it doesn't cause weight gain or health issues. So, for me, my health, and my goals, I am OK with this.
I tell my clients that in the grand scheme of healthy eating an occasional bit of sugar or bit of nut butter or oily meal or product with some food additives is not the worst thing in the world. As long as overall we are shifting our diets away from a SAD diet toward a healthy whole food plant based diet. I coach people based on their goals. If your goal is weight loss, you most likely can't eat at restaurants all the time and you can't get away with high fat calorie dense foods. If your goal is getting off statins and reducing your cholesterol levels, you can't be including meat and dairy in your diet. I like to work with people based on their individual goals and I also like to be realistic. We do live in a toxic food environment. We do go out to eat. We do have family & friends who knowingly or unknowingly encourage less than healthy choices.
It's OK. We need to have balance in our lives. We need to love ourselves no matter what. We need to live life to the fullest and stressing about every bite of food is not healthy.
I truly love this whole foods plant based way of eating because it has allowed me to reach a thin goal weight and maintain it with no more yo-yo'ing of my weight. That is such a huge relief to someone who has dieted and lost and gained the same 20 or 30 or 40 pounds her entire life (me). I now know exactly how to eat and get right back to that after a not-so-healthy choice. I really believe demanding 100% adherence makes a lot of people go off the rails into an 'all or nothing' way of thinking and they are right back to bingeing and putting the weight back on or needing the medications again because they think "What's the use? I can't stick with this. It's just too hard."
What if it was OK to have a cookie once in a while? To have a small piece of birthday cake on your birthday (not every single occasion that a store bought chemical laden not even tasty piece of sheet cake passes your way)? To go to a restaurant and enjoy a meal that was the best choice you had available even if it wasn't perfect?
I am going on record saying IT IS OK. You can work it in to your goals. I am slowly shifting my eating plan to actually include recipes that use sugar (natural or brown or maple syrup or a bit better sugar choice when possible). I think having a sweet tooth my entire life, a life of abstinence just doesn't do it for me. I am also a foodie and enjoy restaurants, I enjoy finding good vegan restaurants these days. I enjoy a glass of wine or a nice craft beer. I truly believe if I just let myself have these things once in a while in moderation, it's all going to be OK. I will live through it, maintain my healthy lifestyle, and be able to coach my clients on how to do the same with whatever calls to them.
My husband Simon and I were talking about this last night. I was doing the math. One meal per week = 4.7%. If you weren't perfect on one of your meals each week, you are still eating >95% healthily. I think that's pretty darned good. Many popular diet books and plans include a 'cheat day' or 'cheat meal'. I don't necessarily agree with that. I think an entire cheat day would send too many people off the rails and back to unhealthy ways. I think a full-on SAD cheat meal isn't the best idea either. I like the idea of understanding what you personally really crave, what would satisfy your particular tastes, and treating yourself to a bit of that once in a while.
If I ever write my diet plan book, it will include room for indulging and living life. Occasionally. 5%. It's OK. Life is meant to be lived.
Be well my friends. Feel free to share your feelings on this topic with me. I would love to hear where you are at with Progress, Not Perfection.