Can you Moderate? Or must you Eliminate?

The three little words that almost killed me:

“Everything in Moderation”

For me, these words are an utter lie, an impossibility, and the height of denial.  They made me try and fail and try and fail more times than it is possible to count.  As such an accepted part of our lexicon, “Everything in Moderation” must be true!   Therefore, I, incapable of eating certain things in moderation, must just lack willpower.  Right?

Years ago, when I was suffering from obesity and high blood sugar, my doctor sent me to a dietitian to help me lose weight.  After the first week, when I returned to the skinny, perky dietitian’s office with my chocolate-smeared food log in hand, she asked incredulously “But you are trying to lose weight!  Why are you eating boxes of cookies??!”  I answered, through my tears of shame, “I don’t know!  That’s why I am here.  It’s like I am an addict and I can’t stop.  I need help!”  To which she angrily replied “There is no such thing as food addiction.  Just follow the diet.”

I never went back to her office.  I went home and ate another box of cookies.  There is no such thing as food addiction.  Just have ONE cookie, Emily.  One.  everythinginmoderation

But what I found, once again, is there is no such thing as “one cookie”.  Not for me.

I honestly and truly owe my life to the angel in women’s clothing, who came along and said “Food addiction is a real thing and I too, am a food addict.”  She introduced me to the concept of Elimination of Trigger Foods and taught me the importance of recognizing and having a strategy for handling Trigger Situations.  She told me to read a book called Thin Tastes Better by Dr. Stephen Gullo.  I read it, mouth agape, one hundred times.  There are foods that render certain people utterly devoid of the ability to stop eating.  I might be crazy, but I am not the only one!

In his book, Dr. Gullo asks you to remember every diet you ever went on.  Then he asks you to remember every time you fell off the diet and what food you fell of the diet with.  In 99% of the cases, we fall off our diet with the same handful of foods.  For me: cookies, candy, cake.  Every. Time.

So, if the same handful of foods lead you astray, those foods are your trigger foods and your life will be so much more peaceful without them in it.  Tada, Elimination.  As I have written many times before, when we stop negotiating with the terrorists in our minds and on our plates, we finally achieve that sought-after peace agreement.

Now, I do recognize that if this were not my own personal reality, I would probably think it’s nutso, just like that dietitian did.  So if you are the type of person who can eat one cookie and stop, then keep on with your “Everything in Moderation”.  BUT, know that there ARE people who CANNOT do moderation.  They are not weak-willed and they should not just “try harder.”  They can’t do it.  In fact, you may even be living with one of these people!  They may be your own children, or your partner.  So when you buy cookies to have in the house for when guests come, and your food addict child or spouse drags the box back to his or her room like a fresh carcass on the savannah, the answer is to:

a.  Lecture this person about “everythinginmoderation”

b.  Stop buying cookies and leave your loved one in peace

the answer is “b”.

And if you really want to know what it is like inside the head of a food addict, read this most amazing description over on the Disease Proof blog.  Then get a copy of The End of Overeating by David Kessler where you will learn why some people get addicted in the first place (brain chemicals and food chemicals oh my!), and that even the former head of the FDA considers himself a food addict.  We’re in good company.

So the next time you find yourself looking up from an empty packet of whatever, after promising yourself you would just have ONE, open your eyes and see your trigger food for what it is: a life robbing, self-esteem sucking, lying terrorist with a bomb strapped to his chest.  Do not even try to negotiate!

Elimination is not as hard as hard as Moderation.  I promise, promise, promise  you.

(Part Two of this post is now located here:  More on Moderation).



  1. Thank you thank you thank you for this posting Emily!!!!!!! You have hit the nail right on the head for me. I totally lost sight of all of this. I cannot thank you enough.

  2. This is such a great post Emily. I too struggle with the same things. I know there are certain foods that I simply can’t stop eating, especially when I’m upset or stressed, yet I find myself doing it anyway! Sometimes complete avoidance is key, at least for a period to break the addiction!

  3. Charlene says:

    Thank you for making it all so clear. Sooo, I am not crazy after all. Wow! I watched my dear mother struggle with diabetes caused by her addition to sweets and desserts. People often thought I was over reacting when I would liken her obsession with confections as an addition. I saw many of my mother’s traits in myself and that’s when I decided to change. I have come to recognize I have many of the same weaknesses that my mother had but I am walking away and keeping those things out of my house and my life. I am very grateful to have it confirmed I am not the only person who cannot keep it in moderation and it’s best to just kick it out of my house. Thank you so much for this post and here’s to ELEMINATION!

  4. For me it’s bread, burekasim, crisps, cheese, potatoes, pasta…. I think you have to treat it like being an alcoholic except that you have to eat. I have no problem eliminating sweet things including chocolate – I don’t like sweet. But how can I eliminate a whole food group almost?

    • Emily Segal says:

      Yes, I hear about that group of triggers a lot. You are certainly not alone! That is why I designed my 30-day detox to target those 3 things: sugar, wheat and dairy. They are very problematic for most people. I stopped eating cheese, bourekas and crisps completely (Elimination) so that took care of that. Potatoes, pasta and bread I strictly limit quantities, but I CAN, so Moderation works for me there. If it doesn’t work for you, you need to decide if eating them is worth it. I will write a follow up post as you raise some more issues. thanks!

  5. You’re so totally THERE, that it’s inspirational. Thank you!
    Here’s something I’m curious about – dairy as a trigger food? I’ve noticed that sometimes I want more cottage cheese, but I’m almost always satiated by “gvina levana”. I assumed it had to do with the salt. (I consider white carbs or carbs+oil my triggers).

    • Emily Segal says:

      Hi Shari, Dr Neal Barnard has a whole theory about why dairy is addictive. He says they contain morphine-like substance, the same as human breast milk does. Who knows? I think you are right that it could be salt or fat, or perhaps the creamy texture, or even something we associate them with like Mom, comfort, things we were given as a child…

  6. What a thoughtful and helpful post. It really opened my eyes and I think I’ll be able to cut my husband a little slack now. I rarely buy the things we “shouldn’t” eat but sometimes have them on hand if company is coming or something like that and then get mad at him for eating it all.

    I now understand how hard I’ve made it for him. After so many years together I know his triggers. And since I do all the shopping, it’s my responsibility to keep those triggers foods OUT of the house. Thank you again!!

    Penny at Green Moms and Kids

  7. Thanks for the great article. It was informative and entertaining. I especially loved the part where you compared cookies to a carcass. Hilarious imagery. You are so right! Grrrrr! I hate those words too now!

  8. Sugar in the form of cookies, brownies and ice cream are my major trigger foods. I cannot just have one cookie. Sometimes it’s very hard to not keep those foods around because I feel like I am depriving my family of foods that they can enjoy in moderation. After reading more and more information recently about how terrible sugar is for our health, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to find healthier recipe options and to make something like ice cream into a true treat – ex. go out for it so when it’s gone, it’s gone and isn’t sitting in a big tub in my freezer.

    Thank you for your site. Coming across it this evening in conjunction with other article recently has given my the next push I need to make more changes to my and my family’s diet.

  9. Brilliant article and so true for many of us – including me. Thank you for your insight and wisdom. Xx


  1. […] in early March, I wrote a post about Moderation versus Elimination, where I argued that if you cannot control yourself with a certain food or food group, it is better […]

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