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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Eating well: Variety, balance & moderation

Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition Specialist, Northwest Region, University of Missouri Extension


Time has passed since New Year’s resolutions were made. Perhaps the most popular was the promise to go on a diet. Though good intentions may be waning, there is no reason to give up on eating well. One main difference between eating well and dieting is the stress of a diet and the difficulties in maintaining the rigors imposed by most diets. Eating well means using variety, balance and moderation in what we choose to eat daily.

Variety, in the context of eating right, means eating different foods from the 5 major food groups of the Food Guide Pyramid. Variety is also about eating different foods within each food group. When a mother says, “Eat your broccoli,” it’s good advice because broccoli is full of important nutrients and phytochemicals. But for the lycopene punch needed to help protect against some forms of cancer, tomato products are what’s needed. And for alpha- and beta-carotene that are so important for eye health, carrots are the ticket. But not just carrots: eating pumpkin, butternut squash, mango, apricots and cantaloupe will also add to your alpha- and beta-carotene intake.

Balance really has to do with mixing and matching the types of food we eat to make sure we get enough of the nutrients we need plenty of, and not too much of the ones we tend to overdo. By using a balanced eating plan, we get just the right amount of the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, water and fat that our bodies need — and no more. This also helps us get the calories needed for day-to-day activities, but not excessive calories beyond our bodies’ needs.

Variety and balance are important attributes of a healthful eating plan. Perhaps the hardest component of all, though, is moderation. In this world where we are bombarded with the questions: “Would you like to super-size that?” and “Would you like the Combo meal?,” eating a moderate amount of food can be very challenging. One of the keys to moderation is recognizing and honoring the body’s hunger and fullness cues.

We eat for lots of reasons:

  • Because it is time to eat or because it’s there
  • Because we are angry/frustrated/upset/sad/anxious
  • Because we are happy/excited/nervous
  • Because, for some reason, we feel we have to

Eating when our bodies don’t really require food can easily lead to overeating. And overeating can lead to health problems related to being overweight.

Recognizing hunger and fullness cues can be learned. Think about some of the signs your body gives you when you’re hungry. Perhaps it’s a growl coming from your middle, or maybe just an empty feeling. When people are very hungry, they can even experience headache, an upset stomach or fatigue. When the body signals its hunger, feed it. Then during the meal or snack, try taking a short time-out to again check in with your body. Ask yourself if the food still tastes good. Do I want more? Am I still hungry? If the answer is yes, keep eating. But when the answer is no, stop. Your body knows how much and what kinds of foods it needs. All you have to do is pay attention. And that’s easier said than done, until you’ve had some practice. 

Learn your hunger and fullness cues — they are as individual as your personality. Then eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. You may never again have to say, “I ate so much that I made myself sick!”


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Last update: Monday, January 10, 2011