Sunday, February 13, 2011

Two Cookies or No Cookies

The question I always wonder is: Who actually eats the 1/2 cup serving size of ice cream? (For my metric system friends out there, this is about 70g). Who is it out there that has a craving for ice cream, goes to the store, buys a carton of creamy sin, and then eats only 1/2 a cup? (I am, of course, excluding those members of the ice-cream eating population aged 65 and older – I don’t know how, but the grandparents of the world seem to have an amazing amount of self-control).

This is a half-cup of ice cream.
What a tease, eh?
Let’s break this down for a minute: In a half-gallon (1.8 liter) carton of ice cream, there are roughly eight cups of ice cream - which means that there are precisely 16 of those little 1/2 cup servings. So, even if you ate one serving of ice cream everyday, a half-gallon of ice cream would last over two weeks! Let’s be honest here, I have never known ice cream to last longer than three days in my freezer (with the exception of the mistaken rum-raisin ice cream purchase which lasted months in my freezer until I needed more room and threw it away). Like many people, I follow a “two cookies or no cookies” policy...in other words, mastering moderation may well be my greatest failure in life thus far.

Lack of moderation has always been a problem for me; throughout university and in the years that followed, I lived in a “no cookie” world, characterized by excessive exercise and copious amounts of lettuce. I battled with anorexia and ran myself into a wheelchair by my sophomore year, and it wasn’t until the subsequent years of physical therapy that I became tuned in to 'proper' diet and exercise. Soon after, I had my personal training license, was a strength and conditioning coach, and even became a certified Weight-Loss Management Specialist. I was, once again, training like crazy, but this time following a very strict diet, eating every three hours - still in the “no-cookie” world, but at least I was eating this time.

My “two cookies or no cookies” tendency really stems back to my childhood. As a health-conscious single father, who also felt a fervent need to protect my dental hygiene from the evils of sugar, my dad would offer me a cookie every now and then. Like any half-way clever child, I would proceed by negotiating for two cookies. When the ultimatum came – “one cookie or no cookies” – I would obstinately opt for no cookies. For a stubborn child (like I was), the “two cookies or no cookies” concept is tolerable - attention spans are short, and if the child walks away stubbornly with no cookies (as I often did), the thought has passed five minutes later. As an adult, though, the concept is dangerous territory -- when we enter the “two cookies or no cookies” world, nobody else is deciding for us. Rather, we can indeed decide to buy the package of cookies with the possibility of indulging in two (or three, or four, or...), and once the package has in fact been bought, then comes the distasteful realm of self-restraint.

But why is moderation so hard? Why is it so difficult to eat just one cookie and put the rest away? I imagine it is because most of us live in the excessive 'two-cookie' world anyhow - when we do something we shouldn't, indulging in what we know is bad, why do it half-way? For example, when my boyfriend and I go out for a nice dinner, we want to “do it right” - if we’re ordering steak and a bottle of wine, what difference does it make adding an appetizer to the bill (and if you still have room at the end of it all, a dessert)? Quite simply, two cookies (or three, or four, or...) in one go is – for some (many?) - more fun than all those cookies spread out over time.

Essentially, the question is this: Would I prefer to go to two or three less expensive, more health-conscious, no-frills dinners OR one big, all-out, maybe a bit more memorable dinner? In other words, would you prefer to eat ½ cup of ice cream three times a week, or curl up on a Friday night with a movie and a bowl of ice cream once a week? For me, it's the latter on both. I would actually rather be strict and focused with my diet during the week, and have one “cheat night” rather than a number of small “cheat moments.” And I’m quite sure I’m not alone in this boat.

While I recommend this...
The point? Moderation may, in fact, be a bit overrated. Why should we try and master eating one cookie when the real enjoyment is in the “two cookies” world? My advice when it comes to the constant struggle with lack of moderation: Admit it and work with it. You can make yourself crazy trying to eat ½ cup of ice cream and then not spend the rest of the night thinking about what’s in the freezer, or you can be healthy – and yes, strict with yourself – most of the time, and then get a nice big bowl of ice cream, whipped cream and sprinkles (or pizza or happy hour margaritas – whatever your poison) when the occasion calls for it. Now, that said, if you’re indulging in a potato chip feast every other day, then you’re living in a “two packs of cookies” world, and my advice is to admit it and quit it (and I’ll tell you how later).
...I do not recommend this!

The reality is, once I’ve indulged in my fix of ice cream/chips/cocktails/[enter favorite edible misdemeanour here], I’m satisfied and motivated to spend the next week being ├╝ber-healthy. It is far easier to exercise the power of choice (e.g. happy hour or movie popcorn) than it is to comply with moderation (one drink and one cup of popcorn? Really?). Is it really that healthy to spend so much time trying to live our lives according to moderation, only to fail, feel guilty, and then start all over again? We live in a world full of limits and excess, and rarely is the choice just one cookie.

If you have mastered moderation – and I know some of you out there that have – congratulations, you were probably one of the children out there that when offered two cookies only took one. But for the rest of us, I am living proof that you can be fit, healthy, in shape, and yes, terrible when it comes to moderation. Would I like to be better? Maybe not, actually. I am more focused on my diet and exercise most of the time, because I know that I don’t have to ration out the good things in life, but rather, just save up for them. My self-restraint during the week, for example, is actually stronger because I know that the candy and movies on Friday night will be that much more enjoyable. My objective is to work for my two cookies, and then enjoy them without guilt!

So, I guess the key is this: exercise lack of moderation in moderation. That is, don’t have your cheat nights three times a week – but work for them. You will certainly enjoy them more – not least when you stop stressing about just having one drink or measuring out ½ cup of sin. Life is too short for this kind of stress. If you can teach yourself moderation, great – but if you have tried and failed many times, then perhaps you should just embrace the “two cookie” world we live in. Set reasonable limits for yourself most of the time, and then enjoy the occasions that are limitless.



Moderation in moderation…or not at all!