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December 17, 2019

Moderation: Having the courage to accept limits

By Tara Payor, Ph.D.

What happened to moderation? When exercising five times a week was good. Getting As and Bs was good. Eating a variety of solid foods was good. Playing sports for the camaraderie was good. There’s been a marked shift. Two-a-days aren’t just for athletes. Grade point averages are abysmal if they are < 5.0. Nutrition is poor if two of three meals aren’t liquid. Kids have no game if they don’t have private lessons. Extreme approaches, whether grounded in deprivation or glut, aren’t sustainable. The paper straw movement demonstrates society’s concern with sustainability for mother earth. Sustaining stability as parents, and kids’ stability for their still-developing minds and bodies, we must focus on pushing against the pendulum of extreme approaches.

Move the Needle toward Ordinary

Chiara Mobley is a licensed mental health counselor who works with moderation. “Most people who come into my office struggle with lowering the bar. It’s the opposite of what they’ve been taught.” Patients, from children to adults, make it into Chiara’s office because they reach a breaking point. “People do drastic things until they realize what they’re doing is unhealthy and they can’t carry on.” Sustainability is key.

She underscores that society’s approach is big, better, best—if not, people aren’t viewed as successful. The approach is (a) not sustainable and (b) leads to comparison—the latter robs joy. Mobley advises creating realistic, measurable expectations and practicing moderation in those actions as well. She helps patients take a stepwise-process-approach to setting expectations. “People can’t just jump from being unhealthy to being posters of good health. Crafting personalized rating scales is helpful. If a 1 is sedentary and clueless about nutrition, but a 10 is the epitome of personal fitness and nutrition, how does one use moderation to move along the scale and what does each point look like?”

Moderation

Acknowledging limits is key, but often counter to cultural norms. “In a pure way, kids are taught they can do anything they set their minds to. Nurturing that belief can lead to maladaptive ideas and behaviors.” When they eventually encounter something they can’t do, the self-talk is, “I’m failing.” Negative self-talk can grow into years’-long narrative. Mobley notes, “I end up helping patients uncover where their narrative originated. Is it their own or is it comprised of messages they received growing up? Do they actually subscribe to the messages? There’s opportunity to write a new narrative, and some people learn how to re-parent themselves.” Mobley adds that whether the intention is pure or altogether absent, kids learn about the world around them through parents’ lenses.

Mobley encourages patients, “Have the courage to be ordinary.” Society pushes us to have the courage to go after our dreams, but it can take more courage to be ordinary. “A lot of people who are big, better or best aren’t happy that way,” notes the counselor.  It’s important that people are able to recognize what’s outside their limits, understand what is sustainable for them as individuals, and grasp their motivations. All are healthier than focusing on a bar set too high.

Move your Body toward Mindfulness

With the rise of organizations like CrossFit, fitness has become increasingly competitive. A competitive nature, infused into the fitness industry from former athletes turned personal fitness pros, doesn’t just go away. That can be both a blessing and a curse. Andrew Zoellner, a certified personal trainer with 11+ years of experience, notes, “Athletes can be valuable resources who teach about discipline, staying active from a young age, and pushing oneself. But too many people are pushing through pain and fatigue.” A proponent of rest, Zoellner observes people so caught up in self- imposed-personal-fitness-competition that they use exercise as a way to check out and lose being in tune with their bodies. Zoellner encourages clients to ask themselves, “Am I actually being lazy or is my body legitimately telling me to slow down?” He teaches that exercise breaks down tissue and bodies need rest or they’ll respond with sickness and mental fatigue.

Like Mobley, Zoellner believes comparison is problematic and views social media influencers as part of the issue. “It takes years for people to reach the physical fitness level shown on Instagram. Plus, fitness programs are individual and don’t necessarily transfer from one person to another. In a one-click culture, many people fail to focus on longevity.” Consideration of one’s lifestyle is instrumental to supporting sustainability in a personal fitness program. If parents find that family time is negatively impacted because they feel compelled to crush another work out, there may be some blurred lines needing clarification. “Being healthy encompasses more than our bodies,” says Zoellner, father to a 4-year-old boy and with a baby on the way. “Reconceptualizing things that support personal fitness is an important step. Healthy activity isn’t limited to a gym. My son and I walk trails and connect by being outside together and doing things as simple as throwing sticks and rocks.” In this way, Zoellner takes care of himself physically, emotionally and mentally. Play is an ideal introduction to physical activity, which allows for family bonding. “Things are so structured that we’ve forgotten how to play. Kids aren’t going to learn through drills. They want to run, jump, and climb.” Zoellner believes adults need to get comfortable with experimenting, playing, and trying. When kids witness two active parents, they’re five times more likely to be active themselves.

Regarding nutrition, he advocates for sustainability and experimentation. “It’s easy to get caught up in quick fixes and bandwagons. Don’t. Sustainability happens when we open ourselves up to experimentation.” He coaches clients to take elements from varying nutritional approaches and observe how their bodies respond. “I push clients toward self-regulation and away from being married to a diet because someone on Instagram says it works. We’re all different people with different guts.”

Mindfulness is key to practicing moderation in personal fitness and nutrition.

Exercise. Eat the cake. Work hard. Take breaks. Have courage. Be extra, sometimes. Be ordinary, too.


  • Follow Zoellner on Instagram @drewjamisonfitness
  • Visit Chiara Mobley’s website
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