By Ted Spiker

As much as I’d love to have flung marinara-dressed noodles across a cafeteria once or twice in my life, I’ve never had a real food fight. Unless you count these battles:

  • The bloody nose I got after wolfing down 12 tacos when I was a boy;

  • The 72 ounces of steak I slugged through in a meat-eating contest (it was a job assignment, and I won by one ounce);

  • The time I got so wrapped up in a conversation that I poured salad dressing (French) on a plate of pasta.

Sure, most of us have a love-love-love relationship with food, and that’s precisely why we may also have a hate-hate-hate relationship with what happens afterwards. We know that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, yet the temptations of tongue-pleasing plates often outweigh what we know are health-hurting decisions. I’ve been writing about health, food, and fitness for a long time, and I feel like I know the right way to eat. Yet I’ve spent the same number of decades fighting the temptations as I have been writing about them. (One of the proposed titles for my book about dieting struggles was “I am a Hippo-crite.”)

I’ve had the chance to work with some of the greatest thinkers, researchers, and doctors when it comes to nutrition. And while I’m no official or certified expert in the medical or nutritional world, I’ve collected a few thoughts about the balance between the healthy kind of eating and the mayo-licking kind. These are the three things I’m trying—TRYING, I say—to keep at the forefront of my tongue.

Find the sweet spot of balance: Eat perfectly nearly all the time? Half the time? After you have a depressing jeans incident? This has been my major struggle, finding the right ratio between salmon and sausages. I try to eat well 90 percent of the time to allow myself some wiggle room, but I rarely reach that goal.

Leave some and slow down: Portion sizes and inhalation speed have been my nemeses (see Steak, 72 Ounces). I clean my plate, I have seconds, I usually finish first at the table, and I rarely have met a meal I couldn’t finish. I’m working, working, working on putting on the brakes and adding more doggie bags to my life.

Keep on burning: I know very well that you can’t out-train a bad diet (eat poorly most of the time and you can’t just burn it all off, unless you could spend all day exercising). Besides loving being in a regular training routine, I can’t help but think that regular exercise buys me a little dietary leeway. It may not be a lot, but hopefully enough for me to, every once in while, squirt down a few hits of whipped cream

Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the chair of the University of Florida Department of Journalism, as well as a health and fitness writer. He is the author of DOWN SIZE, a book about the science and soul of weight loss and dieting.