Should You Eat “In Moderation” ?? My take on the Phrase

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Ugh- this phrase “In moderation” has been driving me nuts for the past couple of years. Seems like a crazy thing for a promoter of healthy living and positive body image to say, right? Let me tell you why I strongly dislike this phrase.

The actual webster definition of moderation is:


mod·er·a·tion :  the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions.

Sounds pretty good right? So all I have to do to eat in moderation is avoid extremes and I will be good? Well, the way that “moderation” is used in today’s society in regard to food has come to be more of “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that”. I feel like every time i talk to someone when they are eating something that is not healthy they always go “well everything is fine in moderation”. Sounds legit. Or maybe not. Is cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other PREVENTABLE diseases fine “in moderation”. Most would say no. Or some would say- “well you aren’t going to become obese or get heart disease from eating some junk every now and then”. Maybe- maybe not. The issue is that most people aren’t eating junk every once and a while- they are eating junk daily and writing it off as “moderation”.

Here are all of the reasons why I think that moderation (according to its current usage) just doesn’t add up.

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Moderation is defined by the individual

Just like eating “healthy” is defined by the individual, eating “in moderation” is also defined in the same manner. One person may believe that eating healthy is eating lots of fruits, veggies & starches, while someone else may think eating healthy is eating a bunch of low fat diet products. Likewise, eating in moderation could mean having a little dark chocolate after each meal, having a treat once or twice a week, or could be having a pastry for breakfast, a big chocolate chip cookie with lunch, and a massive plate of nachos for dinner. “Moderation, right?”. See how muddled this term is?

Each person also has different ideas about what moderation is for different foods.

Maybe your definition of moderation when it comes to polishing off a pint of ice cream is once a week, but moderation for your coffee habit is one daily frapp from Starbucks. Over time I have come to realize that most people are very forgiving with the eating habits, with almost every person assuming they are eating healthier than they really are. I’d say there are very few of us (Im including myself in this) that are not so forgiving about our eating habits and are maybe a little to harsh on ourselves. But, for most of America, the “diet” always starts tomorrow.

If I had a dime for every time I read an article on health/dieting/fitness, etc. that said “Balance is Key” , I’d be able to actually buy things that aren’t on clearance or mega sale. Seriously. People insinuate that unhealthy foods are only unhealthy if you eat them in excess. Because eating 2 hot dogs filled with preservatives and cancer causing ingredients is better than eating 7, right?

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The other issue I have with “moderation” is that it focuses on the ideal of will power. Lets take an example “Okay, so I can only eat foods in moderation, so when I go to this barbecue I need to limit myself to 2 beers, 1 dessert, and one serving of potato salad. Then you get to the party and oops, you had 3 beers, 2 cookies, and a huge slice of cake. You then give up because your “will power” failed you. You think eh, screw it, I already ate bad, so I’ll have a couple smores, some chips, and another beer- because why the hell not?”. Sound familiar? Yea- I have definitely been there in the past.

The foods we feel the need to “moderate” are calorie dense, and nutrient poor and have been designed by food scientists to make you crave them. These foods require pleasure, reward, and emotional circuitry in the brain, creating habit loops that are nearly impossible to break. These foods also interfere with hormones and create metabolic imbalances to promote cravings even further. Hormones like leptin and insulin are messed with in a way that no amount of will power can overrule. So when it comes down to it, hormones will  always win. I am also mentioning this to let you know that you are not a failure because you don’t have the “will power” to resist certain foods. Creating a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise included!), takes time to develop and relies on the repetition of healthy habits.

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So basically what I am saying is that moderation really doesn’t have any tangible meaning. What I am NOT saying is to deprive yourself of your favorite foods or only eat kale and berries all day. I fully believe in consuming treats every now and then (and I do!), but I just don’t think it should be happening on a daily basis- especially if you are on a quest for optimal health. I just want to encourage people to reframe the way that they view and consume unhealthy foods.

Let me know your thoughts on moderation in the comments! Do you believe in eating “in moderation”? What are your thoughts on will power?

2 comments on “Should You Eat “In Moderation” ?? My take on the Phrase”

  1. Ellie says:

    I totally agree with this! I also think that the only way we reach our potential or find out what we’re made of is to be out of balance. Like when you’re studying for your PhD, you study all the time, turn down things and maybe focus less on your health. However, when you’re done you have your PhD! Being out of balance for a while was worth it.
    I like moderation, but sometimes it’s also fun to try different things that would not be included in moderation. For example, last year I went completely raw vegan for a month. Was that “moderation”? No. Was it fun and a good experience? YES!

    1. I love your perspective on this! I think the idea of being “out of balance” is so interesting and only really realizing that we are out of balance when we do something more extreme. Same can be said about running- is training for a marathon moderation? Who knows! Who cares! We are gonna do it anyway!

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