Moderation is a lie

Alright, I’ll start off by saying moderation in your diet isn’t a lie: it can be real and valid. However, there are certain tendencies and write-offs associated with moderation that make true moderation pretty hard to achieve successfully, such as making the claim you’re incapable of making a change (“I could never cut out bread”) or the old adage, “today’s my cheat day” (spoiler: there’s no such thing as cheat days). So, while moderation itself may not be a lie, the assumptions and tendencies surrounding it might be, frustrating its practitioners by totally thwarting progress.

  1. Success utilizing the “everything in moderation” method centers around the assumption that we can clearly, neatly, and accurately define what “moderation” actually is. In the fitness community, I often hear people say they adhere to their diet 80% of the time, or follow an “80/20 rule.” But does that mean 80% of your meals are 100% adherent, or that each meal is 80% adherent, or some combination of both? What unit of measurement are we working with here? More importantly, how do we know where the 80% line in the sand is? Where the “lie” in moderation is might lie in this truth: moderation is a moving target and we are not very skilled at hitting it.
  2. I have a tendency to believe most people are actually tougher and more credible than they give themselves credit for. We tend to attribute too many of our not-so-great food choices to “well, everything in moderation.” I think what gets missed is any deeper reflection than that. And no, I don’t mean we should dwell and look down on ourselves for making that food choice…but rather ask ourselves if we’re even practicing moderation at all. Because moderation is so murky, so imprecise, a better question to ask before eating said not-so-great choice is… is it worth it? It’s okay if the answer is yes. Maybe it’s your mom’s fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Maybe the dish in question is part of a dearly held tradition or ritual. Maybe it’s your birthday. Maybe you just don’t have any concrete goals right now, and see no downside to eating it. The bottom line is, it’s special and you’re going to eat it. But maybe that question still bears contemplation. And if the answer is no, it’s really not worth it (maybe it’s your third beer, maybe it’s leftover Halloween candy and not even the good candy, you get the idea…), then I’m here to remind you, you’re tougher than you think you are, and I promise you, you don’t have to drink/eat it. “Everything in moderation” can go fly a kite.
  3. We have a tendency to resign to the idea that we could never (like, ever) eliminate a certain food from our diet. “But I love cheese!” or “but I always have a glass of wine with dinner, it’s just what I do” are fine defenses, but only if you’re not serious about your goals and priorities. If you’re ready to put a ring on it, then you may want to ask yourself if you’re defending precisely what’s going to get in the way of your progress. Trust that you are totally capable.
  4. For certain goals, moderation can simply make your goals harder, if not impossible, to reach. If you’re eating whole, nutrient-dense foods in an effort to just feel better, then throwing in the occasional slice of pizza is going to trigger an immune response. The metabolic effects of one slice and the whole pizza aren’t as far away from each other as you’d think. So if your goals include anything like fixing a hormonal imbalance, improving your psychological health, healing a leaky gut, or reducing inflammation, it might be helpful to consider cutting out those problematic foods (for many people this could include sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, etc.) with 100% adherence for a specified period (30 days minimum) in order to let your body heal. No 80/20 funny business here.

“Everything in moderation” does nothing to change your habits long-term. It’s something we say to feel marginally better about our choices, but what if I told you it’s possible to feel great about your choices? This can be achieved by accepting that moderation is, well, kind of a lie. But we can create good habits. We can make clear choices, and we can be honest with ourselves about those choices. We can set healthy boundaries. And if that ends up looking something like moderation in the end, then so be it. But at least this time it’s real and valid.

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