The Trouble With Moderation

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We’ve all heard the phrase, “Anything in moderation is okay.” Nutritionists and health experts have been saying this for years. For perpetual dieters and health seekers, it tends to function as something of a golden rule.

The trouble with moderation is that not everything should be consumed in moderation. Some things should be consumed in minimal quantities or almost never (fried food, sweetened beverages), while other things in abundance (green vegetables, cold-water fish).

Moderation, by definition, refers to “the avoidance of excess or extremes.” Yes, we want to avoid consuming candy bars or macaroni and cheese in excess. But we want to do more than that. We want to consume those foods sparingly or on very rare occasion. While this may be what health experts intend when using the rule, it’s not what people hear. 

Further, folks have widely varying perceptions of moderate consumption, often based on current habits. If someone drinks three 20oz bottles of soda per day, does that mean a healthy moderate intake would be one 20oz bottle per day? To me that’s still way too much.

Moderate consumption actually makes it harder to avoid a food we’re trying to limit, than simply cutting it out all together. This is especially true for sweets, sugar, sweetened beverages and highly refined carbohydrates like breads, pastas and desserts. As long as these foods are present in our diets they will perpetuate a craving for more, regardless of one’s personal interpretation of moderate intake.

As a nutritionist I’ll happily admit that I hate this phrase. I think it steers people in the wrong direction and ultimately does little to teach what an actual healthy diet looks like. The next time someone tells you it’s okay to eat something “in moderation,” ask for more information. Get the details. Understand how much of that food should really be in your diet, regardless of how much you eat now, how much you love it, or crave it. This may vary depending on your body type, health status, personal goals or activity levels, and of course based on what food you’re talking about. An experienced nutritionist should be able to make this distinction and provide sound information customized to you.

What foods do you strive or struggle to eat in moderation? Share in the comments.


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March 2023