Is Moderation Just an Excuse to Eat Crap?

04/28/2015 11:35 am ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

More than a few times lately I've heard people say things along the lines of "moderation is just an excuse to eat crap" and "it's for people who don't want to work hard enough." I'm very pro moderation, so these statements make me want to rip out my eyeballs. I thought I'd take a few minutes and explain what moderation is, and why I believe it is so important in health and fat loss.

Moderation is just an excuse to eat nothing but donuts and French fries (or insert other delicious, very calorie-dense food here).


No. If this is your reasoning for staying on the extreme side then we need to have a chat, because eating nothing but donuts and French fries is the exact opposite of moderation, making that argument completely invalid.

Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are people praising moderation, but also promoting cleanses, detoxes, only organic, farm raised, local, GMO-free everything. I love supporting local farms, and I try to buy local when I can, but not everyone has that capability. I hate the non-organic shaming. It's okay to buy organic if you want to -- it's also okay and healthy to not buy organic.

There's a lot of confusion around the term moderation.


1. the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one's behavior or political opinions.

Eating nothing but donuts is not moderation, it is extreme.

Eating 100 percent strict paleo is not moderation, it is extreme.

Eating only strictly locally grown, organic, GMO-free, dye-free, label-free, high fructose corn syrup-free, gluten-free, processed-free, everything is not moderation, it is extreme.

Juice cleanses and detoxes are not moderation, they are extreme.

Eliminating sugar is not moderation, it is extreme.

Eating nothing but fast food is not moderation, it's extreme.

I could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

So what does moderation look like in the real world?

It looks like eating a mostly whole foods diet with plenty of nutrients from fruits, vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats, etc. The specifics will look different for everyone, because everyone has different preferences and tastes. It also leaves room for regular treats and indulgences that feed our soul and give us pleasure.

Speaking of treats and pleasure, can people please stop saying sugar lights up the same area in the brain as cocaine, therefore sugar is just as bad and addictive as drugs? This probably deserves it's own post but I'll just touch on it here because it drives me insane. Note: This does not mean I'm saying to eat only or mostly sugar, see moderation definition above.

Sugar is pleasurable to humans; so is cocaine. That does not make them equal. Cocaine is physically addicting, while sugar is not. "An international team of scientists has found no strong evidence for people being addicted to the chemical substances in certain foods. The brain does not respond to nutrients in the same way as it does to addictive drugs such as heroin or cocaine." (Source) However, it IS possible to become addicted to the behavior of eating, like other behavior addictions.

Moderation and fat loss

Can you lose weight without moderation? Absolutely. Weight loss is not that hard, anyone can willpower their way through a quick 10-20 pound weight loss. The hard part is keeping it off. I believe that moderation coupled with habit change is the only path to true sustainable fat loss. If you are constantly depriving yourself to lose weight, I am willing to bet that the weight you lose will not stay off long term. The trick to keeping weight off for good, is being sure you can keep doing the behaviors that led to that weight loss day in and day out, forever. Is your juice cleanse going to last forever? No. Can you sustain 1,200 calories per day forever? No.

Cue moderation! An emphasis on health, with plenty of room for treats so you don't feel deprived and end up binging. Binge eating can ruin a weeks worth of sensible calorie deficit in an hour, and I see so many people frustrated because they are trying so hard, yet still not seeing any changes. Binge eating is usually one of the reasons people who are very restrictive don't get results. There are multiple reasons people binge, but one of the big ones is restriction. (If you are struggling with Binge Eating Disorder, please see a medical professional.)

For me, long term restriction ended in long term binging. Once I finally removed the restriction and guilt around eating, allowed myself a normal amount of food, and stopped punishing my body the binging went away. It took time, this all takes time and that's the hardest part. But it's so worth it.

For those of you reading this that have tried everything and aren't happy about where you are, have you tried moderation?

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If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.