The Mendacious Myth of Moderation

I’m going to say something here that I fear some people may disagree with—but others are going to maybe find it helpful. I’m going to talk about “moderation,” and how my feelings about it have changed.

For all my life, I’ve been taught that if you’re a good person, you do everything in moderation, whether it’s eating, exercise, hobbies, etc. Moderation has been held up to me as the gold standard of prudent behavior. The implication has always been, if you can’t do something in moderation, then you are morally deficient.

My mother loved to point out how wonderful her father was at doing things in moderation, especially when it came to eating. He knew exactly how much he could eat and still maintain his svelte shape, and he never overindulged. If we had sandwiches at lunch, he only took one piece of bread—but he would cut it into four pieces and spread a different topping on each tiny square. He was the kind of person who could count out and eat six potato chips—but no more.

I am not that kind of person. I consider myself a smart and mighty person in many ways, but I have not been able to master moderation in some areas. After more than half a century of striving for moderation in those areas, I have recently admitted defeat. Maybe it makes me a bad person. Maybe it means I have glaring personality flaws that are unfixable. But, when it comes to certain things, I have become much more pragmatic. I no longer even have moderation as my goal.

For the purpose of this essay, I am referring primarily to food. The unreachable goal of moderation has done me no good and has caused a great deal of harm over the decades. I have gone sugar-free for years at a time, and every time it has been the seductive dream of moderation that derailed me. People would say, “You don’t have to pig out. You can have just a few bites of dessert.”

So I would have just a bite or two. After a few weeks, I would be indulging in four or five bites. Then a whole serving—but a small one, and only once a week. Then twice a week. Then it would be Halloween or Valentines or Easter and there would be candy. By then moderation would be so far behind me I couldn’t even see it from where I sat on my big pile of sugar.

So part of the journey I’m on right now involves admitting and accepting that for me, moderation does not work and will never work. There can be no “cheating” on sweets or starches because I know my body can’t handle them and I don’t want to go back to needing insulin. Some people can do things in moderation—but I am not one of those people, and I no longer am willing to keep trying. I am so done with that.

In a way, it’s a huge relief. For me, it is easier to just do completely without certain foods than to try and enjoy them in moderation. It takes away massive amounts of stress. No more dithering about whether I should indulge in a few potato chips or a brownie or a baked potato. The decision has been made, and moderation is not an option, now or ever.

I feel like I need to have a big sign on the wall saying “No Moderation.” In case, you know, I forget and start thinking I can do it again. Because I can’t. Not ever. For me, there can be no compromise.

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