When Moderation Backfires

Being extreme is SO much easier than being moderate. It’s way easier to do something 100% of the time or never than it is to do it 23% or 69% of the time. It’s easier to go to the gym every day at 7am than to go Monday at 5pm, Wednesday at 5:30am and Thursday at 4:30pm. I found that if I don’t watch myself, I do end up falling into an extreme…and even though it’s easier, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing.

To go to any extreme is to limit oneself

The concept of moderation really helped me in my relationship with food. I used to fall back on the extremes as a crutch. It was effortless to never eat dessert than to try to incorporate into life—celebrations, weekends, or just feeling like a piece of chocolate. It was simple to exercise everyday but that didn’t allow for exceptions or interruptions or a much needed rest day. Don’t mess with my schedule! Don’t mess with my routine!

When I started to practice moderation, it was one of the most challenging things. I experimented a lot. How often would I like dessert? Every day? Once a week? Every other day? I scheduled dessert so that I could see how I felt physically with different frequencies. I finally got to the point where I was able to eat dessert intuitively — the amount I wanted when I really felt like it.

I moved onto exercise. I scheduled rest days, tried switching up the time and type of workouts, and saw what energized me most. I landed on 5 days a week. Exercising on weekdays helps get me going in the morning, makes me feel accomplished, and actually gives me more energy and motivation. Fitting in a workout on the weekend seemed to detract more from life. I found myself irritated that I’d have to fit it in before or after seeing friends and I would much rather be spending quality time with my husband than going solo to the gym.


Image by m01229 via Flickr

Image by m01229 via Flickr

Moderation, though, can backfire.

Here’s an example.

Growing up, my parents spoiled my brother and I rotten. Thankfully, we weren’t brats, but we did get everything we wanted. Backstory: my mom grew up in China and had to move to Thailand, Hong Kong and eventually to the U.S. when she was 13 to escape the communist takeover. She had 4 siblings and they were poor. They had barely enough to get by. She never wanted her children to experience that and swung to the opposite — giving us anything and everything.

I remember every Friday we would go to the mall and I would pick out a new outfit (or two or three). Every. Single. Friday. I loved Fridays!

So how does this tie into moderation? Well, after I got married, we made a Dave Ramsey budget with monthly spending categories to cover every cent. You can imagine that moderation for me is going shopping less than once a week. Twice a month? Total moderation! In fact, at the beginning, it honestly felt restrictive. I had to exert a lot of self control to rein in my spending.

Going shopping twice a month for new clothes or goodies was difficult, but it wasn’t enough to meet our financial goals of buying our first house with cash. That level of moderation didn’t meet my goals.



It’s the same with food. Maybe you’re used to getting Starbucks every day, or you eat out for lunch Monday through Friday. Getting a Frap every other day or eating out 3 days a week could technically be moderate seeing where you’re coming from. BUT does it help you meet your goals?

I know people who replace what I would call a REAL dessert (cream, chocolate, pastry) with fruit. This could be seen as a healthy substitution…until you find out that they eat a whole banana, orange and handful of grapes. Great intentions. NOT moderation. And not helping with goals of lowering Calories or carbohydrate, triglycerides or blood sugar.

As you can see, as will everything else in life, moderation is different for you than it is for me. Right now, being a former fruit overdoser, I usually eat 1 serving a day of low-sugar fruit (mostly berries). That fits into my goals. You could do 2 or 3 depending on what you’re aiming for — say you want more antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber and water in your diet.

Four to five days a week of exercise is moderation for me. You may need to increase how much you exercise to get to a moderate level.



Moderate coffee drinking for me means none. I’m highly sensitive to caffeine and will get shaky, light-headed and short of breath from the smallest amount, especially on an empty stomach. 1-2 cups a day could be a moderate goal for you.

What it comes down to is asking yourself what you want. What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead? What weight or health goals do you have for yourself? Then deterine what moderation means for you. Don’t let moderation backfire and keep you from the wellbeing you desire. And don’t stay in the extremes for fear of dipping your toes in the moderate waters and experimenting with what makes you happy. Find YOUR moderation.

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