The Myth of Moderation
The Myth of Moderation
In the third part of my Paula Deen series, I take issue with her repeated comment to eat “in moderation.” I hate that word, moderation. Why? Because it means absolutely nothing. It could mean something, but almost never does because one has to know the extremes before moderation is clear. Moderation is simply an intermediate point between two opposite poles. Move or change the poles and the point of moderation changes too. Moving targets are difficult to hit. And if the opposing poles are not defined, then moderation cannot exist.
In more everyday terms, one person’s moderation is another person’s extreme. Who is right? They both are. And neither is. As long as you don’t explain the rules, you can always be the winner. When someone says they only eat sugar, or junk food in moderation, what does that mean? Whatever they want it to mean. So when Paula Deen says that her recipes are meant only to be eaten “in moderation” but doesn’t explain what that means, what do we do? Apparently, we do whatever we want to. In Paula Deen’s case she is cutting back on sweet tea. How much did she drink before? How much does she drink now? Is that moderation? We don’t know. But more important is the overall diet than any one specific food. What impact does her sweet tea consumption or lack of make on her diet? Considering the sugar laden recipes she showcased, it is hard to think that decreasing sweet tea is any big change.
But of course it is not just Paula Deen, many of us believe fervently in this myth of moderation. We believe that any decrease in a bad habit, no matter how small, counts as moderation. And then we’re surprised when we don’t see any results. I like the analogy of a car crashing into a wall. If an experiment showed x number of fatalities at 60 mph, but no measurable difference at 50 mph, one could conclude that slowing down was useless. But what if we slowed down to 30 mph? 15 mph? I would hazard to guess that everyone thinks that their version of moderation is enough. But nearly everyone develops some combination of cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, or diabetes. So however most people are defining moderation, it’s not working. It’s time to wake up, moderation is killing us.
I like clear definitions of moderation. For instance, based on current data, “moderate” alcohol consumption has been defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks for men. It goes even further to define what that means in terms of beer, wine, distilled spirits, and even grams of alcohol. Whether or not you personally agree with that definition is made possible because the limits are clear. But what about meat? Cheese? Sugar? Fat? Cholesterol? Refined and processed foods? Most health authorities that encourage moderation are conspicuously silent. I would say as close to zero as humanly possible, even though I fall short. But most people probably define it as whatever they actually do, or maybe a little less, if they’re being modest. Do we have anything objective to use to set those extremes to know whether our moderation counts?
Yes. When it comes to trans-fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, the acceptable maximum amount is zero. Anything above that increases disease risk in a measurable way. Anything above that would be excessive. How about sugar? Salt? Processed and refined food? I think we can look to nature for guidance here, since historically these foods have been rare or nonexistent. Those populations who even today have little contact with these foods have little or none of the chronic diseases we suffer from. So zero looks like a good place to start.
Or maybe end up. Maybe that’s a little too ambitious. For myself, I’ll set that as the goal. But I won’t let my current or past transgressions count as moderation and then transform that through personal alchemy into “good enough”. We can see through research what it takes to reverse heart disease and diabetes and prevent cancer, so that is what I will define as “moderate.” After all, I don’t think there is such a thing as a “moderate” heart attack.