“Everything in Moderation:” Why It’s BS

everything in moderation doesn't include Junk food
Look at this, and tell me “everything in moderation.”
Photo by Ashley Green on Unsplash

Everyone has those conventional “wisdom” sayings that rub them entirely the wrong way, for whatever reason. While I have a few that that I find particularly grating, possibly number one that list for me is “everything in moderation.” It’s always struck me as defeatist and misinformed, and prime excuse-making fodder.

Case in point: 

Last Sunday, my daughter and I were out shopping for some groceries and I came across the snack aisle in the gluten-free section of the store. I came across a product line that I hadn’t tried before: Glutino gluten-free products. I’ve seen them, naturally, but I’d never actually tried them. And there were some chocolate-covered pretzels, a snack that I love and miss from my pre-Paleo days. I will not lie and say I haven’t indulged in a few from time to time if I was at a party or something, but here was a bag right in front of me and it was gluten-free. 

I know I have some issues with gluten from time to time – I discovered that when I started on the Primal Blueprint plan years ago. So it seemed a match made in heaven – one of my favorite snacks combined with a healthier way to get them. 

Well, the logic didn’t hold up on that one. I put some of those pretzels away during the drive home, and within an hour I was feeling wretched. My stomach was getting into knots (not awfully so, but enough to let me know that I’d screwed up), I wasn’t hungry for dinner any more for the evening (even though I’d just shopped for it), and I just felt gassy and blah. 
To top it off, the next morning I woke up with a cold that I just shook off, three days later. 

Clearly, something was amiss in my diet, potentially something I hadn’t come across before. And frankly, I hadn’t eaten that much all day as I really wasn’t all that hungry, so there wasn’t anything in my stomach to buffer whatever it was that was in those pretzels. You can see the ingredients here if you’re curious, but that really isn’t the point here. 

Conventional wisdom’s “everything in moderation” would seem to excuse that for me. I mean, it’s all just calories-in, calories-out, right? 

Well, that’s clearly not the case. I took in something that I couldn’t handle, even in “moderation.” And to be clear, I have absolutely no problem with the “moderation” part of the equation… 

It’s the “everything” part of “everything in moderation” that gives me pause. 

If you’ve gone through a proper elimination diet and learned the stuff that has a personalized reaction for you, you are more than aware that some foods have a good effect on your body and some have a bad one. For me, it’s gluten, high-carb and sugary stuff, and “vegetable” oils like canola.  Makes my stomach curdle and gives me all sorts of digestion problems from reflux all the way to the other end. I don’t have much of a reaction to dairy, and legumes don’t seem to bother me much. Also, while fat is awesome for me, too much of it is definitely felt later on so I don’t tend to go the high-fat route too often. See, the moderation part isn’t where I quibble with “everything in moderation.” 

So whatever was in those pretzels was a big enough irritant for my gut that even a small amount was enough to set me off and weaken me to the point where I got sick. The everything was where I fell short this time. 

And yes, I obviously should have known better than to scarf down something that is clearly so processed. There’s a ton of stuff in those pretzels that is simply not food – soy lecithin, soluble corn fiber, cellulose gum, sodium acid pryophosphate, the always nebulous “natural flavor”… the list is kind of frightening. But in a moment of weakness I decided not to read the label and just went for it.  The everything got me. Something in that mix decided to set me on my butt for three days. 

How “everything in moderation” is defeatist

One of the most common occurrences when you talk about an elimination diet like Paleo, vegetarian, etc. is that someone is going to chime in with “I don’t like to restrict myself. Everything in moderation.” 

The thing is, study after study after study has told us that this doesn’t work. The entire concept of “everything in moderation” is based on the idea that food is just calories, and calories are just a measure of potential energy that the body takes in and burns off. There’s nothing else in there that is causing anyone any issues other than simply overeating.  

But with all the studies coming out of late about things like the gut biome and its importance, the problems of gut permeability, and the effects of anti-nutrients (gluten, lectins, etc.) over time on general health, we know that for most people, “everything” shouldn’t be on the menu.

We all have different issues with various foods – and of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all diet. Paleo or Keto work great for some people, vegetarianism works great for others. And even among those people, what works can change as problems are solved and new problems are uncovered. We all know folks who never had an issue with a food until one day it just started bothering them and they could no longer eat it, right? 

I think it’s safe to say that everyone has some foods that are problematic and some foods they thrive upon. We all need to take the time to figure that out, be honest with ourselves, and listen to our bodies. 

And the next time someone tells you “everything in moderation,” realize that they aren’t speaking from a place of information. They’re spouting off a belief that has never proven to work. If it did, would we have an obesity crisis today?