The Myth of Moderation

Here in the United States tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and for many, the day typically includes many compromises; especially overeating on disease promoting foods to the point of misery. What a perfect time to be reminded of the pitfalls of the myth of “everything in moderation.” Dr. Scott Stoll, a board certified physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; along with being the team physician for Lehigh University, team physician to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Team, department chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Coordinated Health Medical Director, member of the Whole Foods Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, national speaker on achieving optimal health through nutritional excellence and exercise, and faculty member of the Nutritional Education Institute will be sharing valuable insights to bust the popular moderation fallacy. Welcome to Disease Proof, Dr. Stoll.


We are now on the threshold of a beautiful holiday season that is filled with joy, family, wonderful traditions, and numerous dietary landmines. Traditional foods of the holiday season are typically the least healthy and most addictive foods that can trigger destructive cycles of overeating and binge eating.  How can one safely navigate the season ahead? By avoiding the myth of “everything in moderation."

Why do so many people find that by the first of January they have gained weight and derailed their healthy diet? One common justification, as people reach for a piece of chocolate or second piece of dessert, is that one can safely eat everything in moderation. The underlying belief is that somehow the moderate consumption of unhealthy food is okay and won’t cause any harm. However, science has verified that even small amounts of these foods cause harm to the body; and for many that struggle with food addiction and disease, the moderate consumption of addictive, sugar laden and processed foods can be dangerous.

“Everything in moderation” is a deceptive belief, because there is no established standard for moderate intakes of food. 

How much is too much and where does one draw the line? Without a standard, moderation is a continually moving target; motivated by cravings and desires that promote the overconsumption of unhealthy foods. The only outcome in the end is disease, guilt, and feelings of failure.

Moderation thinking ultimately depends on one’s ability to accurately recall food intakes and amounts. How much was eaten today, yesterday, or last week? The preponderance of studies on dietary food recall found that people generally under-report or forget the consumption of unhealthy foods. 

I want to encourage you to enjoy all the beautiful things of the upcoming holiday season and create new memories with healthy food alternatives. Don’t be caught off guard by the myth of moderation, but instead proactively set your eyes on the prize of optimal health. 


  • Prepare mentally and have a plan in place regarding how you will handle the tempting seasonal foods that will appear in break rooms, living rooms and dining rooms. 
  • Know yourself, your weaknesses, and the potential for food addiction.  Avoid circumstances that may lead to temptation. 
  • Prepare healthy meals for your guests, or if you are a dinner guest, take healthy alternatives to share with others.


Don’t let the myth of moderation lead you astray. Excellent health is never found in moderate effort, but rather in excellent dietary habits that are consistently and diligently applied to each new day and situation over time. 


Happy Holidays!


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Comments (9) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Kristi Link - November 24, 2010 9:54 AM

What a great column. It has taken me a long time and a lot of setbacks to learn this truth. It is so much better to completely avoid these foods rather than to try to eat 'moderate' amounts of disease-causing, addiction-promoting foods. Don't take that first bite thinking it won't matter. Everything matters!

Jennifer - November 24, 2010 10:38 AM

My biggest pitfall is pumpkin pie. I love it so much! This year, I'm bringing my own pumpkin pie to share!

diana - November 24, 2010 11:30 AM

Last Christmas, I remember my cousin saying the same thing, "moderation in everything". Well, her teenaged daughter, unfortunately, developed severe meningitis and even required intravenous antibiotics at home. Chris is an Occupational therapist and teacher. I doubt that she eats any differently now, or even suspects food may have been a reason for this illness that almost killed her daughter.

Beth - November 24, 2010 1:23 PM

i know from experience that moderation does not work! I am back to square one again, re-addicted to unhealthy foods and struggling to detoxify. If only I had thought of this when I decided to eat "just one"

Bev - November 24, 2010 2:10 PM

Moderation is definitely a myth!

Would you take arsenic "in moderation?" Would you have unprotected sex "in moderation?" Would you be unfaithful "in moderation?" Would you beat your kids "in moderation?"

The problem is that people don't see unhealthy eating as truly dangerous.

Nonetheless, I have also learned that criticizing or preaching can also be dangerous, because it tends to close minds more than open them.

With that in mind, I will be bringing some healthy delicious items to our Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, one son preferred my non-fat whole grain high fiber apple crisp to the "regular" apple pie! Small victories without compulsion. :D

MIke Rubino - November 25, 2010 7:27 AM

On this holiday I think of my mother who died 5 years ago. She used to look at me and preach moderation. Sorry Mom you were wrong. Some chicken never hurt anyone. A little dessert is fine etc. The article is right, where and for whom and when do you draw the line.

Anonymous - November 26, 2010 12:47 PM

I totally agree. Eating in moderation only made me greedy for more.

Peppy1 - November 26, 2010 1:02 PM

It can be done! I stayed with ETL. I took a healthy green salad and a pumpkin custard to the dinner that everyone, even the 4 year old liked. Fortunately, my son and daughter-in-law cook for ETL just for me. No one noticed the difference with lots of veggies, dressing that was all plant based. She did have the turkey for those who wanted it. We started with a great green salad loaded with veggies and some raw nuts, followed by a scrumptious Gypsy soup she made. It was very filling. Then onto veggies, dressing, etc. No one felt stuffed but comfortably full. I'm looking forward to something similar for Christmas.

Vaclav - December 1, 2010 6:35 PM

Arabian saying is, "Enough is a feast." It's when you know you should stop, stop! Beyond this point, it's down hill.

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