It’s like a new-age mantra, most often used to justify eating habits, alcohol, and TV watching.
It tells us that we can essentially do whatever we want so long as we don’t do too much of it, and that this is the key to living a good life where we can responsibly indulge in hedonistic pleasures.
I think that’s completely ridiculous. (Kind of like saying “whole grains are part of a complete breakfast“.)
There are two problems with moderation. #1: How do you measure it?
Is an hour of TV a night moderation? What about 4 cups of coffee? 2 beers? 30 minutes of jogging? 1 cupcake?
It’s totally arbitrary, leaving it up to your personal preference to determine what’s “best” for you. “Well, this doesn’t seem too extreme. I mean, the average American watches 4 hours of TV a night so I’ll just ‘moderate’ my intake and just watch two more episodes of Honey Boo-Boo.”
There are already enough ways in which we deceive ourselves without institutionalizing “moderation” as an extra one.
Problem #2, the big one, is that humans aren’t designed to handle chronic, low-level stressors.
30 minutes of jogging a day? That’s a chronic stressor that will raise your cortisol levels, wreak havoc on your bones & soft tissues, and possibly leave you with hip, knee, ankle, shin, & foot injuries.
Sacrifice an hour or two of sleep per night to get extra work done? Enjoy having an increased appetite, increased cortisol (again), and eventual burnout.
Trying to lose weight via any fad diet? Expect your body to start recoiling from whatever nutritional deficiencies the weight-loss flavor of the week has in store.
The problem with this type of “moderation” is that it’s not actually moderation. It’s what I call “moderation in excess“. It is actually a low-volume, excessive behavior that you can’t maintain indefinitely. Whether the result is burnout, injury (particularly RSI), weight gain, depression, reduced immunity, or something else, this is the worst state you can out your body in.
Let me put it to you another way. Consider excess in excess…what we often call addiction. Drugs & alcohol are examples you’re surely familiar with. Someone who abuses these substances, and does so regularly, is at great risk to themselves and others. We call them addicts. It’s clear to us that they need help.
But it’s not all that different than spending 60 hours a week at the office or only sleeping 5 hours a night. The stressors are both chronic. The only difference (other than social acceptability & expectation) is the dosage. It’s much more obvious that an alcoholic is doing something wrong than a workaholic.
As humans evolved, they experienced mostly acute stressors. A neighboring tribe attacked, or there was an earthquake, or a predator was nearby. All “fight or flight” stuff. After the craziness had passed that was it. Hormonal levels would go back to normal. Recovery could happen.
This provides the model I’d like to propose to create a much greater amount of human flourishing: excess in moderation.
This, thankfully, doesn’t just apply to negative events like a predator attack. It’s how we grow and improve.
Want to build muscle mass quickly? Lift some really heavy things for a couple minutes. Then stop. For a week. The side effects of this? Increased bone density (prevents osteoporosis, which is just 1 reason women should weight train), increased insulin sensitivity, and body recomposition that makes you attractive. Not bad return on investment.
Want to improve your cardio? Sprinting and interval training destroys steady state running/jogging in terms of VO2 max improvements and muscle development, while minimizing the risks associated with the tens of thousands of footfalls a steady-state jogger makes.
Want to indulge in your favorite, forbidden foodstuffs? Instead of eating a “moderate” amount of junk every day, which will ultimately ruin your hormone balance, exhaust your liver and kidneys, and make you fat, choose 1 day a week to go nuts on all the your comfort/pleasure foods. Extra benefits: Your body won’t be able to absorb all the calories, you will only feel like crap for several hours (instead of always), and you don’t have to feel guilty – another chronic stressor.
Get the picture? You were designed to experience and deal with acute stressors, and in fact, they are necessary in order to maximize your well being – physically and psychologically.
Remember, how you manage your hormones determine your weight/body composition, how fast you age, whether you develop dementia, and much more. Excess in moderation will help you keep them balanced, whereas moderation in excess creates chronic pathologies (and excess in excess will straight up kill you).
So celebrate excess! And celebrate it excessively. Just do so in moderation.