I’m sure you've often heard the phrase “everything in moderation," especially in the context of nutrition or health advice.
In truth, it’s become an expression we say when we really mean something else—such as, "I’d like to treat myself," "I know this is bad for me, but I want to ignore what I know," "I want to feel less guilty," or "I’m scared of making health changes." The saying has been bandied about for so long it's really lost all real meaning.
But let’s say we take the phrase at face value: meaning, everything is OK as long as we eat or do that thing only some of the time. In that case, does "everything in moderation" hold water?
Nope. And here’s why I don't believe it does: Some things are just meant for the "never ever" category.
Just because we eat, do, or use something in smaller amounts (or less frequently), I don't think that always makes it OK. I'd like to think that when we know better, we do better and that ultimately, some things should simply be avoided.
Hear me out. Let’s start by looking at trans fats. These chemically altered fats—often made from cheap, genetically modified vegetable oils—can put us at risk of heart disease, cause chronic inflammation, damage blood vessels, and may be linked to diabetes. And a review in the American Dietetic Association journal suggests that the small amounts found in many foods mean that Americans are easily exceeding their daily recommended quota, even if each individual food item contains less than 1 percent of trans fats. Since this review, the United States has implemented a phase-out plan, in which all trans fats must be eliminated by 2018 (sadly, there is no such ban in Canada, where I live).
I consider beauty care products to be the same story. Research by the Environmental Working Group finds that the average woman uses 12 products with 168 chemical ingredients daily, and men's products contain about 85 ingredients. All together, the EWG estimates that 12.2 million adults are exposed every day to ingredients that are carcinogenic because of their personal care products. Of course, the common ingredients in lotions and potions are considered safe in small amounts. But our exposure eventually adds up.
So, whether we’re eating fast food, going for a manicure, slathering our skin with moisturizer, or cleaning our homes with a product whose label prominently displays a skull and crossbones, we're potentially putting our health at risk.
And there's always a better option.
No matter what your favorite vice is, there is a healthy, nontoxic alternative. Love salty snacks? Skip the potato chips and reach for kale chips or roasted chickpeas. Can’t live without chocolate? Aim for the dark kind made with natural sweeteners. Better yet, get into the kitchen and experiment with making your favorite treats. If you enjoy going for a manicure or a spa day with friends, source nontoxic products and seek out businesses that are eco-friendly and care as much about supporting your health as they do about "the spa experience."
You don’t need to be perfect all the time, but it’s important to ask yourself whether a food you’re eating, a product you’re buying, or a lifestyle practice you’re engaging in is the best choice available to you. If you don’t at least ask that question, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
When we know better, we can do better. Knowledge leads us to make decisions that honor ourselves, our families, our communities, and our environment. It means being clear on what our "never, ever" things are and committing to that as best we can.
Do your own research, read labels, ask questions, and make informed decisions. Every choice truly counts. And if you’re looking to eliminate "everything in moderation" from your own vernacular, here's how to start:
Step 1: Decide what you won't compromise on.
Decide what items—food, beauty or cleaning products, ingredients, etc.—are nonnegotiable for you. This is your set point that you won’t drop below or compromise on.
Over the years, my set point has become quite high. I eat organic. I avoid gluten, dairy, MSG, GMOs, and artificial flavors and colors. I won’t go for toxic hair treatments or wear nail polish with VOCs.
These transitions did not come easily, and they did not come quickly, but they are important. Begin with your own set point, and see if you can persistently work to raise the bar.
Step 2: Call a spade a spade.
If you decide to eat junk, then call it what it is. That’s absolutely your choice, but try not to do it under the pretense of "everything in moderation." Junk is junk, and eating less of it still doesn't it make it the healthiest option. Instead, take ownership of your choice, and if you want to make different choices, then alter your set point.
Changing diet and lifestyle is a continually evolving process. When we remove platitudes like "everything in moderation" from our lives, we open up more space to be committed to our health and wellness through our actions.