How Moderation Sets Us Up for Failure

By JJ Virgin

“Everything in moderation” might be the most overused phrase in weight loss, yet I continually hear experts espouse this tired cliché.

Based on my three decades working with clients for fat loss and weight loss resistance, I’ve learned moderation makes people overweight. It gives them license to eat things they shouldn’t eat. Simply put, moderation becomes our enemy for fast, lasting fat loss.

Look at it this way. There is no safe level of trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners. We need literally zero gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts, and foods with added sugar. Even a little of these things can create havoc, and eliminating them becomes the only way to stop stressing our system.

Most people don’t gain weight rapidly. Instead, we continue eating our normal diet, with maybe a few extra cookies or a 100-calorie snack pack. Before we know it, we’ve gained weight.

That’s because our body is not a bank account or a calorimeter. It is a chemistry lab. Eating the wrong foods – even a few bites – adversely affects our body’s chemistry. To get that extra weight off, we have to heal our body’s chemistry.

Among the many reasons it makes us fat and sets us up for failure, moderation:

  1. Creates a slippery slope. If a few bites become okay, a little bit more is still okay. We know the result: One cookie turns into half the box.
  2. Sets us up for cravings. A few bites triggers several cookies. We feel disgusted, yet several hours later we’re hankering for more cookies. That’s the feeling of our blood sugar rising and rapidly crashing, paving the way for hunger, cravings, and fat gain.
  3. Sparks food addiction. In his book The End of Overeating, David Kessler likewise talks about how the sugar/salt/fat combination of most processed foods creates an addiction that makes it virtually impossible to eat these foods in moderation: “Until you have gained the upper hand over trigger foods, an attempt at moderation won’t work.” In other words, if you have a little bit, you will want a little bit more and more.
  4. Creates food sensitivities. If we eat a little bit of a highly reactive food like gluten or dairy each day, we build up immune complexes that create weight loss resistance, inflammation, and numerous symptoms. Over time, that “moderate” consumption can create chronic reactions that adversely impact our weight and health.
  5. Ignores the serious damage food can do. If we’re using the bank-account model, we might eat a 100-calorie snack pack and think, It’s just 100 extra calories each day. What harm could that do? Remember, our body is not a bank account; it’s a chemistry lab. Food sends specific information to our body. We’re not just consuming 100 calories. We’re consuming gluten that can damage our gut, plus sugar that raises our blood sugar and keeps insulin in overdrive.

The alternative to moderation involves rewiring our metabolism with the right foods. Lean protein, healthy fats, lots of leafy and cruciferous vegetables, and slow-release high-fiber starches like quinoa stabilize our blood sugar and normalize hormones to reduce cravings, hunger, and overeating.

That doesn’t mean we can never indulge. Maybe we’re visiting a restaurant with a world-famous pastry chef or want to sample our cousin’s birthday cake. Simply fill up on the right foods and then enjoy three polite bites of that guilty pleasure.

A few caveats: For some people, even those three bites can become a slippery slope into overeating. And if we have gluten and other food intolerances, even a little can create reactions. Proceed accordingly.

Do you agree that moderation becomes the enemy for fat loss or is it ever possible to effectively employ “everything in moderation”? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.


Kessler, DA. 2009. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York: Rodale.