I used to see this massage therapist who was in fantastic shape. One day, he shared with me his "secret" to looking better at age 50 than most 20 year olds look. His secret? "Everything in moderation". Shortly after, he told me how he "limited his cigarette smoking to a few butts per day". Yea... there's a great message for the kids.
Besides being a substantially void statement, or at least one demanding more detailed explanation, it's advice that very often does more damage than good, by leading people into a false sense of justification for continuing, or worse, taking up, bad habits.
Let's examine this advice from this and many other well-meaning individuals.
Moderation is defined as being within reasonable limits, not excessive or extreme. Right off the bat we should see that the subjectivity of just about every word that makes up this definition, leaves quite a bit a "wiggle room". What is reasonable? What is excessive or extreme? The fact is, our own biases allow us to manipulate these terms so we can enjoy the instant gratification that comes from more and more of what we are supposed to be moderating.
Moderation, is generally a term that refers to a benign substance or activity—not a harmful one. For example, lactose-intolerant individuals aside, a scoop ice-cream is fairly harmless if eaten "in moderation", but a puff on the crack pipe—even if "in moderation", could be devastating. That might seem very obvious, but where do we draw the line? Do we draw the line at ice cream sundaes? Beer and wine? Hard liquor? Marijuana? Cocaine? Where?
And how about the interval? Does once per day qualify for "moderation"? Once a week? Surely it should be fine to drop acid once a year, would it not?
So if it is not crystal-clear by now, the extreme vagueness of the "everything in moderation" lifestyle falls apart at
- Substance / Activity - what is harmful to you in any quantity is harmful in "moderation" as well.
- Quantity - when exactly is too much, too much?
- Frequency - when exactly is too often, too often?
- Person Specific - A 45 year-old man having a beer is not the same as a 3 year old toddler.
- Situation Specific - A married woman dating other men "in moderation" is different from a single woman doing the same.
While I do not know the exact etymology of this use of moderation, I would guess it was used to warn people that too much of good thing can even be harmful. Exercise, fruits, vegetables, passion—all great things but not to the extreme.
Don't live your life by little quips that sound snazzy to ear, but can end up destroying a life. Important lifestyle choices cannot be simplified to one rule. The next time someone tells you "everything in moderation", smack them in the face moderately hard and tell them the smack was in reasonable limits, not excessive or extreme.