I can remember going to the grocery with my daughter, and walking down the cookie aisle. I’d manage to bypass most of the cookies, and I’d make it to the little goldfish crackers that my daughter adored. She loved a good PB&J, a glass of lemonade anda handful of these little guys. They’re on sale – “2 for $3!” – so I grab two bags and promptly leave the aisle. If I stare at any of the cookies for too long, I may be compelled to buy them.

Once we’d arrived home, the little one would begin helping me put away the groceries. She wasn’t slick – she was looking for the snacks. Sure enough, she’d find her pot of gold.

“Mommom, can I have some?” with her adorable little toddler face that I clearly wasn’t about to turn down. I’d open the bag, pour some out onto her high chair, let slide into her seat and munch away. Before putting the bag away, though, I’d always pour a few into my hand. Not really knowing exactly why I had done that, I shrugged it off and said to myself “It’s just a snack… it’s okay in moderation.” Just have to moderate my intake. Right.

Sure enough, ten minutes later, I’d get back up and saunter off into the kitchen… grabbing another handful of goldfish. And fifteen minutes after that… a third handful more. Sure enough, before long I’d realized that I was so far away from the concept of “moderation” that I flushed it out of my mind so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about eating an entire bag of goldfish in approximately two hours time.

I can eat all of that... if I eat it in moderation. Duh.

Now, I’m in a different place mentally, with a different understanding and a brand new set of questions.

The idea of “fine in moderation,” quite frankly… is bull. That’s right. I said it. It’s baloney. It’s a farce. A myth. A unicorn. A leprechaun. Make-believe. Doesn’t exist. An excuse companies gave you so that you could justify still buying their product… even though you shouldn’t.

Now, when I hear the term “fine in moderation,” it’s usually attached to things like “soft drinks,” “potato chips,” “sweets,” “crap food,” “junk food” or “comfort food.” The word “moderation” is used like some vague measurement that never has any actual values or figures attached.. it’s just.. there. It’s used as an excuse to wash away any guilt one may have for buying something they know they should not.

I don’t hear people saying “Oh, broccoli is fine… in moderation.”

“Oh, water is fine… in moderation.”

“Oh, spinach is fine… in moderation.”

Maybe that’s the case because no one ever eats those things to a point of harmful excess. That should be a hint.

Foods that have their sugar/fat/salt ratio down perfectly are going to be “so good” that you’ll have a hard time controlling yourself around them. That’s the point. You eat it, the sugar makes you happy, the fat calms you down, the salt makes you want more. You eat it all and, after having had a good experience with it, you are that much more compelled to go buy more. Every time you have a good experience with “it,” that experience makes it that much easier to buy it again, that much harder to pass up, and that much more difficult to develop will power against it. It’s a cycle – a vicious cycle – that all starts with “I can buy this. It’s fine in moderation.”

It’s crap.

Even if you are someone who can only take a bite or two of something and put it back… how do you quantify “moderate use?” I’ve heard advice that said “one soda a day is fine.” Is that moderate to you? No, really – how do we quantify what is “moderate” use? Is it “just enough before I start to suffer the negative effects of doing whatever it is I shouldn’t be doing?” I hope that isn’t it… because if we, as a nation, can’t see the negative effects our current habits have on our bodies – if we didn’t know when to stop indulging before – we certainly don’t know how to gauge when to stop now… and keeping our heads in the proverbial lion’s mouth by buying things we simply should not have isn’t the proper way to teach ourselves. At all.

My next question is… are we talking about individual junk food items being acceptable in moderation, or all the junk food in our diet? Are we even identifying junk food properly? Do we think about these things when we decide to make the purchase, open the bag, or put it in our mouths? Do we think about what else we’re eating in moderation? Is a day of soda (in moderation), chips (in moderation), pudding (in moderation), kool-aid (in moderation) and ice cream (in moderation, of course) still considered someone who exercises moderation? I don’t think so.

How do I define moderate use of THIS?

When I think of the foods I enjoy nowadays, I think about how limited I used to be. Buying things that I felt guilt about, eating them in quantities that made me feel guilty and sad that I had no self-control.. and feeling emotionally forced to buy them again and “try to develop self-control” put me in a cycle that only made me feel worse about my “inability to be an adult” about food. Well, let me tell you. I figured out how to avoid that trauma. I stopped buying foods for which I had to feel guilty. There’s no sense in emotionally penalizing myself for not being able to control myself around foods that are especially engineered to make me lose control. I shouldn’t feel bad about eating. I should feel bad about justifying harmful foods with something as vague and excuse-ey as “it’s fine in moderation.” It’s a lame, pathetic way to avoid being realistic with myself about a very important truth: that I cannot simply just eat what I want, and expect health [and weight loss] to still come to me. It simply does not work that way.

Be realistic. Anything that you have to attach a disclaimer like “in moderation” to… is not “good for you.” If it is “devil’s food,” just admit it. Be honest. If you know you shouldn’t be eating it, work on that part – you know, the part of you where you stop buying it or start throwing it away – instead of trying to cover it up by putting a cute little undefinable label like “moderation” on it. Only then can you truly start to experience and enjoy progress.