A few weeks ago, I went to a vegetarian potluck dinner. I was hoping to meet some fellow vegetarians and vegans in my suburbia of a hometown, and to eat some good vegan food.
That much was a success, but it’s not why I’m telling this story.
What made the night memorable (and pretty entertaining) was the presence of a older woman that came to it. She was there for one purpose: to argue with everyone, trying to convince us that this vegetarian stuff was all “bullshit,” and that eating meat is healthy and there’s nothing at all wrong with it.
Though I completely disagreed with what she was saying, I actually found some bit of respect for this woman for having the balls to do something like this. She knew she’d be alone in her views and the antagonist at the dinner, yet she felt strongly enough about her views to do it anyway. Sort of badass, really.
But then she said something that made me think. Backpedaling a little bit in an argument with someone, she said the words, “Meat is just fine, in moderation.”
I know that this woman doesn’t eat meat in moderation. She wouldn’t have been so anti-vegetarian if she did. But she probably tells herself that it’s moderation.
And that’s why I hate moderation as a diet strategy: “Moderation” can be any amount that’s convenient, and it’s a slippery slope from healthy moderation to excess.
For me, moderation only works with things I don’t like all that much anyway. I can drink a soda once every two months, really enjoy it, and not want it again for another two months. But that’s because I just don’t like soda that much.
For things I really like, such as a cup of coffee or a good craft beer, that doesn’t work. I’m either on a kick where I’m trying to avoid it, or on a kick where I’m having one every day. (The beer waits until evening, I swear.)
I can understand that moderation in diet does work for some people, even if not for me. But when the “moderation” argument goes beyond diet, I have no patience for it.
Moderation is a recipe for mediocrity
You’ve heard it a million times, applied to diet, exercise, and pretty much anything else:
Everything in moderation.
I think that’s the worst advice ever. If we listened to that, we’d all be the same boring person.
Most of you don’t eat meat in moderation. Instead, you don’t eat it at all. Why? Because you’re passionate about it. You believe that it’s either terribly unhealthy or very wrong. Because you care about one of these things, you don’t eat meat, ever.
If you’re not vegetarian, it’s something else. Maybe it’s running. I know that if I had run in moderation, I sure as hell would have never qualified for Boston. Running is not something that came naturally to me, at all. But when I signed up this morning to run Boston next year, it sure felt good to know that all those hours on the track and the refusal to miss a workout were worth it. (If you’re planning to run Boston in 2011, by the way, you had better get over there and sign up.)
Michael Phelps didn’t win eight gold medals in one Olympics by practicing swimming in moderation. He does multiple workouts every day, at the expense, I’m sure, of other interests and even relationships. But swimming is more important than these other things to him, and that’s why he’s the best at it.
My friend Robert Cheeke doesn’t practice moderation when he tours the country to reach as many people as he can as an advocate for veganism and health. Karol Gajda wouldn’t be Ridiculously Extraordinary if he traveled in moderation or practiced minimalism in moderation. “Own 500 things” just doesn’t have the same power to inspire that 100 or 50 or fewer does.
When people tell you to practice moderation, it’s because they like the status quo
I learned this from Tony Robbins, and I didn’t believe it at first. But looking back, I realize that anytime someone told me to take it easy with a certain interest that I was spending all my time on, whether it was playing drums in high school, gambling and lifting weights in college, and more recently, running like a madman or experimenting with diets that seem excessive, it was because they didn’t want me to change.
They liked me the way I was, and change was threatening to them in some way. It wasn’t for my own good they did it, but for theirs.
I’m not saying people are wrong for this. I probably do it to my friends too. But it’s what happens, and I’m glad that I’m aware of it now.
If you’ve practiced moderation all your life, starting practicing moderation in moderation. For a while, go batshit crazy with whatever you’re passionate about at the moment. Ignore anyone who tells you to chill out. See how that treats you. I can’t imagine being happy any other way.
(There is, of course, one good kind of moderation…the kind I do in the NMA forums! Get in there and join the conversation if you haven’t yet.)
Congrats to Baltimore Running Festival finishers!
Just a quick shout out to a few friends who I got to see at the Baltimore Running Festival this weekend. Congratulations to Pete, who ran his first half, his brother Matt, Joe, and other NMA readers who said they’d be there but that I didn’t get a chance to see.
I was planning to run part of the relay in place of my cousin, who got injured, but I woke up puking on Thursday and didn’t eat for two days, so I figured running would be a be a bad idea. Fortunately, my wife, Erin, filled in for me and did a great job on such short notice. Thanks, E!