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Be Great at Moderation (not Deprivation)

Aug 6 2021
5 min read
woman smiling from size while making guacamole in bright kitchen

We live in a time of extremes, from radical diets and grueling workouts to how much TV and guacamole a person can consume without leaving the couch.

Our experts don’t recommend any of it. In fact, Canyon Ranch nutrition policy has always been “moderation, not deprivation” – and you can apply that to all aspects of lifestyle.

Stephen Brewer, MD, is Canyon Ranch Tucson medical director and author of What Happened to Moderation? His commonsense approach can help keep us safe, sane, and healthy.

Getting Real

“People see superstars and athletes in phenomenal shape, and they think that’s the standard,” Dr. Brewer says. “It’s intimidating for some people, so they don’t even try. Others try to emulate it, and go overboard.”

Clearly, not everyone can – or should – spend hours in the gym every day, adhering to a strict diet like the way professionals do. Dr. Brewer suggests starting with smaller goals, not mega-goals.

“Be reasonable, be consistent,” he says. “You’ll see progress. When you get to the point when you’re exercising as much as you can and eating as well as you can, you’re fine. Don’t do less than you can reasonably do – and you don’t need to do more.”

It's All Around Us

Going to extremes has become pervasive in both our private lives and in society. You see it in areas like politics, the 24/7 news cycles, social media mania, and in medicine, too.

“Think about oxycontin, sleep meds, mood enhancers, antibiotics,” Dr. Brewer says. “They serve a purpose and are beneficial, but only when they’re necessary and used in moderation. Your body acclimates to long-term use, and the side effects can be dangerous.”

He reminds us, too, about the health consequences of extreme diets. “They work for awhile, but they can’t be sustained,” he says. “Who wants to eat one thing all the time? It’s not what your body wants. Different nutrients give different benefits. If you’re too restrictive, what’s the effect on your cholesterol or your gut?”

Eating in moderation is the obvious key; if a tablespoon of olive oil is a nutritious ingredient, that’s enough; 10 tablespoons are not better. And several glasses of wine is not better than one. Slow down, savor every flavor, and know when you’re satisfied.

Lifestyle Medicine at Work

While you may think big goals require super efforts, Dr. Brewer believes moderation can be the path to success for your health.

“When you use moderation, you’re practicing lifestyle medicine,” says Dr. Brewer. “It’s something you can do for your wellness every day, without a prescription.”

He recommends you acknowledge your own achievements. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I only ran the half-marathon.’ Well, that’s thirteen miles. Take full credit for that.”

Overdoing can start to feel normal, yet moderation leads to great results. So, how do you know if you’re veering toward the extreme?

6 Tips for Avoiding Extremes

1. Listen to your friends. If people you care about groan whenever you get on “that topic” again, they’ve all noticed the same thing. Could be a wakeup call.

2. Listen to your body. When your body talks to you in aches and sprains, it might be complaining about the brutal daily workouts. If you’re always hungry, constipated, or stressing about weight, maybe rethink how you eat.

3. What would Mom say? She’d tell you not to go running when it’s 100+ degrees, to get to bed at a reasonable hour, and eat balanced meals. Dr. Brewer would agree.

4. Impact at home. Does an unyielding training schedule keep you from your child? Is an ultra-strict diet impacting mealtime. Talk about your goals together and see how you might compromise.

5. Stress vs. benefits. If skipping a day’s run, going one night without a sleeping pill, or missing the latest news alerts causes high anxiety, it’s time to loosen your grip a bit. Don’t let the stress outweigh any benefits you enjoy.

6. Modify & adapt. Respect that your body, circumstances, and needs will change throughout life. Extreme sports at age 20 may not suit you anymore. Lifestyle tastes evolve. Adapt to make the best of life right now.

A headshot of Dr. Stephen Brewer

About the Expert

A headshot of Dr. Stephen Brewer

Stephen C. Brewer

MD, ABFM, Medical Director

Dr. Brewer knows from experience that the key to balancing a busy professional life with personal wellness is to find a plan that works with your lifestyle. He is passionate about helping our guests discover that balance for themselves.

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