Moderation. I hate that word. There is no such thing as moderation in the United States. We are a nation of excess and instant gratification. We justify everything we do by saying ‘as long as it’s in moderation, it’s ok’.

Well guess what, it’s not ok.

When we are constantly allowing ourselves to indulge in our favorite things, our neurotransmitter dopamine sends out a signal of reward and satisfaction. Dopamine has functions throughout the body, the brain being one of them. The reward-motivated hormone increases as you find pleasure in the things that you do.

Hundreds of years ago, the things that we were rewarded pleasure for were: food, sex, and survival. Anything that was helpful to us biologically released dopamine and we received satisfaction.

Fast forward to today’s world; thousands of things bring us pleasure and most of it is available everywhere. A phone call gets food delivered to your doorstep. A click of a mouse can get you companionship at any time of the day or night. Video games, online shopping…all of it rewards you to help you feel better. You are getting rewarded for things without much effort and in return dopamine no longer functions as it was intended.

What does this have to do to with moderation?

There is no difference when we talk about instant gratification with food. There are millions of additives and preservatives in our food and a lot of them are addictive. This is known by companies and they embrace it because it keeps you coming back for more. So what happens when foods trigger a dopamine response? You want to keep rewarding yourself with those things, trying to justify why doing it ‘in moderation’ is ok.

I see this often in my practice. In working with weight loss clients, there is so much disordered thinking about food. This is no fault of our own.  It’s how we are trained. We are programmed to form a reward-based system. For example, I had a client who was trying to lose weight and to reward her good behaviors during the day she would have one cookie every night before she went to bed. She already felt good about her choice to eat well throughout the day, but it left her wanting more (enter dopamine). But when she didn’t get the reward or satisfaction of weight loss, this set her up to fail before she even began. It’s a pattern I see often. “If I can’t lose weight by eating well all day and having something ‘in moderation’, then what is the point of trying?”.

When I teach my clients about whole food nutrition, I talk to them about how to have a sustainable diet that is satisfying without leaving them wanting more. I teach them how to have a treat now and then,