Moderation vs. Extremes

by Robert Maxwell

It's been said that in life moderation is harder than going to the extreme. This is especially true of health and fitness. I first heard this piece of wisdom from my dad when I was dieting to get "ripped" in 2012. He noticed how extreme my eating style was becoming: weighing every meal, logging each food into a calorie counting app, cutting out all sugar, and keeping my total caloric intake below 1900 calories per day. To a regular guy like my dad, I'm sure I seemed totally nuts. But he didn't try to warn me about the dangers of going into ketosis, becoming  malnourished, or breaking down and going on a sugar binge. Instead, he quietly shared one thought: moderation is harder than what I was doing, but it might be better, too. At first I disagreed. How could a diet of unhealthy foods in moderation be easier than my "perfect" eating style? Surely, I thought, cutting out all sugar and carefully calculating each meal is more difficult than occasional sweet indulgences and following general eating guidelines. I ignored my dad's advice. Five years of training and dieting later, I've completely changed my opinion.


Diet and training, like many lifestyle choices, are always adopted with a certain end goal in mind. Feeling healthier and more energetic, delaying old age, getting stronger and looking better naked are the most common motivations of an active lifestyle. Like all long term goals, folks seeking fitness must learn patience and delayed gratification. This is a challenge for many. The temptation for dedicated trainees is different than for lazy ones. They have no problem with discipline. Their issue is obsession. This shows up in a few ways, but the most common is trying to rush results. Impatience. An inability to wait for the long term goal can lead to extreme measures, with the hope of reaching that goal sooner. This is a mistake. Pushing yourself to the extreme edge of safety and sanity might seem to speed you towards your fitness goals in the short term, but there will be consequences. Very few people have the willpower to maintain an extreme diet long term. Too many food restrictions often lead to crashing, burning, binging and guilt. This is where moderation comes in. Having a little dessert now and then seems like a mortal sin to the obsessed trainee, who is certain their results will go down the toilet if they give in. In reality, giving into temptation in a small, controlled way on special occasions can save them from epic failure by relieving inner tension before it becomes too strong to contain. The same idea applies to training.


Pushing to the absolute physical limit day after day, week after week in the gym seems like a good idea to the results-crazed trainee. It's not. Not only are they likely neglecting other aspects of life with this approach – they're also flirting with overtraining and injury. As a former chronic overtrainer, I know the feeling of invincibility that comes with lifting obsession. It took several debilitating injuries for me to realize this approach isn't sustainable. I dealt with a strained pectoral, patelar tendonitis, a tweaked elbow tendon and pulled back before I finally got it through my head – overtraining doesn't work. Training in moderation doesn't mean taking it easy in the gym. Far from it. But it does mean training smart, listening to your body, and allowing yourself adequate stress recovery before blasting your muscles again. 


It took me years to realize the wisdom of my dad's words about moderation. Ultimately, I wasn't helping my progress by dieting and training to the absolute extreme. I was hindering it. If you're someone who struggles to muster the motivation to train and eat right at all, this post isn't for you. It's for people who have gone down the road of obsession, or are thinking of doing so. Do yourself a favour – don't. Long term consistency is far more effective than short term obsession.