Why “everything in moderation” is terrible diet advice

Marcia C. de Oliveira Otto, Ph.D.

Marcia C. de Oliveira Otto, Ph.D. – first author

It’s official. The “everything in moderation” diet motto is bad advice. There’s never been any compelling evidence to support it – and it makes very little sense (is drinking Coca-Cola “in moderation” better than not at all?).

Now a just-published study shows that people in the US who eat a more “diverse” diet actually gain MORE weight, with a 120% greater increase in waist circumference than the people who eat a more monotonous diet.

Even if this study is observational – and therefore proves very little by itself – it’s yet another reason to ignore the non-existent “moderation” logic. The always smart-sounding Dr. Mozaffarian (author of this legendary study) makes it clear:

“Americans with the healthiest diets actually eat a relatively small range of healthy foods,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., senior author and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. “These results suggest that in modern diets, eating ‘everything in moderation’ is actually worse than eating a smaller number of healthy foods.”

Don’t eat everything in moderation. Eat as much healthy food as you can, whenever you are hungry. Eat as little unhealthy garbage as you can. If possible none at all.


I’ve added a note about this on the main How to Lose Weight page.


  1. palo
    I would add, stop eating when your satisfied, not stuffed!
  2. jo
    This makes so much sense!
  3. chris c
    It was only after i STOPPED eating the hearthealthywhole grains and omega 6 oils in moderation that I was able to moderate my eating of everything else. Once my insulin levels amd IR dropped into normal range so did my appetite.

    I also tried eating cyanide and arsenic in moderation but that didn't go too well.

  4. Panos
    It was the ancient Greeks that first came up with the mantra "moderation is excellence" (and not EVERYTHING in moderation as is oft misquoted.) Likewise, the dietary advice of eating a variety of foods in moderation comes in antithesis to the oh-so-popular advice of relying on a magic formula of eating a specific food only or dominating our food intake by it.

    If your scientific insight is that the moderation principle in dieting is invalid because it opens the possibility to people eating moderate amounts of tar and cyanide, then I would suggest that you have not only wasted everybody's time (and research dollars) but you have also raised false alarm to what is, as a rule of thumb, solid advice.

    "Everything in moderation" pertains to food groups of non-"zero" nutritional value and that advice has stood the test of time for a reason. Perhaps if the american scientific community gave some credence to the moderation principle, it wouldn't be characterized by such a deficit in... common sense.

  5. John
    I've found that I will feel satisfied with less food consumed if I stick to one or two foods, but if I have a variety at a meal, I can become satisfied on the first couple foods, and then switch to another food and still feel like I'm not completely full.
  6. Daisy
    John - your point reminds me of a study I read a few years back on the subject of "if you are full from eating a main course, then why can you always make room for dessert?" and yes, they found, it's due to the variety aspect.
  7. Johnno
    Good news then. but we still fight a losing battle..

    Still the BBC allow 'nutritionists' to promote bread, starchy veg, and the sweetest fruits, (It's natural sugar you know! ) and condemn saturated fat yet again, as the cause of heart attacks. yes, the woman actually said that! Clearly outdated, conventional 'wisdom'.

  8. Cynthia
    I am a 55 year old woman that has maintained my weight on a low fat/high carb diet and aerobic exercise. While I am not overweight, I have a high percentage of body fat (DEXA scan confirmed) and have battled constant sugar cravings and low blood sugar as long as I can remember.

    I started this program at the end of July and I'm finally free of sugar/carb obsession. I've experienced several health benefits but I am most happy about being able to "eat normally", make healthy choices and enjoy freedom from food! Like John, I am more satisfied when I stick to one or two foods. Reducing the intake of rewarding foods (even fruit, for me) really helped with reducing food obsession. Reducing food variety and rewarding foods - wish I knew about this 35 years ago but still grateful that I know about it now!

    Reply: #9
  9. Bjarte Bakke Team Diet Doctor
    Happy for you Cynthia!
  10. Kate
    This stems from my mothers generation (born in 1912). Everything was fresh and in season, everything was real food, no frozen rubbish, no factory made pretend food, no pretend sugars, SO moderation eating was about not being a pig. And, my heart specialist told me carbs are vital for heart health, he said already people are presenting with heart prolems, and its only going to get worse.
  11. RD Magda Pieters
    Why must dieticians always be discredited? I am a RD with 35yrs experience, &have MANY friends in this field. Not me, or one of them ever told a patient "Eat EVERYTHING in moderation.." If this sentence is used, it refers only to the healthy whole foods that ARE allowed for the individual's medical problem - without the sugar, refined processed boxed bottled manufactured tampered foods! NOT applicable to ALL JUNK that people used to eat! RDs treat medical problems, Nutritionists NOT, so there is ALWAYS a prescription for what is allowed and what not. STOP DISCREDITING RDs.
    Reply: #12
  12. bill
    "...Nutritionists NOT..."

    Why must you discredit nutritionists?

    Reply: #21
  13. 1 comment removed
  14. Soups
    I always understood the phrase was "anything in moderation" as opposed to everything in moderation. As in, whatever you eat should be in moderate amounts so you're not overloading your body. Similar to the Buddhist philosophy of moderation in all things, ie, in every area of your life, not be overly attached to any one idea, possession etc.
  15. Lisa
    I was at a diabetes seminar last night. This is a 6-wk class that some states make available to anyone diagnosed T1 or T2, living with or supporting someone with diabetes. They said the following, "Remember, as a diabetic, there is nothing you can't have, you just have to count and allow for the carbs." The numbers they are working with and teaching the attendees are 45-65 carbs per meal, 2 hrs post meal reading of 180 or lower. Those numbers are higher than what my dr. recommends and the class and my dr's recs are higher than what I'm comfortable with. I'll continue out the class (only 2 more left), but continue to ask questions to raise awareness, to get people thinking, and to get them asking "Why do we do it that way?".
  16. Keith Downs
    RD Magda Pieters
    Dieticians are being discredited because their mercenary behaviour in defending the Low Fat orthodoxy, food fraud and cholesterol mythology has brought the medical professions into disrepute.
    In South Africa, the worlds top sports and nutrition doctor, Professor Tim Noakes was brought in front of the Health Professions Council by the Association of Dietetics of SA. If you read the court transcripts you will see that ADSA has re framed the original charges a few times, changed lawyers, and the chairman laying the charges has resigned and been replaced by a new one It has been conclusively proven that ADSA's B.Comm/ technician level dieticians have been sponsored by big food companies and The local sugar association, whilst Prof Noakes, an A rated scientist has had to raise his own defence. The prosecution and persecution of Noakes has cost millions of rand and has been going on for over two years now. It has amounted to one of the most combative peer reviews ever, and at one stage the prosecution even brought an order to stop Noakes from using science to prove his point.
    I have suffered needlessly from T2DM for 20 years whilst under the advisement of conventional dieticians who prescribed synthetic carbohydrate based foods. I am an LCHF Paleo / Banter and I now take only a tenth of the meds that I previously took There is speculation as to whether I was even diabetic in the first place
    Nobody discredits Dietetics practitioners, they do it mostly by themselves.

    Similar instances of persecution have been reported in Australia

  17. Busy
    Where I live, ANYONE can call himself a "nutritionist." There are no educational, experience or ethical requirements that have the force of law. I could call myself a nutritionist. But I CAN'T call myself an RD, because that PROFESSION is licensed and regulated by the state, and the education and the clinical experience requirements are considerable. The difference between an RD and a nutritionist is like that between that between a dentist and a "toothy-ologist."
    That being said, "everything in moderation" drives me crazy, or it would if I continued to let it.
  18. Jomo
    I am a T2 diagnosed in April 2014 . I instantly went on a very low carb diet (with no processed foods). I lost 90 pounds in a year and a half. I am off all diabetes medication. I control my diabetes with diet. I have maintained the weight for the last year. Its not that hard to do ~!
  19. gbl
    The difference is physicians set up RD to be their little handmaidens, whereas nutritionists are independent of them. This has set physicians on a vendetta against nutritionsts. Some nutritionists good some bad. RDs? All bad, unless they have broken away from their professional designation.
  20. TFJ
    Replying to Magda Peters - Well, I can tell you about my own experience with a Registered Dietician. I work with her. During my 58 years, my weight finally ballooned to near the 400 pound mark due to runaway Metabolic Syndrome. All the carbohydrate based diets I was prescribed since the age of 24 when I suddenly grew a beard and started to gain twenty pounds a month did nothing but make me fatter and sicker. I finally started a very low carbohydrate, whole food diet. Over four years, I have reduced my weight by more than half. My blood tests are great, blood sugar in perfect control, low cholesterol.

    Well, Miss Know Everything Registered Dietician pestered me so much that I finally had to report her to HR. She nagged and lectured me constantly about what I was eating for lunch. Told me I was going to have a heart attack any day. Has told other people that I will be dying anytime because I don't eat "heart healthy whole grains". Said that if I just ate everything in moderation, I would have lost that weight I struggled for thirty-odd years to control with medically and Registered Dietician prescribed diets. Has even been known to come in my office and look into my lunchbox without permission, then tells anyone in hearing range how unhealthy my diet is.

    Just to add to the scene, this Registered Dietician weighs in excess of three hundred pounds. I guess everything in moderation and those "heart healthy whole grains" are doing her a raft of good.

    Sure, I've met a couple of Registered Dieticians who had some humility and sense. One worked with me when my adopted son was diagnosed with Diabetes Type One. She had the decency to accept that the whole food diet we ate at home was healthy and she applauded my refusal to go with the recommendation that he could eat anything he wanted so long as he injected enough insulin. But for the most part, and if you battled obesity as long as I did, you run across a lot of Registered Dieticians. The majority I've encountered were overweight to obese and parroted the good old "everything in moderation" nonsense. Then I guess they would eat their Ding Dong for the day, because that was in moderation - and they wouldn't even countenance any other dietary option than the ones that were obviously not working, even for them.

  21. Sophie
    She is not discrediting nutritionists, but pointing out that they are not qualified to TREAT medical conditions. Just stating one of the key differences between a Dietitian and Nutritionist. I'm sure many Nutritionists are very knowledgeable in the area, but the most qualified to prescribe nutrition as medical nutrition therapy is a Dietitian.
  22. Rick5150
    "Don’t eat everything in moderation. Eat as much healthy food as you can, whenever you are hungry."

    This sounds like terrible advice. No matter how "healthy" the food is, you should ever eat "as much as you can". I can eat a LOT more than my body actually needs. As one commenter mentioned, you should eat only enough to be satiated.

    I do agree with the premise of "everything in moderation" being terrible advice, but I believe that to be true for entirely different reasons than the author.

  23. Robert41988
    The idea of moderation is as follows
    You are human and while eating just a "healthy" diet (cant be agreed upon what that even is, ie whole grans or no grains or low fat or low carb or fats are fine but no saturated fats ect...), just doesn't work for most people. Good intention as we all are when our reservoir of self control runs low our base biological imperatives kick in. High fat and sugar = life, who knows when i might find meal I better eat this pint of ice cream now. You can stand on your high horse and say moderation sucks and this is the only way but in reality moderation is more sustainable for most people and has a huge overall health benefit over where most people end up, which is "F**k it I cant follow this strict diet that wont let me eat anything I love". people just end up feeling bad about themselves and ignoring all the advice since they believe, due to people like you, that they will never be "healthy".

    The only mostly universal advice I can glean is as follows

    1. Eat whole foods or at least foods that start as whole when you bring them home, try to make most of your meals consist of the least amount of external processing

    2. MODERATE the amount of sugar, flour, and alcohol you consume

    3. Avoid trans-fats

    4. Include vegetables and leafy greens and in as many meals as you can, they are the base of almost all "healthy diets"

    5. Eat slow and portion your plate to be a full meal, if you are still hungry that's OK just give your stomach 10-15 minutes while you enjoy a water/tea/coffee then go back if you're still hungry

  24. 1 comment removed
  25. Paula
    I have been to a registered dietician.
    She also insists on eating ”Healthy Grains”.
    In Australia, the so called pyramid is upside down. As a wheat growing country I guess there is a need to push the grains.
    Have been doing LCHF for a while now, been trying to lower my cholesterol. My GP insisted I could not lower my reading on my own.
    When I went back to him he said I could come off my statins. I said to him “have been off them for months”.
    Now am working on my BP tabs.
    Again he said I can’t come off them.
    In my mind I said “watch me “
    I am a little concerned about stopping these, as I have had a stroke and have a pacemaker.
    I will keep going with my healthy LCHF eating program, as I feel so much better than before I started.
    My daughter Rebecca, who lives in Stockholm, put me onto the Diet Doctor. I am so grateful to her for doing so.
    Paula Perth WA

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