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  • Sarah Rose

Is Moderation Always a Virtue?

Probably Not.

Kurt Sutter doesn’t think so:

“I'm a guy who has problems with moderation. All or nothing. Binge and purge. Kill or be killed. Gray is not a color I wear well. I should be dead. I know that. I should not be successful. I know that too. My daily existence is a toss of the coin - one side, fear, the other side, gratitude.”

Kurt Sutter is an American screenwriter/director/producer/actor who isn’t an expert in moderation or anything, I just like his quote. Sutter threw away moderation in favor of extremism, and it must have worked, what with his 10-million-dollar net worth.

The dictionary definition of mod-er-a-tion looks something like this:

…and addresses moderation in purely satanic terms..."the practice of making something less extreme, intense, or violent." Obviously, unsavory practices like chewing tobacco or corporal punishment best exist in an excess of less. “Moderate” amounts of tobacco can still give you cancer. “Moderate” amounts of corporal punishment can still result in broken, angry, violent people who hate those who punish them more than they regret their crimes. “Moderate” amounts of heroin will likely result in addiction. Clearly, not everything is “better” in moderation.

Take a look at the synonyms: self-restraint, self-control, self-discipline (handy, when avoiding heroin) and relaxation, reduction, abatement, weakening slackening, tempering. The synonyms are an antithesis—self-disciple often requires enormous energy while relaxation or abatement intuitively requires an energy reduction. Moderation is extremely situational.

Shortly after moving to California, I attended an EDA (Eating Disorder Anonymous) meeting. It was very much like an AA meeting, or at least how AA meetings are portrayed on television,

Hi everyone. My name is Sarah, and I have an eating disorder,” I said robotically.

Hi, Sarah,” chanted a circle of mismatched people who you would never think would share common interests, much less a common pain. There was the young blonde girl who starved herself skeletal, the middle-aged man with bad family dynamics, the anorexic woman who became a chef, her obsession with food ever-increasing. There was the man who binged, the woman who was socially anxious, the man who kneaded his huge hands when he spoke, and me—a first timer looking for someone, anyone who would understand. The meeting took place in a small brown room in the basement of a community center, on a Saturday evening when people with less traumatic relationships with food and their bodies went to dinner with people they loved, to eat food that they loved, in bodies they loved.

EDA is a 12-step program, much like AA. Unlike alcoholics however, people with eating disorders cannot quit cold turkey. We must eat to live. We must learn to rectify our relationship with food, and our bodies. We must learn not to be excessive or scarce. As my therapist once said, “Moderation is key.”


I didn’t have an eating disorder because I couldn’t figure out how to eat in moderation. I had an eating disorder for a host of other reasons—genetics, my environment, perfectionism, learning to judge my body and other bodies, learning to see food as an enemy instead of necessary. Recovery, for me, wasn’t about learning to eat in moderation either—it was unpacking the baggage that lead me to extreme restriction in the first place. I needed to uncover the “root causes," tear up my baggage and plant new seeds of kindness, self-love, and forgiveness. “Everything in moderation” is a cop-out, a tagline that allows us to ignore the deep work that is required to truly, fully understand our motives.

Part of my eating disorder was exercising in excess. I think people do this for a number of reasons: to chase demons, fill emotional gaps, or to experience the most elevated, subliminal state humanly possible. Exercising to punish yourself is unhealthy. Exercising for the genuine joy of movement, to see how much you can handle, to feel pure and unadulterated joy, is pretty damn special.

Another thing that is considered "moderate" is a 40-hour work week. We are told this is balanced. This is normal. You know who doesn’t get ahead? Anyone married to the idea that 40 hours a week are all they need to work. There are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep 8 hours a night, you still have 112 hours left. If you spend 5 hours a day commuting, exercising, eating, doing your hair, and other incidentals, you still have 77 hours left. Add in 30 hours of time spent with loved ones, and you still have 47 hours left. That’s a lot of time to chase whatever dream you have. Working hard for what you want is better than coasting and settling for a life that doesn’t excite you. And working "in moderation" won't get you there.

There is one major caveat though: shunning moderation should be done intentionally. It does no good to work 80 hours a week if those 80 hours don’t move you toward your goal, whatever your goal may be.

Great success requires obsession. Do you think Vincent van Gogh painted obsessively? Do you think Stephen King is obsessive in his writing, or that Gordon Ramsey is obsessive about food? Undoubtedly. They are all masters of their crafts. Ordinary people aspire to be like them. Ordinary people pay to study Van Gogh, purchase countless Stephen King novels, spend hours watching Gordon Ramsey on TV. We want to be great without trying, married to an ideal of "moderation" that simultaneously keeps us sane and holds us back.

It is human nature to be self-involved, to try to set yourself apart in some way. It is also human nature to take the easiest path. Don't. Don’t let the unstoppable churn of bad information curated for bored and glossy-eyed robot people inform how you live your life. Definitely, don’t let it stop you.

P.S. What do you think? Everything in moderation? Some things? No things? Tweet me: sarahmac_attack or comment on my latest Instagram post and tell me why.


Sarah Rose

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