The Middle Ground of Moderation

January 05, 1994

We hear America snacking.

Apparently the volume is increasing, according to surveys and industry figures that show growing numbers of Americans forsaking the health-conscious dietary trends of the past decade for more self-indulgent eating habits.

The people sounding this retreat are the same ones who guided the health crusade -- the well-educated, affluent folks with enough knowledge and wherewithal to buy themselves the latest in home juicers and stair-stepping machines. Only now they seem to be trading in those expensive toys for memberships in cheese-of-the-month clubs.

As Molly O'Neill of The New York Times has reported, consumption of processed snack foods, fast foods, sugar, meats and other products not so long ago considered taboo is up. The number of smokers is also on the rise, while the percentage of adults who claim they're doing all they can to eat healthfully is down.

Anecdotally, there are signs such as McDonald's test-marketing the Mega Mac half-pound hamburger with cheese and sauce, as well as reports that more athletic-club clients nationwide are spending their time on the massage table rather than feeling the burn on the aerobics floor.

Maybe this is the upshot of so many conflicting studies on the effects of certain products and all the questions they raise in consumers' minds. It's OK now to eat red meat? Caffeine and alcohol aren't the poisons we were led to believe? It's no longer necessary to do strenuous exercise several times a week? Household chores provide enough exertion? No wonder some Americans are throwing up their hands and deciding to eat and live as they choose, leaving the experts to carry on their confusing debate.

Still, we can't help worrying that people might be swinging from one extreme to another, from a faddish Spartanism to complete insouciance about what they do to their bodies. Today, as in our grandparents' day, the motto "Moderation in all things" applies. Just as dangerous as religious devotion to the body ethic is the feeling that the pleasure principle is paramount to sensible care of one's mental and physical health.

Of course, life would hardly be worthwhile without the occasional self-indulgence. Nor would it be of much value if people failed to eat well and exercise regularly. Between "eat, drink and be merry" and "no pain, no gain," there must be an acceptable middle ground. Call it "moderation."

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