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Will Clower is the author of The Fat Fallacy, and the founder of Mediterranean Wellness.

Tuesday is Mardi Gras, when a parade of partiers famously let loose in New Orleans every year. “Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday” and represents the day prior to Lent, the 40 days of fasting before Easter. Thus Tuesday is fat because the next six weeks are supposed to be lean.

Mardi Gras has become a cultural hood ornament for a splurge-and-purge mentality. Blow it out on Saturday night and expect to pay for it the next morning. The bitter medicinal spoon comes tomorrow, so drink from the sweet cup today.

The self-imposed credit/debt tradeoff of excess provides a rationalization for the wicked bender. And we pay back the dietary loan following the excess of overconsumption by punishing ourselves in one form or another. Some of us join gyms, undergo restrictive diets, or just feel bad about ourselves.

For many, this self-flagellation serves as a well-deserved punishment: If the problem was that we lived it up too much, the solution must be the opposite. If we were too good to ourselves, we now must be punished with the equal and opposite pain.

It’s clear how unhealthy this attitude is. It can lead to overconsumption, and going from one extreme of eating to another not only can lead to physiological problems like diabetes, but can also mirror emotional extremes. In addition, disordered eating patterns can lead to more weight issues. And suddenly, you can find yourself in a positive feedback cycle of abandon, regret, and self-loathing.

The dietary antidote to the splurge-and-purge self-denial trap is to avoid the binging in the first place. Avoiding the swings between excess and denial requires moderation.

The excess to avoid is not the quality of your food, but the quantity. The wine is fine in control, the party is fine in control, and everything from cheese to chocolate is great for you until you eat it out of control.

That’s the problem, isn’t it? The Mardi-Gras mentality we accept as the norm does nothing to promote moderation. It’s “either-or,” “all or nothing.”

And it’s more prevalent than once a year at Mardi Gras. For example, the CDC reported that an astounding one in six adults binge drinks at least four times a month. The 18-to-24 age group drinks nine drinks per booze-up (it’s even higher for those 65+). In other words, what sounds like the activity of the once-a-year Mardi Gras party is actually happening all the time.

Compare our drinking pattern to that of the French and Italians. They drink more than we do—their per capita consumption of wine is about 44 liters per person per year, compared to Americans, who drink closer to 9 liters per person per year. The difference between us and them is that many in these cultures drink a little wine with a meal. It’s consumed every day, but in control.

Food and drink (and even a little Mardi Gras mayhem now and then) only become bad when they’re overdone. Find the sane middle ground.

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