Four Tips for Using the Abstainer/Moderator Split in the Face of Holiday Temptations.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 4 tips for using the abstainer/moderator split to fight holiday temptations.

Ah, the holidays. If you’re a person who is trying to withstand temptations, it can be very tough. Everywhere you go, you face cookies, candy, booze, and snacks and treats of every kind. While some people can whole-heartedly can enjoy all this, many of us waver between wanting to try everything and wanting to resist everything.

A successful strategy to facing this temptation may depend on whether you’re a moderator or an abstainer when trying to resist temptation.

You’re a moderator if you…
— find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure – and strengthens your resolve
— get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something

You’re an abstainer if you…
— have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
— aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits
(Of course, in the case of things like nicotine and alcohol, abstention is necessary.)

I’m an abstainer, without a doubt. Like Samuel Johnson, who wrote, “Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult,” I find it much easier to give things up altogether than to indulge in moderation. And that’s a very useful thing to know about myself.

Take Halloween candy, for example. I love candy, especially bite-sized candy. I knew that Halloween would be a huge temptation for me, and that I’d likely end up eating a lot of candy and feeling very guilty about it – and that wasn’t going to make me happy.

So I decided, “No Halloween candy! Not one piece!” And that was far easier for me to do than to eat just four or five pieces. And I was much happier having no candy than I would have been if I’d been stealing candy from my children’s stashes every time they were out of the kitchen – which is absolutely what I would otherwise have done. I’m doing the same thing with holiday candy.

If you’re a moderator, however, that strategy wouldn’t work for you. You’d probably be better off thinking, “I can have a few pieces of my favorite kind of candy,” and focusing on enjoying those pieces. You can really revel in whatever it is that you’re permitting yourself, and by putting a limit on your consumption, you may find yourself enjoying it more.

So, to apply the moderator/abstainer model to yourself when facing holiday temptations, try this:

1. Decide if you’re a moderator or an abstainer.
2. Decide what temptation you’d like to resist.
3. Set a time period. “I will not eat a single cookie until January 4” or “I will eat one or two cookies at every holiday event I attend, and I’ll enjoy them, but I’ll stop at two.” “I won’t have any eggnog” or “I’ll have one glass of eggnog, on Christmas Eve, when we visit my parents.”
4. As you approach your tempting situation, imagine yourself living up to your rule. Imagine yourself skipping the cookies; or imagine yourself taking just two cookies. Think about how pleased you’ll be that you stuck to your guidelines for yourself.

In my experience, moderators and abstainers are hard on each other. Moderators always say things to me like, “You should have a little fun!” “It’s not reasonable to be so hard on yourself!” “You’re too rigid about what you eat, you worry too much about your weight, it’s not healthy.”

And I have the urge to say to moderators: “You’re not sticking to your resolutions!” “Why don’t you just give up that [whatever it is] altogether?”

Either strategy can help us resist temptation; as with so many aspects of the pursuit of happiness, the secret is to know yourself, and to act according with your own nature. For me, although some people might think it seems cramped and joyless not to eat any Halloween candy, I know I’m happier if I skip it.

On a related note: it can seem festive and friendly to urge people to break their diets, to indulge in an extra glass of wine, or to treat themselves in some way. “I can’t believe you’re not going to try this dessert, I made it myself!” “Just one won’t hurt!” “You deserve it!” “This is a party, relax, live a little!” But the kind thing to do, in almost every situation, is to try to help people stick to their resolutions. Of course, bullying them if you think they’re over-indulging isn’t kind, either.

How about you? Do you recognize yourself as an abstainer or a moderator? Have you found any good strategies for coping with holiday temptation?

* I met Karl Staib at a conference last year, and I really love checking out his site, Work Happy Now.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 30,000 people get it)
Pre-order the book for your friends (or yourself) — here’s an e-card to let them know it’s coming
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • http://positivelypresent.com Positively Present

    What great advice, Gretchen and SO useful at this time of year when most people tend to overindulge and go overboard. I’m definitely going to be keeping these tips with me during the holidays!

  • http://www.lacarmina.com/blog lacarmina

    Happy Word of Mouth day! I blogged about your site and book today on http://www.lacarmina.com/blog/

    Love the term you used for our path: Yale-Law-School-turned-writer-and-blogger. Happy holidays.

  • axoplasm

    Great advice! I’m definitely an abstainer, although it depends on the vice. (I can easily drink just one beer.)

    The biggest comment I get from moderators (e.g. my wife) is “can’t you just use some self-control, and stop at one?” No, honey, I can’t … that’s why we can’t buy the big bag of chips. If it’s sitting there, I’ll think of nothing but eating the entire bag, until exactly that scenario occurs.

    What kills me this time of year are hor doeuvres plates. My only recourse is to imagine I’m at a job interview, and I’d look like a pig eating in front of the interviewer.

    • gretchenrubin

      I know what you mean. I NEVER eat hors d’oeuvres.

      Yes, the moderators just can’t understand us abstainers. And vice versa!

  • Alison

    This is a really useful distinction, I think. I am a moderator–I get panicky if I think I can’t ever have my favorite treats again. And until I read this, I couldn’t understand my friends who say they can’t eat just two Hershey’s Kisses. For me, a little is better than nothing–of course, the trick is still stopping!

    • gretchenrubin

      And I just can’t understand people who can have two Hershey’s Kisses!

      • http://www.mybodytutor.com/ Adam Gilbert

        Me too! Hyper palatable or irresistible foods are made to be that way. Once I eat one…it’s so hard to stop. “Bet ya just can’t eat one!” That’s not by accident. Kessler wrote about this in the End of Overeating.

        I guess, for moderators the combo of sugar, fat and salt doesn’t affect them as much as it does for us. I always say it’s easier to eat none then one.

  • ellierand

    The week before Christmas finds my home filled with edible gifts galore – a neighbor’s homemade sour dough, spiced pecans from my mother and an in-law gift box of florida oranges, virginia ham and godiva chocolates – as well as many holiday party invitations. I live in New Orleans, so the food at these parties is always worth sampling. So here is my strategy – I can eat it if someone else prepares it and/or serves it. Sounds nuts, but it keeps me from eating 3 daily regular meals when I know that I will be snacking on gifted goodies during the day and browsing buffet tables at night. Do I make a plate at the buffet table? No. Do I say yes to a passed cheese puff on a gleaming silver tray? Of course. This crazy rule also helps me to resist endless grazing at home on my own Christmas Eve party leftovers, which are delicious.

  • Lauren

    Learning that I am an abstainer (thanks to your first blog post on this topic) has been a great boon to my happiness. Knowing myself better helped me make the choice to give up sugar and flour all together. I have found it much easier to stick to my resolution when abstaining totally. Plus, I have lost 45 unwanted pounds over the last serveral months. And THAT is a certainly a happiness booster!

    • http://penvspaper.com Jeffrey Tang

      Congratulations, Lauren!

    • gretchenrubin

      Wow, congratulations! Giving up sugar and flour — that’s very tough to do.
      You are truly in the abstainer camp!

  • http://penvspaper.com Jeffrey Tang

    Okay, so not entirely relevant to the holiday food discussion, but I’ve been really thinking hard about the abstainer vs. moderator question lately.

    My vice is computer games. I can spend hours in front of the screen, getting absolutely no work done. After a lot of wasted time trying to make the moderator approach work for me, I’ve decided that abstaining from gaming entirely is the only realistic way I can break the addiction. So this post is really timely for me. Wish me luck …

    • qconklin

      Good luck with that Jeffery, I suffer from the same problem and I am not ready to go cold turkey from the video games.

      • fahunter

        Good Luck Jeffery! Best wishes in your new life and finding new adventures that will make your life more wonderful than ever!

  • Cristina

    I’m definitely an abstainer, and I found that out when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease seven months ago. I’m not even tempted to have gluten, knowing how bad I’ll feel. I have no desire to ‘cheat.’ Eventually my system gets used to not having whatever it is.

    There is one candy that I’ve had good luck with in terms of moderation — sour Skittles. If I start to eat too many, they hurt my tongue, so I stop. It’s very helpful.

  • allwomenstalker

    Great post! I’m an abstainer and should just avoid certain things. Can be very hard, though.

    -meream

  • http://www.creatingalive.blogspot.com Erin

    Definitely a Moderator here. I think I live with an Abstainer so it’s interesting when we try to be good. It’s like one person is ‘cheating’ on eating right and the other is just doing their thing. Then the reverse is never having any fun. It’s interesting to make note and useful for being considerate for those around you. I’ve learned over time that I’m a moderator out of necessity. (though I didn’t know what it was called until I considered your postings on this topic!) I can’t handle much alcohol and that’s the only way I’ve been able to do it happily. Abstaining from treats or an occasional drink hasn’t ever worked for me.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! Abstainers feel like moderators keep cheating, and moderators feel like
      abstainers are too rigid.

      My mother is a moderator, and it was from being with her that I first
      noticed this difference in how people approach temptation.

  • http://www.mybodytutor.com/ Adam Gilbert

    Gretchen,

    This post is fantastic!

    I find the most helpful thing to do is to focus on the short term benefits. Sure, eating that bite sized candy or cookie might be fun in the moment but as soon as we’re done, most likely we’re going to feel bad about it.

    Bad mentally (guilty, regret) and physically (tired, lethargic, unfocused). Either we’re going to suffer from the pain of discipline or the pain of disappointment or regret.

    We never regret healthy choices but we sometimes regret poor choices. When you think about how food makes you feel after you’re done it makes a lot easier, too. Same for how we feel before we eat it (I want this, I don’t want this, I want this, I don’t want this – isn’t a very comfortable feeling).

    When we focus on only eating foods that make us feel good before, during and after we eat it, it makes us a lot happier and healthier.

    During is interesting because food is so fleeting. Yeah, while we’re eating that cookie, we’re not thinking about anything else. Life is great. But that ‘food trance’ ends as soon as we’re done eating. Because pleasure is so fleeting!

    I think there’s a big distinction between pleasure and happiness too. Pleasure, like food, is very fleeting. Happiness on the other hand is very fulfilling and lasts.

    Going back to the internal conflict we all have of whether or not to give in – one sure fire way to help prevent that is to not let yourself get ravenous. When we’re really hungry, it’s really hard to make good decisions. Our short term, irrational self starts to get a lot louder than our rational, long term self.

    If you go to a party and come up with a game plan before you go, it makes it a lot easier. Because many times we wind up giving in just to silence that internal conflict that’s going on. So, if going into the party you make a promise to yourself that you’re not indulging at all, or you’re only going to have 1 piece of cake – it’ll make it a lot more comfortable when temptations present themselves – as they somehow always do!

    If you remind yourself that all pain and discomfort passes (the discomfort we face from not giving in) it makes it a lot easier. And, of course, discomfort leads to growth – which is such a key component to happiness!

    Ugh, I can go on and on about this stuff. Hopefully that helps though!

    • TracyW

      Sorry but this just strikes me as an awfully depressing way to live. Feeling guilty, tired, lethargic and unfocused just because you ate a bite-sized candy or a cookie? Pleasure is fleeting!?
      My rule is that if I’m full I stop eating, no matter how good the food tastes. But if I’m hungry, I enjoy. No regrets about good food, no guilt, life is too short.

      • gretchenrubin

        Sounds like you are a 100% moderator!

        Moderators think abstainers are rigid, and, yes, that it’s a depressing way
        to live.

        But for us abstainers, skipping that cookie is the happier way. It’s really
        true! Do you agree, my fellow abstainers?

        • TracyW

          Well I have to be an abstainer about TV soaps – I can get sucked into a cliffhanger story line so fast, and yet I don’t really enjoy them.
          But do abstainers really feel that miserable if they do have a cookie or a whole box of cookies? When I have been sucked into soaps I just identified the trigger and took steps to avoid it next time.

          • gretchenrubin

            For me, it’s not about guilt as much as the effort of self-control. It’s
            draining to be trying to resist eating that box of cookies. Once I decide,
            “No cookies,” I’m free! Of course, it can be hard REALLY to make that
            decision, but once it’s made, it makes life so much easier.

            At least that’s how it works for me. And Samuel Johnson, it seems.

        • tarichaveritas

          I totally agree! If I give in to one cookie, I will almost always go back for more. My boyfriend can leave a cookie sitting on his desk, right in front of his keyboard, for days on end (“I’m not hungry,” he says). I just can’t do that. I really have to exercise the “resistance muscle,” as Dr. Beck puts it, to avoid getting myself into trouble.

      • http://www.mybodytutor.com/ Adam Gilbert

        Tracy, you’re very lucky then. You can’t change how you’re wired. I think for many people, myself included, we truly feel the physical effects of junk food. But people who value self-control also feel that they let themselves down and that causes feelings of guilt, etc. It’s a lot easier to stick with something then to waver, at least, as an abstainer.

        The fascinating thing to me is we’re all so different obviously. What works for you doesn’t work for so many people. If everyone stopped eating when they were full no one would be overweight!

        Unfortunately, it’s not so cut and dry. So many people think that unless they are stuffed, they’re not satisfied and keep on eating anyway. It’s a lot harder than it might seem.

        I envy those who can moderate. And for those clients of mine that can, we build that into their program. Everyone is different!

        I also think asking yourself, “Is this really worth it?” helps a lot too. Because many times we’re just eating to eat and because the food is available.

        This internal chatter might sound ridiculous to you. And if so, then you’re extremely lucky b/c you don’t have any food noise. You eat when you’re hungry. You stop when you’re full.

        That’s extremely difficult for a lot of people. Lots of emotional eating. Lots of other issues going on behind the scenes that I won’t get into here.

        • TracyW

          You’re probably right, that I am very lucky. Although I have mindfully avoided ever dieting because as a teenager I came across some results of studies that nearly all people who diet actually gain weight in the long-term and also get all the complex feelings about food. While there are some people who do manage to keep it off, I decided that for me (with low willpower) it was statistically too risky.

          • http://www.mybodytutor.com/ Adam Gilbert

            Good point. I absolutely hate the word diet. It must be a lifestyle. When I say diet, I mean literally what you eat; not the act of going on a diet. Diets are awful and always fail in the long term. And who cares if you lose weight only to gain it all back? It must be sustainable. It must be something you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life, or else you’ll never stick to it. And sticking to it – anything – is the key.

  • Ester

    2 monts without having a single piece of cheese! Oh, I feel so strong…

  • qconklin

    One moderation technique I use when I am faced with something i am trying to cut back on is setting aside a portion for my self. To use the Halloween candy example I set aside all of it that I am going to eat and them try to make it last as long as I can. By knowing that I have the candy available to me it helps me resist the temptation to eat since I know that when it is gone I don’t get any more.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a great combo of the moderator/abstainer approach. Genius!

    • http://somewisdomtoknowthedifference.blogspot.com/ Jessica

      This is what I do, too! I’m definitely a moderator, but I have to set my limits ahead of time as well. I sent the majority of leftover Halloween candy with my husband to work, and put a small amount in a candy bowl. I still have some left because I know that’s all there is! With holiday parties, I put small amounts of whatever I want on a plate, and tell myself that this plate is all I’m eating – no wandering by and snatching up one extra cookie! It’s much harder, though, than just removing the extra goodies, isn’t it?

  • http://www.notagratitudejournal.blogspot.com/ marnie

    I think I am slowly and reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that I am an abstainer. This post was very enlightening for me. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling to figure out why no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to exercise moderation. It’s comforting to know that maybe I’m just not a moderator.

    • safari61751

      Marnie,

      I have to agree. It’s like I stay on my diet program all week, then I try to give myself a treat and I gain 4 pounds over the weekend. Bummer. So now I know I need to abstain. I don’t know how to eat moderately. This is comforting to know.

    • gretchenrubin

      It can be hard to be an abstainer if you’re surrounded by moderators. They
      truly believe that moderation is the right course, and urge us to follow
      that path. They sound so reasonable, and make such convincing arguments! But
      if you’re an abstainer, it’s just easier to, well, abstain.

      For me, realizing that I was an abstainer made it much easier to argue with
      moderators. When they urge me to be reasonable, I just say, “Well, I hear
      what you’re saying, and that’s great, but for me, I’m an abstainer.” Once I
      identified the concept, I embraced it all the way!

  • Tara

    I have found that it depends on the situation whether I am an abstainer or a moderator.

    In reading webcomics, I have to be an abstainer. I can’t do just a little bit.
    With eggnog, I am a moderator. The idea of never having eggnog again made me sad, so I limited myself to one carton after thanksgivings this season instead of buying it every week and gaining 15 pounds like I did last year.

  • Anon

    The moderator/abstainer duality doesn’t work for me. I’m both, depending on the situation/temptation. If I have treats I like at home they WILL get eaten. The only thing I can control is whether or not to buy them in the first place and how fast to eat them. So I might get one pint of eggnog and then have no more than a cup a day, on the days I feel like it, until it’s gone. I’m usually less successful with things that can be grabbed by handfuls and should only be consumed in really small quantities (cookies and cashews are both deadly for me). Interestingly, if a container is sealed closed (eg. a bag of chips), I can leave it in the cupboard for months, but once it’s open, I’ll sneak handfuls until its gone.

  • Sharon

    What about the option of just eating all you want and enjoying it? I don’t understand the emphasis on self-denial. Isn’t this why women tend to be obsessed about food and dieting? I think your post sends the wrong message.
    I’m mystified as to why you refer to good eats as “temptations,” as though eating them is a viceSounds pretty uptight to me, and not a good thing to model for kids.

    • gretchenrubin

      You raise an important issue. I guess I think of it like this: “If I eat
      everything I feel like, whenever I feel like it, will I be happier?” For me,
      the answer is no.

      Maybe the answer for you is yes.

  • Patty

    Gretchen!! Thanks so very much for posting. I have always felt like I should be able to have anything in moderation and then stop. But I have never been able to do this. I start and I cannot stop. And for some reason I felt bad if I never had “just a few”. I feel like this blog is so vindicating for me and I now embrace my inner abstinator.
    Thanks!
    Patty
    P.S. Looking forward to the book at the end of the month!

    • gretchenrubin

      Abstainers unite!

  • pamwalter

    I’ve been making treats to give as gifts for several days now, and can truthfully say that all I’ve done is taste them to be sure they’re OK or lick the spoon. Maybe being around them so much is dulling my appetite for them.

  • Maureen

    interesting piece – I am actually a little bit of both, in daily life I am a moderator, but when dieting an abstainer approach makes it easier to stay on track.

  • http://www.notagratitudejournal.blogspot.com/ marnie

    I’ve been thinking about this some more. Similarly to what some others have been saying, I think for me, whether I am a moderator or an abstainer depends on the particular situation/food. I can enjoy sweet desserts in moderation, especially if they are very rich or very good quality (like a well-made cheesecake). But I may never be able to enjoy chips (or other salty things) in moderation. Realizing this makes me very happy, because now I know that I don’t have to abstain from everything, but just certain things that for whatever reason, I cannot enjoy in moderation. Thanks, Gretchen!

    Also, the way moderators and abstainers react to each other is very interesting. In university I decided to try to have one Hershey’s kiss every day, but savor it. I’m pretty sure my friend (who I now understand is an abstainer) wanted to admit me to a psych ward when I told her about my plan.

  • http://www.thecareerclinic.com Maureen Anderson

    Hi Gretchen,

    One of your earlier posts on abstaining versus moderating inspired me to give up almost everything I used to consider a treat. I eat Dove dark chocolate, but that’s it. No white flour, no sugar, not even butter or fruit juice. I eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and so on.

    I don’t cheat AT ALL.

    And you know what? It isn’t that difficult. I feel great! I have more energy and I need less sleep. It’s kind of boring, but it’s infinitely easier for me–as an abstainer–to draw this line and stick to it…rather than having an unending battle about how much healthy food earns me the right to that donut or whatever it is.

    After a month of this year-long experiment I was looking forward to the junk food party I’d have eleven months later. After two months I doubted there would be a party like that. After more than three months I can’t imagine going back to my old way of living.

    Have I really had my last cookie, or donut, ever? I’m guessing I have. There are too many benefits in this plan to want to give it up. I eat all day long and don’t gain an ounce, my cholesterol is 146, even my teeth are healthier.

    Just thought you’d like to know what a difference you’ve made in my life.

    Thanks!

    Maureen

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so thrilled to hear that that post helped you so much!

      I agree, the great thing about abstaining, for us abstainers, at least in my
      experience, is that it gets easier and easier with time, while moderation is
      a constant struggle. As you say, once you haven’t eaten a doughnut in six
      months, you don’t even think about whether or not to eat it.

  • http://dogwooddiarist.blogspot.com/ Eva Robertson

    I’m an abstainer until I’m not, at which point I always think being a moderator would have served me better. But unfortunately, both means of attaining self-control elude me. Can it still be said I don’t know myself?

  • Beth

    Personally, I am happier as a moderator than as an abstainer, even though I find abstinence easier. It might be easier if I don’t have anything, but I would feel like I missed out, and I don’t really get a big happiness kick out of denying myself completely.

    My one rule for holiday parties is that after I have any alcohol, I do abstain completely. It can be hard to decide what to indulge in and how much, and a glass of wine makes it all the more difficult.

  • http://www.andrewgubb.com/ Andrew

    Cool article, though funnily enough I think my strategy is a bit of both – seems impossible to be a bit of both, but I’d say my usual strategy is to abstain, but then occasionally abstenence becomes so stressful that moderation is better. In my diet, as I have so many ideas of what’s good or bad or better or worse, my radicalism would make it impossible to eat. I have to maintain my sanity with a moderator method. I’ll have a cup of coca-cola every so often, just because. It’s worth it to be a bit less rigid.

    Andrew

  • sierraseven

    Just when I thought this blog couldn’t possibly get any more banal and insubstantial, I am proved wrong. “How 2 Keep Those Holiday Lbs OFF!!!” “Are You a MODERATOR or an ABSTAINER? Your Dieting Style REVEALED!!!”

    Good grief.

  • Kathi

    Great post Gretchen. When it comes to sugar (candy, cookies, cake, etc.) I am definitely an abstainer. I quit all of it about 7 months ago and I have never felt better. And, I’ve never weighed less (added bonus).

    I explain it to others by comparing it to alcoholism. I explain to them that one cookie would be – to me – the same as one sip of alcohol to an alcoholic. In fact, I have come to have a new appreciation of the difficulties that alcoholics must have staying on the wagon. I can drink one sip of wine, or one beer and have no desire for any more. But, if I eat one cookies or piece of candy, I can not rest until the entire bag or box is gone!

    It’s encouraging for me to read that there are so many others in this camp as well.

    It reinforces what I believe about sugar – it is just as addictive as alcohol. Our society has simply chosen to ignore this fact.

  • http://www.coachjennie.com/ Coach Jennie

    Great advice! I think I’m really an abstainer who wishes she could be a moderator. I want to badly to enjoy just one cocktail or just one chocolate, but “just one” never really satisfies me. This post will help to remind me that abstaining is the way to go for me.

    Unrelated note: I totally love your 12 Personal Commandments! I think I need something like that to guide me. May I borrow your idea and adapt it to my Audacious ways?

    Happy Holidays!

    • gretchenrubin

      Of course, I’m very happy that you find the 12 Personal Commandments useful!

  • http://frugalzeitgeist.com/ Forest@ Frugal Living

    I am for sure a moderator. I can happily have a beer or a sweet…. Sometimes I get binges but it’s normally followed by more than enough good time to justify… But Christmas, I think I may just go for it and sort out the issue next year :) he he

    Thanks,

    Forest.

  • Nan

    I used to be a abstainer, but I turned to be a moderator now. Cause If I gave up so many things I like many times, I will end up eating that things too much one time. Hence, I think it is better to taste a little bit I like each time.
    But I think your suggestion about the limitation is very important. I will try to set up a limitation and stick to it strictly!

    • gretchenrubin

      Sounds to me like you are a moderator who was trying to be an abstainer!

      Hmmmm…I wonder if a sign of being an abstainer is that abstaining tends to
      get easier, while if a moderator is trying to abstain, they tend to break
      the abstinence and go too far the other direction. Something to consider…?

  • joanent

    I like your idea Jessica. I have more success as an abstainer – but only when I specify the specific occasions and amounts that I can cheat, because I can’t imagine giving up not eating a piece of my daughter’s birthday cake, or the tradional glass of eggnog when decorating the tree. But it’s very hard to stick to the limitations.
    Another way to be an abstainer-moderator is to make certain rules – like never take seconds, which I have read is a French cultural rule.

  • Sarah G

    Nice post. I’m certainly an abstainer. I’ve been vegetarian for almost 20 years now, since I was a teenager, and can’t imagine any other way. I’m also now revolted by deep-fried foods after a few years off them.

    My problem is that I don’t actually want to abstain from chocolates, cakes and wine, even though I know I should. I was at a toddler group Christmas party with my 22 month-old the other day and I vowed in advance not to eat anything as I still need to lose 20lb, but it was soooo hard. After having plates of homemade cakes and cookies literally shoved in my face 5 times, I succumbed. Only one, but then I also ate half of my moderator son’s muffin too when he was done with it.

    It’ll be good when the holiday season is over, but then I have our family birthday season until March…

  • Randy

    My question is this… are the abstainers also hoarders?.. they they abstain simply because they have less skills to manage how much to choose or do they have stronger desires?

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m an abstainer and I’m not a hoarder. I’d be surprised if the two things
      are linked.

  • Mary O.

    This is a great post, Gretchen. From reading it I can say emphatically that with food I’m in the moderator camp — no real weight problems, and I like to bake, so I indulge sparingly and enjoy myself with no ill effects. However, one area that I find I lack discipline is in setting a proper bedtime, I’m a night owl and often to my detriment. Last night I didn’t get to bed until after 4 a.m., and I have to be up at 7ish to get my kids to school. I may have to experiment with an abstainer deadline on this one crummy entrenched habit (whether whiling away the hours online, reading, etc.) that is sucking my sleep away.

    Although here too, I may try moderation — maybe a midnight deadline during the week and 1 a.m. on the weekends when I can sleep in a bit later.

  • http://twitter.com/nicholasritchey Nicholas Ritchey

    100% Abstainer — very helpful post! Thanks :D

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to hear from a fellow abstainer! Glad you found the distinction
      useful.

  • Brian B

    Coming in late … I’m mostly an abstainer, especially when it comes to sweets, and I figured out a way to explain it to moderators. On “The West Wing” sometime in the first season, the sober alcoholic Leo McGarry responds to someone (a moderator) who asks him if one drink would really be so bad: “I don’t want one drink, I want ten drinks.”

    Once I frame it that way, to myself and to others, it’s both easier to achieve and to explain: I don’t want one donut, I want six donuts. I don’t want a slice of pie, I want a pie. Now that I see it that way, I find it easier to stay away from sweets. I feel a lot better now.