Abstainers and Moderators, I’d Love To Hear Your Answers to a Few Questions.

Last week, I posted Want to be free from French fries? Or, why abstaining may be easier than you think.

The comments were so fascinating that I want to post some follow-up questions to you Abstainers and Moderators out there. (If you need to catch up on the whole abstainer/moderator split, or figure out what category you’re in, read here.)

I’d love to hear your responses:

If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s in the other category, how do you manage it? Conflict around this issue seems to be a common source of tension within couples.

If you’re a moderator, do you have a general sense of what is “moderate,” or do you follow rules that you’ve set for yourself? Examples of rules might include “I’ll have one small square of excellent chocolate at lunch every day” or “I never eat dessert at home but do order dessert in a restaurant.”

If you’re an abstainer, do you abstain narrowly or broadly? E.g., do you abstain from the chocolate-chip-and-butterscotch cookies served every afternoon at work, or do you abstain from sugar? I’m a broad abstainer not a narrow abstainer, myself.

Moderators: Would you say that having a little bit of something makes you want it less? Abstainers, would you say that having a little bit makes you want it more? I definitely want things more when I have them; when I don’t have them I don’t want them.

For both categories: Do you find temptation to be a matter of availability–or not really? Do you have trouble managing temptation only when an item is right there in the cupboard, or would you just as readily go out and buy that tempting thing? I’m very swayed by availability. Follow up: do you consider a restaurant to be a place where something’s very available or not available? For me, the hurdle of making a purchase makes something far less available than when it’s freely available (this is true even though the added purchase is just added to the main meal, so no more difficult to pay; illogical I know). Probably part of my under-buyer mentality.

For both categories: Do you find yourself trying to convince other people to resist temptation the “right” way? For instance, might you say, “You should learn to eat moderately,” “You should go cold-turkey,” “You shouldn’t be so rigid with yourself,” “You shouldn’t keep that stuff in the house,” “You’ll just fall off the wagon and stuff yourself later, if you try to be so strict.”

  • http://lorialexander.blogspot.com/ Lori Alexander

    I am an abstainer and my husband is a moderator. It use to bother me tremendously until I just let him live his life the way he wanted to without being nagged by me. Peace is a wonderful thing! :)

  • peg

    From Aristotle to Buddha much has been written on moderation. Even weight watchers allows for moderation. Neither glutoney nor self deprivation is an effective path to health or happiness. Occassionaly eating a small a portion of fries or a couple of cookies can be a delightful treat that makes me happy. Super sizing treats or eati
    ng the every day would no longer make them a special little indulgence. It would not be fun any more and completely abstaining from them would actually make me sad. As if to say I am not worthy of a cookie. How terrible! So, enjoy a cookie or munching on a small order of fries and go for a walk! I am a happy moderator!

  • Lynnette Mattox Brown

    Thank you Gretchen. I don’t have a problem with french fries at all. I love them on occasion. I passed on the holiday dishes because I was alone. But last week I did eat several pieces of See’s candy because dark chocolate is good for you. I eat to live. I don’t live to eat. Seriously, I limit my sugar intake, eat very few carbohydrates, but do enjoy a good steak, a salad loaded with every thing delicious; carrots, cranberries, fresh nuts and low fat salad dressing. Thank you for trying so hard to abstain. I know how difficult it can be. You’re not alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.ruhlen Rachel Ruhlen

    Availability is not exactly a temptation because I give in immediately! I hardly even try to resist. I absolutely have to have it not there at all. With an exception. I keep trying to give up sugar. I’ve tried moderating, abstaining, abstaining with cheating, etc. Coke is the hardest. One trick that sometimes works–for a while– is to keep a coke in the fridge at home and not drink it. When I’m at work, I refrain from buying a coke from the oh-so-convenient vending machine because I know I have a coke at home. The sugar cravings are worst in the morning, and when I get home I no longer want the coke. I don’t like to drink coke in the evening, and I don’t like the effect that caffeine that late in the day has on my sleep. So the coke stays in the fridge keeping me from drinking other cokes–until the weekend when I am at home in the morning!

    A similar principle is to have a bag of small chocolates at home (again not at work). Expensive, dark chocolate is best because dark chocolate gives me a headache so I am motivated not to overeat it and it’s easy to stick to one tiny piece a day. I get the treat, I get to savor the deliciousness, and it keeps me from eating cheap candy bars from the vending machine.

    So, availability of one thing helps me ward off another.

    And if the vending machine weren’t there, that wouldn’t help much. Along the lines of “compensation” it’s really easy to say “A walk would do me good. I know, I’ll walk down the street to the convenience store!” Where, of course, I buy a coke AND a candy bar. Argh!

    I abstain broadly. Since coke is the hardest for me, I’ve tried just giving up coke but allowing candy. That doesn’t work at all. It’s like the college kids who end up with tons of credit card debt because they’re in it for $40K in student loans, what’s another credit card or two? I say “I’m already having a candy bar, what’s it matter if I have a coke?”

    I know from experience (I’ve given up sugar many times) that the first week is the hardest and after a while the sugar cravings go away, and the candy bar and coke don’t even taste right when I do have one. So, it is far better for me to give it up entirely.

    By the way, about the idea that healthy food justifies bad food–there is a little merit to that. If I am absolutely going to have that coke, it helps to make myself go ahead and eat a banana first. If I insist on eating the healthy food but I’m ‘allowed’ to have the bad food too, by the time I’ve “eaten my vegetables” the craving for the candy bar is gone. I’ve learned that cravings are strongest when I’m hungry, so if I want to give up sugar I do have to make sure I don’t get hungry. I truly believe that is actually a more effective weight loss plan!

    I don’t ever try to convince people of my way. I am happy to share my experience and information but I’m a firm believer that we’re all individuals.

    • gretchenrubin

      So interesting. This may be an odd question: but have you tried Diet Coke? And abstaining from sugar while drinking diet soda? Since Coke seems to be the thing that is making it hard to abstain.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.ruhlen Rachel Ruhlen

        I can’t stand the taste of artificial sweeteners! Including stevia (I call it the “natural artificial sweetener”). However I have tried Izze, which I like a lot, and that helps, or just fruit juice. I heard about a behavior modification technique used for smoking but also for sweets: electric shocks to your ear. It sounds awful and at the same time tempting, like maybe I could quit sugar without trying!

        It does help to quit sugar & Coke at the same time. Sugar is my gateway drug to Coke!

  • fletzie

    I am an abstainer and currently not in a relationship but cultivate friends who tend to be the same. I once gave up three friendships because I could not eat in the same way they did and do. I have managed to lose over 100 lbs and get totally off diabetes meds so it was worth it to me! I suppose that means it is about availability to me…BUT I do not preach to anyone…if they ask me how I did it I will tell them…

    • gretchenrubin

      100 pounds! Wow.

  • Kristen

    I’m an abstainer at heart, though I have a lot of moderator thought processes.

    To the first question, I’m not in a relationship with a moderator, but I am in a relationship with someone not abstaining from many of the things that I want to lose from my diet (sugar, refined carbs, etc.), and that has been really difficult. We actually live apart most of the week for other reasons, so the solution lately has just been to not keep those things here and he goes without on the weekends when we’re together. When the living situation changes in a few months that solution may have to change with it.

    When I attempt to moderate, I try for set rules. And then I inevitably fail at them. A sure sign that I’m really an abstainer, I think. Or that it’s not the way for me to be a moderator.

    When I abstain, I abstain both narrowly and broadly. I’ll remove soda from my diet, rather than all sugar. Or french fries but not all fast food/carbs. But I’ve also gone the route of all sugar, and found it to be very easy after a day or two.

    As for temptation, it is absolutely a matter of availability. If it is in the house, I will eat it. If I am out grocery shopping, I will want to buy it–and if I am shopping alone I probably will. Restaurants are easier to navigate, for some reason, but I generally have to go in with a plan if I know they typically serve things that are “off limits”. I have limited amounts of will power, and deciding if I can or can’t have something is just not something I spend that power on, unless it is in the first few days of abstaining from something. Those are always the hardest, and the temptation the greatest, regardless of if it is around.

    I don’t generally try to convince others that one way is better than the other, probably because I’m still trying to convince myself. :) Like I said, abstainer with a moderator brain.

    • gretchenrubin

      So interesting to hear how people think about this and deal with it.

      Follow up question (for you and anyone else who has done this): sounds like at some point you successfully gave up sugar. Why did you start eating it again? Little by little, or decided you didn’t want to do that anymore, or how?

      • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.ruhlen Rachel Ruhlen

        I’ve quit sugar so many times…and successfully too, at least I have gone for several months before falling back into the Coke-a-day habit. So I can answer. What happens is I feel sorry for myself! That first Coke doesn’t even taste that good but somehow I’ve got it in my mind that it is a reward. Self-pity is such a sticky trap.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.volkey Steve Volkey

    I have to be an abstainer, I have an additive personality and the easiest way of doing things for me is just Quit!! I am now free from alcohol and drugs for 11 years, and I am an addict. I quit cigarettes 6 years ago. I quit chewing tobacco 4 years ago. And I feel free. Ridding my life of these distractions has allowed me to pursue who I really am.

    • gretchenrubin

      Congratulations. Such an achievement.

    • molly

      Wow, good for you!!!!

    • sue

      I agree that there is an addictive personality type, and it’s obviously good that you can recognise that in yourself. Congratulations on being free from alcohol and nicotine!

  • Sameer Jain

    Your post about this a long while ago was a big insight for me, so I’m happy to share.

    I abstain broadly – from starchy and sugary carbohydrates. However, I do allow myself a moderate amount of sugar-free substitutes (e.g. sugar-free jello, Atkins bars, etc.).

    When moderating, I find that it’s really important for me to have clear rules (e.g. only 3 Atkins bars a week) — otherwise I will eat a bunch. Having a little bit definitely makes me want more .

    Availability hugely influences the level of temptation I feel and the willpower I need to exert to resist consuming an item. I found that back when I did a diet with a “cheat day” once a week, I would routinely (2-3 times a week) wake up in the middle of the night and gorge on leftover snacks, etc that I had lying around from cheat day. I wish there were cupboards I could program with a time-delayed lock!

    Things are not very available at restaurants as long as I have to actively order them (or steal from a friend). But if they bring a basket of bread out, or a side of fries with my meal, it is very hard for me to resist.

    I find myself educating people about the idea that abstinence is sometimes easier than moderation, but they don’t really believe me :-). Good to remember that people are different.

    • gretchenrubin

      Funny about the “cheat day.” As an abstainer, this kind of approach would be the WORST for me.

      Do other people find that that approach works? Or the “cheat meal” or whatever form?

      • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.ruhlen Rachel Ruhlen

        “Cheating abstainer” characterizes me pretty well.

  • Rebecca

    Interesting how so much of this is about food…is that usually the prism which everyone thinks about this? Gretchen, you are not overweight, does abstaining from broad categories of food make you happier? Is it from the satisfaction in knowing you can do it? (I have abstained and knowing I could be stoic and austere was satisfying!)

    • Jane

      Be careful, Gretchen. When I was anorexic I had very rigid thought patterns about abstaining from “bad” foods. I also noticed that a good friend of mine with a bulimic daughter is always talking about weight and fat and diet and exercise, and I think she is utterly clueless that this weight obsession of hers has tragically affected her daughter.

      • Ruth

        I have a similar concern about this. Gretchen, I really like most of your work, but this focus on food is really, really, REALLY uncomfortable for me to read. Food is already such a loaded issue in our culture, and we (especially those of us who are female) already get so many messages about how we eat wrong that seeing it in a place I go to for inspiration and happiness thoughts is weighing heavily in that “feeling bad” category of thinking about happiness. I hope this doesn’t become a food/weight/dieting blog, because that will be the end of my reading it, and I would hate to miss all of the other great things here.

        • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.ruhlen Rachel Ruhlen

          But food is such an integral part of happiness. I don’t see how a happiness blog could never mention the topic. Gretchen has a frequent disclaimer which I’m sure applies here: mental illness, addiction, abusive relationships, etc are beyond the scope of her happiness project.

      • gretchenrubin

        You make a good point, but I think there are healthful ways to approach food that don’t lead to eating disorders. Equating “abstaining” with an eating disorder isn’t accurate, to my mind. The main reason I abstain is that I think much less about food and weight. Free!

        • Rose

          Avoiding foods without nutritional value is certainly not the same as an eating disorder. I would argue, however, that an extreme level of control and food rule takes the “happiness” out of eating. I realize you would just call me a moderator, but I think its more than that. I read your December chapter of Happier at Home and was surprised that you made the month about avoiding holidays treats, rather than focusing on themes of family celebration.

          I do am a concerned reader in regards to the level of control you appear to have towards food. As a long term blog reader, I never forgot your advice to take tums as a substitute to food. This is neither is not good advice for happiness or health. With two impressionable daughters in your household, I feel its very important to teach them (by example) to listen to their bodies and eat properly, following the advice of certified nutritionists.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I think about abstaining/moderating mostly in relationship to food.

      From talking to people and my own observation, I think that a feeling of loss of control over eating is an issue that really bothers a lot of people, and weighs on their happiness.

      When it comes to other applications, I think I’m an abstainer in the opposite – I find it easier to do things EVERY DAY (like post to my blog) than to do them SOME DAYS. I have an all-or-nothing kind of personality, in many ways.

      Abstaining does make me happier—much happier—because I feel free from French fries, and so much else too.

  • jr cline

    I don’t try to convince any one to change the way they eat. It’s all I can do to manage my own life. I’ve also found it to be a total waste of time. I don’t have any trouble not eating what I don’t want to eat when I’m with someone else. People who know me well don’t even offer me dessert when it is served at their houses. I do eat some desserts. I do like homemade pound cake and get to have some once or twice a year. . Once a year I have a piece of fruit cake in memory of my grandfather.
    This is definitely a rambling comment. Sorry.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love the idea of eating the piece of cake once a year in the memory of your grandfather. That’s really lovely.

      You make an excellent point here. From what I can tell, a lot of people feel very self-conscious when they don’t order dessert, don’t take something offered to them at a friend’s house, don’t drink, etc. They feel that it’s rude or conspicuous. But the thing is, people get used to your quirks! I’ve always had somewhat odd eating habits, and people just accept that (I think!) and don’t give it a second thought. When you do what’s right for you, other people accept it, sooner or later.

  • yul

    I am in a “mixed” relationship and it is truly a challenge. I am a moderator while my boyfriend is an abstainer. When we attempt to change our eating habits I can’t stand feeling deprived and he can’t hold himself back when we have “goodies” in the house. One way I try to make it easier for him is to keep “goodies” at work and only have a little bit, once in a while. (I’m talking dark chocolate and potato chips)

    One rule I have as a moderator is to look at the serving size and decide how many servings I can allow myself, then I count out those 12 chips and put them in a separate bowl, and that is all I allow myself and I am satisfied.

    But if there are chips in the house, they’ll be gone before I get home from work, because he can’t help it if they’re around.

    • gretchenrubin

      Sounds like a great way for you both to enjoy your own approaches.

  • Kelly

    I guess you could say I’m a moderator, but I don’t like to think of it that way. For me, it’s easier to keep the focus on what I can eat, not what I can’t–I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year or two focusing on how I feel after I eat healthy foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, with occasional dairy and meat) v. less healthy foods (processed anything, too many refined carbs or sugar). I noticed that I genuinely feel better and have more energy and am in a better mood when I eat healthily. I’m not technically abstaining from or moderating anything–if I really want that cheeseburger and am willing to suffer the lethargy afterwards, I let myself–but I find it easier to make better choices more often when I focus on the positive (good mood, lots of energy) than the bad (not eating the cookie). Also, if I’m going to eat something less healthy, I never buy more than one serving of it–I make myself do a little work for it so I have to make the conscious decision every time I want to give in to temptation. Additional benefit: I’ve lost over 30 pounds in the last year and it’s been totally painless.

    • gretchenrubin

      You’re like my sister! Frame it in the positive.

      This is the difference between “yes” resolvers and “no” resolvers.

  • Megan

    A lot of the comments on the previous post indicate that abstaining is one step in a figuring out HOW to moderate. I tend to think that that’s one of the biggest problems: we don’t know how to moderate so we struggle with doing it effectively.

    I really struggle with exercising self-control (and consistently making decisions that are good for me) so right now I’m more of an abstainer. Having fewer decisions to make means there’s less opportunity for error.

    It seems like my husband is more of a moderator, and we’re trying to figure out how to make our styles work together. As we’ve discussed this concept, he’s been trying to convince me that moderation is the way to go, but I’m not convinced (at least not yet).

    I tend to be pretty narrow in abstaining — I’ll cut out “soda” and “high fructose corn syrup,” but not broadly sugar. (I will also moderate juice consumption to the suggested serving size.) Then I feel more in control about reading the labels of foods I buy, rather than feeling like I don’t get to have anything sweat. So maybe my abstaining is just a path toward moderating my sugar consumption (to “good” or “quality” sugars only)?

    When I set rules based on who/what/where/when, I eventually find myself slipping when my social life picks up — around my birthday or holidays, or when we’re traveling. So those arbitrary rules don’t consistently work for me.

    Also — this discussion has largely focused on food, but I feel the same kind of all-or-nothing about exercise. It really stresses me out trying to figure out when I’m going to work out; how does that fit in with what I plan to cook that night; how tired I am on that particular day; etc. I think I’d be more successful with working out if I just planned 30 minutes a day, at the same time, every single day.

    • gretchenrubin

      You’re pointing out a key thing: decision-making. THIS IS THE KEY!!! Decision-making is exhausting, and also, we often decide against our long-term goals. Abstaining works for me because there are no decisions. Posting every day to my blog, same, no decisions. Exercise, the same—I know I’ll do it, not “deciding.”

      Decide not to decide!

  • Emma

    I’m a broad abstainer. I find it so much easier to cut something out of my life than to have to deal with wondering how much is too much. I’m also a real rule abider, even if it’s a self imposed rule I just can’t bring myself to break it. I think because of this I dont feel the need to justify the ‘why’ of my abstaining or convince others to go without…

    My husband is also an abstainer, so I haven’t had to solve conflict over that.

  • Marcia Francois

    My husband is a moderator (he has one block of chocolate every night after supper). I have half a slab about 7 days a month… ;) so I’m an abstainer (if I have to be)

    I’m very tempted by availability – if I don’t see it, I don’t want it. I would rather cut out just a few things than say, sugar, totally. I could do without sweets but not sugar totally. But having a little bit makes me want it more.
    PS I really have NO problem with French fries. I do steal one or two very occasionally off my husband’s plate if we’re out but my life would be very happy if I never had one ever again. Now pasta is a totally different story :)

  • Sarah from Belgium

    My boyfriend and I are both moderators, I guess. We do not have any real ‘food rules’, but we stick with a varied eating pattern in which we moderate our meat and processed foods intake.

    We don’t have a frying pan at home, so to have fries we have to go take them out from a ‘frituur’ (Dutch word for fries shop, every small town in Belgium has several of them). That way we eat less (1 or 2 times a month), but better ones.

    When we eat chips, we fill a bowl and put the bag back in the cupboard. No problem about that.

    My boyfriend loves chocolate and eats a piece a day, I’m not such a sweet tooth and eat a couple of pieces a week.

    Couple of years ago, I had to take blood-diluting medication for a couple of months. And because of that, I had to limit myself to 1 glass of alcohol per day. And that worked out fine (only on holidays I found it harder). Not that I’m a heavy drinker, but I LOVE wine and drink a glass several times a week with dinner. And then it can be tempting to take a second glass, and perhaps a third one in the weekends… (I hardly ever drink more than 3 glasses, and usually regret it afterwards.) Now I don’t take these medications anymore I find it easier to fight the temptation to take another glass (or a half one) after the first one.

    However, we abstained from drinking coffee with breakfast a couple of years ago after my boyfriend had a kidney stone. We had absolutely no problem with it (it helped of course to give our coffee maker to my in laws), just switched to tea! But we don’t make it a strict rule to ‘never ever have coffee again’. Sometimes I drink a cup, and that’s okay. And sometimes (like when I’m visiting someone for coffee and cake) I just say: no thanks, I prefer tea if you have some. I also gave up drinking coffee at the office (and it was good coffee! Nespresso, but it sometimes made me belch a bit – not nice!) and switched to tea. I’m hardly ever tempted to drink coffee anymore. I still like it, but I don’t crave for it.

  • http://twitter.com/lou2 lou

    I had a great opportunity to consider this over Christmas with the wide availability of cookies at other people’s homes. I started to think, “I’ll eat just one,” but then I remembered how sugar wires me and then knocks me down. So I was able to consciously and happily eat zero sweets. This was the first holiday in my life where that worked. I think abstaining really works. When I play the moderator I just say, “what’s one more?! You’ve already broken your abstaining!” I am in a relationship with an abstainer (quit smoking after 10 years cold turkey one day) and we don’t have issues around this. He’s not opposed to sugar like I am, so he will bring lots of treats into the house, but since I’m an abstainer it doesn’t prove to be an issue. He can happily enjoy his snacks knowing that I won’t break into them!

  • ballerina

    I am an abstainer.
    I abstain broadly. For example, when trying to stop drinking soda, I didn’t drink anything that contained sugar, that was carbonated or that was cold.
    Matter of availability. I do not keep junk food or soda at home. That way, I do not eat it. I have trouble stopping once I have started so I avoid it completely.
    Yes, I do find myself trying to convince others. I always say don’t keep it in the house :)

  • bill

    I’d like to answer the second question.
    For example,if I want to eat 10 cakes at a time. I will tell myself “you can only eat 2″Then if I still want to eat more, I will just take it easy and tell myself “ok,I failed this time.And I can eat some more.Perhaps 3 more cakes?O
    No that’s a lot more…”Then I will eat 3 more cakes or less.In most cases I will not eat again after I eat 5 cakes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ndybala Natalie Dybala

    After last week’s post, I was considering myself both an abstainer and a moderator. I can abstain from devouring the Pillsbury Ready to Bake chocolate chip cookie dough in my fridge (as a reminder of the time when I indulged in 3 packages of it in 3 days – but that’s another story). I tend to moderate other foods, like McDonald’s French Fries – you can’t each just one, but I can stop around 20.
    Upon reflection of these posted questions, I will say that the abstaining is the dominant trait. If I don’t need it, then I don’t want it. If I don’t want it, then I don’t need it. When I have those monthly cravings, though, it becomes an “if its in the house, I need and want it.” I also require my boyfriend to go shopping with me at these times so I don’t go crazy with unnecessary needs, such as new shoes, dresses, kitchen utensils, and more chocolate chip cookie dough.

  • Hayley

    Q: do you have a general sense of what is “moderate,” or do you follow rules that you’ve set for yourself? A:I just have a general sense. Two small cookies is a serving. If I had that in the morning, I’ll pass on cake in the afternoon.

    Q:do you abstain narrowly or broadly? A: Broadly. I just try to make sure I’m not doing anything to excess.

    Q: Moderators: Would you say that having a little bit of something makes you want itless? A: Definitely. If I want some chocolate, I’ll have -some- and then, once I’ve had enough to taste and really enjoy it, I’ll put the rest back.

    Q: Do you find temptation to be a matter of availability–or not really? A: In some senses. But not like you’d think. In fact, right now I have SOOO much chocolate in the house from the holidays that I couldn’t possibly eat it all at once, so that makes it even less attractive. If something is freely available I can take it or leave it. If we have two cookies left and I know my husband will want to eat them when he gets home that makes me want them more! Growing up with a hungry brother does that to you, I guess. So I’m *better* able to abstain if there is an abundance.

    Q: Do you find yourself trying to convince other people to resist temptation the “right” way? A: No. In my mind I do, but I wouldn’t out loud. I have a lot of friends who ‘diet’ and they abstain from everything for months at a time, and then they are not ‘on a diet’ they binge. I wish they could see the value in just eating things in moderation all the time. They always marvel at how I can have just one muffin, but I genuinely think it’s because I don’t deny myself. If I want the muffin I always know I can have it. So, I don’t regret sometimes saying, ‘no thanks’, because I’ll have one another day. And, I can stop at one because I’ve had sufficient. I’m not scarfing it down to get the transgression over with, I’m just savouring and enjoying my food.

    • gretchenrubin

      You raise a good point.

      Abstaining isn’t really a good temporary practice, because then when you’re off, you may feel like you can compensate for your abstaining, and splurge to the extreme. It works better as a permanent way of eating.

      • lady brett

        this is fascinating, because as a moderator, i find abstaining to be a *great* temporary practice – not for the sake of abstaining, but because it helps me remember how to moderate.

        that is, i used to drink a lot more soda than i would like, so i stopped cold for a month, and found when the month was out that i had lost my taste for it – if i had a soda when i was really craving it it was great, but if i drank one “just because” it was too sweet and kind of gross. now i tend to have a soda when i have a craving stronger than my desire not to go buy one (so, yes, keeping them around is a big problem), but not any other time and it is perfect moderation for me.

        i have since done the same with most all forms of sugar and a variety of other foods – eating unhealthy foods immoderately is not my natural inclination, it is something i have learned to do by practice, so i need a period of abstention to “unlearn” that and return to my natural moderation.

        • gretchenrubin

          Very good point. I’ve heard several people mention this kind of effect. Turns out there are many variations on the a/m split.

  • Carly

    I wonder if how one is taught to relate to food as a child has any bearing on this?

    I’m a moderator. When I was a kid, we never, ever ate food right out of the package. Mom gave us a reasonable “serving” on a plate or in a bowl, and put the package away. No food was off-limits, but we simply weren’t permitted to eat unlimited amounts at any time of the day. So, for me, eating cookies means “one or two” once or twice a week and put the rest away. I still don’t eat directly out of the box! I have a general notion of what is enough, and I don’t need anything more than that – I am satisfied with it, and I move on with my day.

    We also never ate after dinner; no bedtime snacks. So I am not even tempted to eat anything after a certain hour, I simply don’t want to do so. I don’t even think about it.

    My husband simply cannot moderate. If there is a pack of cookies in the pantry, he will eat the whole thing, right out of the box. He grew up in a household where treats were few and far between, and competition for them – whatever he didn’t eat when they appeared was gone if he waited for later, so he has a general sense of “eat it all now before somebody else does” mentality, even though he quite obviously knows I am not going to eat them all. He should probably be an abstainer, but can’t bring himself to do that, either.

    I am of the opinion that we never really escape what we learn as children. We can overcome it if we consciously choose that path, but the pattern is set and it is very, very difficult.

    • gretchenrubin

      Very interesting. I wish someone would research this. Thing is, seems like people respond so differently. E.g., I have one friend raised in a super healthy household, and she has a super healthy household herself. Another friend raised in a super healthy household experienced the backlash and eats lots of “forbidden foods.” So perhaps this also related to the Upholder/Rebel/Questioner/Obliger categories…

  • cruella

    This whole thing of self control and strategies to exercise it bothers me in some way I can’t define clearly. Maybe it’s the presumption that one has to be disciplined one way or the other to stay on track, otherwise all manner of horrible things or just self-disgust will abound?
    I don’t see the things I enjoy as threats or traps, simple as that. I eat what I like and drink what I like according to what day-to-day life expects of me, ie I don’t have wine for lunch on a weekday since that makes me fuzzy around the edges and that won’t comply with work, but I’m happy to have a drink or two on a Friday afternoon when only the sofa waits for me;-)
    Someone mentioned an interesting thing about self control in the comments – do you/people find pleasure in the actual controlling/abstaining or is it merely a tool to avoid unpleasant effects of one kind or the other?

    • Sheesh

      For me, I do not find pleasure in controlling/abstaining. It sucks! I do use it as a tool to avoid unpleasant effects (weight gain, self-disgust). I think you make a fantastic point here. Instead of struggling with applying various control strategies, perhaps I just need a change in perspective. A change in attitude or approach might just be the best solution. Why am I making things so stinking complicated? Thanks for sharing your view.

      • cruella

        Because we live in a time that celebrates self-control and perfection, Sheesh? I’m getting more relaxed as I grow older (approaching 50). I don’t have the same sense of having to hold myself and my life together. It has turned out pretty fine, all things considered, even though it is by no means perfect according to the accumulated standards of the internet and glossy mags world:-)

        As for temptations, I rather embrace them than see them as something to resist or handle in a moderate manner… Of course that wouldn’t apply were it drugs, tobacco or completely unhealthy or even dangerous binging on food and drink, sex and lecherous living. But most people don’t struggle with that type of problems, in the same way that Gretchen doesn’t include mental health problems of serious kinds in her happiness project…

        Best of luck with a new approach! Don’t be to hard on yourself:-)

    • gretchenrubin

      Spoken like a true moderator!

      Moderators, in my experience, are often distressed by the idea of abstainers, and try to convince us not to abstain, because it’s not healthy, too rigid, shows no love of life, no sense of natural self-control, will lead to unhealthy eating patterns eventually, etc.
      If you don’t have a problem resisting temptation, if it doesn’t interfere with your happiness, then you don’t need to pay attention to this! just not an issue for you.
      But for many people, resisting temptation is a significant issue, and by mastering self-control (whether through moderating or abstaining), they’re happier.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wolfecarolyn Carolyn Wolfe

    This is such an interesting topic and I am so enjoying reading everyone’s posts.

    :Do you find yourself trying to convince other people to resist temptation the “right way” and” If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s in the other category, how do you manage it”

    I am a vegetarian, and I abstain from eating any and all meat, my husband is not a vegetarian and eats meat with almost every meal. I am a firm believer in personal autonomy so I do not and would never even think, of trying to get him to be a vegetarian. We do have many lively conversations about the philosophy of eating meat, the meat industry, animal rights etc and he and I are both animal rescuers. I think that people who have different food philosophies, or differing philosophies of any kind, can get along just fine. It is respecting each other’s boundaries that count. Having said that I do have a lot of friends who are vegans of vegetarians. I have much more in common with them, and am very comfortable with them.

    “do you abstain narrowly or broadly?”

    Both- I abstain broadly about meat and narrowly about other things.

    Do you have a general sense of what is “moderate,” or do you follow rules that you’ve set for yourself?

    I have a sort of routine about what I eat and when. It is comfortable and so each meal consists of the main meal and a sweet afterward of some kind. I feel like when I do that, I am not always wanting or craving sweets because I do not deny myself, I just incorporate it. I think focusing too much on what you can and cannot eat is not really helpful. So letting yourself have a portion of something and making it part of a dietary routine, for me, helps. Also, I like Chocolate Almond Milk, so I try to make a healthier sweet choice when possible. Like Hot chocolate with Chocolate Almond Milk is a delicious way to start the day. I think satisfaction can come when you do not perceive lack.

    Would you say that having a little bit of something makes you want it less? Abstainers, would you say that having a little bit makes you want it more?
    Do you find temptation to be a matter of availability–or not really?

    I think that here you would have to have made a choice- whether it is abstaining or moderating, (or both)- that you can live with. If you are constantly trying to break your own rule than that is probably not a choice that is going to work for you. I can go to a cookout- not my favorite outing, but it does happen, and totally not be tempted by meat. I focus on the people and the other things that make the outing fun. It is not a matter of availability because I am comfortable in my choices already and do not need to “break” my rules.

    Thank you for this very interesting discussion!

    • gretchenrubin

      Very interesting – particularly your point that “satisfaction can come when you do not perceive lack.” This is SO TRUE. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Any time people feel deprived, or that “deserve” something, they often get up to mischief. So the secret is to frame things so you don’t feel that way. And I agree that feeling comfortable with choices makes it easier to follow through, in many different circumstances.

  • diana

    After looking at your initial post, I realize that I am a moderator – who abstains a lot these days when it comes to food, by following certain rules (eat a very low carb diet and consider carbs a special treat to be enjoyed in little bits, just a couple of times a week). Knowing I can have a special treat when I want it makes it much easier for me to eat a very low carb diet (which I’ve been doing since your post in September). when people ask me how I can keep it up, I tell them that it is easy since I know I can have a little bit of things that are special. I also think my body has changed, on a physiological level, with this low carb, healthy eating plan, so that little bits of dessert come when I am already satiated, so it is “enough.” It is hard to disentangle the psychological from the physiological when it comes to eating. When I was eating higher carb, it was really hard to be moderate with sweets — I ate tons. Now, I just think about it in the context of a low carb diet and make sure to just have a little bit -and there is an objective way to judge a little bit –the number of carbs (and the scale). I have a better sense of what 10 carbs of chocolate is, for example, so I think, ok, that is reasonable (and I look at labels). It is a clear, objective measure of moderation rather than a fuzzy, socially constructed measure. Availability is key– i need to have my low carb snacks available – especially to ward off available sugary/high carb snacks. (I also do indulge in 1 low carb Atkins treat a day, to ward off deprivation.) Also, note that everyone is talking about food/drink, rather than behaviors like watching tv or shopping–somehow it is much harder to be moderate in this area, probably because of the strong physiological component.

  • Megan Gordon

    I am an abstainer to the core – as long as I know I can have something whenever I want, I can choose not to have it.

    What works for me is eating healthy six days a week. On Sundays, I eat whatever I want. If I have a craving for something, I make a mental note to have it on Sunday, then forget about it. I’ve been doing this since about 2000.

    This works so well for me that I can be in my office, surrounded by chips, M&Ms, soda and other junk food that they keep in the break room and not eat any of it. Even when someone brings donuts. I will admit that I cannot keep some things in the house, however. This mostly applies to things that are easy to grab a handful of. I keep ice cream in the freezer all the time but only eat it on Sunday nights, but if I bake something and there are leftover chocolate chips, they team up with the peanut butter and call to me.

    • gretchenrubin

      Fascinating. I would not be able to have a 6 day/1 day abstaining/moderating strategy, but clearly it really works well for some folks.
      I do think that even for complete abstainers, it’s great to remind youself, “I’m choosing this. I am the boss of me. This is what I want” to keep from feeling trapped or controlled. I remind myself, “I give myself limits to give myself freedom”—but I am the one setting those limits.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.ruhlen Rachel Ruhlen

      One of my many efforts to give up sugar was like this. At first it was great. Thursday was Candy Day and I looked forward to it all week! I would save up all the goodies I craved during the week for Thursday. But it was an effort to eat that much junk and I didn’t enjoy it. The rational person would just eat what was a treat and stop when they had enough, right? But not me! I ‘deserved’ it, today was my special day, I HAD to eat all that junk. I was eating more junk food in one day than I used to eat in one week!

  • molly

    Ha — for a moderator, having rules for moderation (I will eat one square, etc. etc. each day) is oxymoronic! As a moderator, if you do it, you’re an abstainer in disguise:) I do not give my husband advice about how to handle his behavior. I used to tell him, just try eating dessert more moderately. But I realized over time that he simply cannot have a little sugar and he needs to go cold-turkey to avoid overloading on sweets.

    • cruella

      Totally agree on rules for moderation thing:-)

  • L.

    This is such an interesting topic. here are my responses!

    If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s in the other category, how do you manage it?: I’m a moderator, my husband is an abstainer. I used to say ‘oh just try one bite of this cake, it’s amazing’ and he would really rather not. I can let a carton of ice cream sit in the freezer for weeks. So, I do my moderating on my own time, and let him abstain – including, I try not to keep things he craves in our house, because I can go and get them when I want them, and he doesn’t have to face the stress of constantly trying to abstain.

    Moderators: Would you say that having a little bit of something makes you want it less? It depends how badly I want it and how often I can get it. If it’s an occasional treat (ice cream on the boardwalk at the beach), then I am happy with just a little bit; all I wanted to do was check the box for ‘eating ice cream on the boardwalk’ and then I’m happy. If it’s something I can have all the time (chocolate chip cookies), then ‘just one’ doesn’t cut it.

    Do you find temptation to be a matter of availability–or not really? sometimes yes (if there is cake at the office, I want cake), but often I just have a craving (I really want some chocolate-peanut butter pie and it does not matter that I don’t have any at home and no restaurants nearby serve it, I want it!!!!). but if I see, say, lava cake on the menu at a restaurant – boom, I want lava cake.

    Do you find yourself trying to convince other people to resist temptation the “right” way? I try really hard not to do this – I think because my spouse and I are differently tempered, and I see that ‘my way’ does not work for him, and his wouldn’t work for me.

  • http://thesepeastastefunny.blogspot.com Terry Cohoe

    I’m an abstainer and definitely affected by availability. I would love to have 2 little cookies each afternoon with tea, but I won’t. I’ll have 2, then 2 more, then 2 more,…you get it. So I can’t have any cookies in the house. Having said that,…if we go out for dinner, I will order dessert and enjoy it guilt-free because I know that it is rare and when I get home, I won’t have access to it any longer, so the craving leaves my mind.

  • Marie

    Interesting, I have always thought of myself as a moderator but maybe I am actually a narrow abstainer–i.e., I decided I wanted to drink less after the holidays, and instead of quitting or moderating I decided to only drink wine, never beer. Or I don’t have grocery store ice cream in the house anymore, I only get little cartons of ice cream from the nice place down the street.

  • marlyss

    When it comes to food, I think I’m a moderator but I find abstaining useful too, in a moderate kind of way. I tell myself that French fries are not nearly as satisfying to me as other treats, and most of the time I don’t even consider buying them, but occasionally I will. It’s helpful for me to put things in a sort of category labeled “I usually abstain from this.”

    But I don’t follow rules. I tried, when I was a teenager, making rules that I could only eat 1 piece of candy per day or per week. Having a rule only made me focus on the candy more, and on the arbitrary nature of the rule and the fact that I had made it for myself and nothing was going to happen if I broke it. Rules make it harder for me to control my behavior. Sticking to them doesn’t come naturally to me.

    I think one reason I’m a moderator with food is that one of my biggest motivators is trying new things. Having a little bit of something makes me want it less, because then it no longer has the extra appeal of being new.

    I am most definitely swayed by availability; that’s the easiest way for me to control my behavior when I want to. When I have to buy something, it feels less available, so restaurant food feels less available to me, unless it’s a buffet.

    I don’t try to convince other people to be moderators — in fact it’s the opposite, I’ve tried to convince myself to be an abstainer. Abstaining is more dramatic, more narratively compelling. Most of the examples of willpower that stick out to me are of abstaining, so being a moderator makes me feel like I have less willpower, even though that’s not really true.

  • http://theaurareader.com/ The Aura Reader

    I do have guidelines for my moderating – I eat a very strict low-carb diet most of the time, and have maybe one restaurant meal per week that contains anything I want, usually on Friday so I have the weekend to recover if it doesn’t work out well. I find that I get by pretty well this way, and it does relieve my desire to have carby foods the rest of the week, so I don’t eat them, even though they’re readily available in the house.

    I also allow myself a small piece of chocolate every night after dinner. But my favorite snack is salted roasted seaweed, which has all of ten calories per packet! No wonder I’m skinny! :)

    Oh, and I really don’t try to get people to eat the way I do, since it do it from necessity, and most people wouldn’t want to! I will explain the ideas behind it if they’re interested, and offer assistance, but everyone is on their own path in life, and everyone is different. Live and let live, that’s pretty much my motto. I do get on my boyfriend if he drinks too much soda, though. Because that stuff is just CRAP. :P

  • Johnny

    I am an abstainer. Once I start something it is very difficult to stop, so I just tell myself I won’t do it at all and it takes a lot less willpower. My wife is mostly a moderator, but at times an abstainer as well… so she understands me. Availability for some things has a large sway (i love peanut butter)… but not for others (lots of sweets in the house, but they don’t interest me unless I start). Yes, I try to convince people to abstain… for example, I tell them to have lots of salad in the house if they want to lose weight… and toss out all the chips and cookies :-)

  • Kacie

    I’m an abstainer. I’ve found that I just do better when I don’t eat certain foods. It’s been a tough road, I tried to moderate for years, but so often just a little of something turns into a lot.

    I have a gluten sensitivity and for years I tried to just eat less of it. Eventually I cut it out completely and I’ve never felt better. I’ve done the same for alcohol and coffee and just recently completed a NO JUNK WEEK challenge for myself on my blog http://www.dancingintobeing.com I don’t want to never eat any junk again, but I really want it to be a rare occasion like a celebration or something rather than my 2 gluten free cookie a day habit.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/scottwayres Scott Ayres

    I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. If I let myself just still eat/drink a little bit of the bad stuff then I always fall back..

  • Tamara

    Hi Gretchen. When I first read Leonardo da Vinci’s quote, “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end,” I immediately knew that was true for me. I couldn’t never allow myself one cookie without finally caving and finishing off the bag.

    A little never satisfies my craving — it only makes me want more. And not just in that day, but in the days that follow. Similarly, I must abstain broadly. Any sugar makes me want more sugar.

    One strategy I have used successfully for food, however, is the Saturday-only rule. If I am craving something, I tell myself I can have it on Saturday, no guilt. Sometimes, by the time Sat rolls around, the craving has dissipated, and I don’t bother having whatever it was. If I’m still craving, though, I have it — then I tell myself I’m done until the next Saturday. Having a very defined window enables me to occasionally indulge without falling into daily bad eating habits, or feeling deprived. I used to pig out on Saturdays, because I could, but over a period of months, I stopped missing junk food less (and noticing how crappy I felt when I did let myself eat it on Saturdays), so my need for the Saturday release valve has dropped off quite a bit.

    Definitely, availability is a temptation. If we are going out to eat, I plan ahead what I will order (most restaurants have menus online), and I tell my husband what I’m going to order, for accountability. If I haven’t decided before I get there, it’s more tempting to order something indulgent off the menu. I also try to avoid buying snacky foods, because they’re a constant temptation in the cupboard. Instead, I buy favourite fruits to snack on, and keep them in easy view.

    In past, yes, I used to try to convince others to abstain my way — since your post about it, however, I’m trying to remember that different methods work for different people.

  • ER

    I am a moderator through and through – I like to do (what I consider) a relatively small amount of exercise (30 min-1 hr) every day, and eat basically whatever I feel like on that day, with a focus on eating more things that are good for me and fewer that are not. Sometimes I really could get by on one cookie (or a small handful of crackers, or whatever it is). I think I have a relatively good idea of what is considered moderate (e.g. I’m not training for a marathon, but not a couch potato, drink 1-2 drinks 1-2 times a week, etc.) but what is moderation for me might be excess or not enough for someone else.
    My husband is a moderator trapped in an abstainer’s body. He sets goals and limits for himself that are unattainable, and then is dissapointed and feels limited when he can’t meet them. So I keep doing my moderator thing, and usually he goes along with me and it works just fine!

    • gretchenrubin

      I love it—a moderator trapped in an abstainer’s body!

  • Linda

    I’m a moderator. I’m perfectly happy around most abstainers, as long as they don’t try to pass themselves off as more “virtuous” than me. I have known (only a few) abstainers that are arrogant about it. People need to do what works for them, so no, I don’t try to convince them. In fact, it is nice that my hubby is an abstainer, because he understands that when I do say no, I mean no. Very important when you decide that you have no interest in a second glass of wine. Temptation is in no way a matter of availability for me. For me, stress causes temptation, and make that chocolate look really good.

  • jazzbo

    I have given myself a schedule: I’m allowed to have french fries once a month and limited fried food to fewer than 3 times a month. Cookies, however, are a weakness for me, but I conciously have just 1 sweet a day (usually the 25 calorie chocolate English biscuit.) I did give up colas (Coke/Pepsi), Root beer, all potatoes, and all fried food for about 3 years after I worked in Dairy Queen kinda place. Of course I also went anorexic in that time frame, but of course that was way before anyone knew what that was and I had no idea that I was doing any thing dangerous to myself. I’ve moderated quite a bit since then, though I had to lose about 25 pounds to try to avoid Blood Pressure meds. I lost the weight, got back to the weight I was at my wedding, and could feel that pull to get obsessed with weight again. So the anorexic little demon was still there. Even at a normal weight, I still have to take BP meds. Sheesh…

  • sue

    I’m an abstainer at home, and a moderator in social situations!

    Butter is something I love – if it’s in the house, I’m always looking for something to eat it with, which leads to me snacking far too much. My husband agreed to change to low fat spread because he can see how hard it is for me. I have butter sometimes when on holiday, or I’ll buy just one pack when visitors come to stay, but otherwise this works well.

    If I try to be a moderator I end up having just a little of all of the things that are bad for me. So a bit of cheese, a single glass of wine, a small slice of pizza, a small chocolate bar… I end up feeling deprived because I would have liked more of each, but actually they add up to too much and once again my weight stays the same, or increases.

    Availability is a problem – I’m much more likely to eat chocolate if it’s already in the house or office. And if the pack is already open I’m even worse!

    On the relationship angle – I do find it very annoying that my husband “tuts” if he sees me eating something that we both know I shouldn’t. To him it looks like lack of control, but to me it feels like a judgement I have made for myself. When he tuts, I want to eat more! And I find myself waiting until he’s out of the way if I want to “treat myself”.

    I like your sister’s positive take on abstention – “free from…” – I’m going to adopt that method.

  • Carola Stewart

    FRIES, CUP CAKES, BUTTER, CHOCOLATE?

    Work out how many calories – then work out how long you have to be in the Gym to work them off – at LEAST FOUR HOURS?! Plus the expense!!

    Run a hot hot bath, have a small glass of Champagne, then read a good book under cuddly duvet and you will feel great in the morning.

    Love Carola from Hampstead, London x

  • amy

    The conventional wisdom for alcohol is that addicts cannot be moderators, perhaps
    because they are prone to extremes–and it’s better to go to the safer extreme!
    For the past 13+ months, I have been a partial abstainer, drinking alcohol only during even months. It takes about one month for me to miss drinking and about one month for me to get sick of it. For the most part, people I know/meet like the idea and are respectful of my choice, although many can’t imagine going to a party/celebrating a holiday without having at least one adult beverage.
    At the last threshold going from abstention to drinking (2/1/13) I wasn’t sure I’d go back, and my husband said that since we are trying to get pregnant, I should “drink while I can” so that it won’t be so hard during the much longer (required) dry spell. When I said I really wasn’t missing it, he relented and said he was projecting his own thought patterns and desires onto me (If I were you…).

    I’m a moderator with food: I can leave ice cream in the freezer for months on end without even thinking about it, mostly watch my husband eating it, sometimes have a bite or two of his serving, and rarely have my own scoop. A serving of chocolate is one or two 1/2 inch squares (only dark, never milk), once or twice a week, not daily. Popcorn is consumed nearly every night–but homemade, not microwave bags; with nutritional yeast and salt, no butter…. etc. etc.

    I suppose I am a moderator with video games, too, allowing myself only to play games that are against another human being that I know in real life (right now the only choices are Scrabble, Lexulous, Words With Friends, and DrawSomething). I must abstain in the category of one-player puzzle games, though. Tetris, or anything of the jewel-swapping, bubble-popping, or bird-launching variety are strictly off-limits because I spend WAY too much time playing them–to the point of blurred vision, headaches, cramped hands, and numbed limbs.

    I certainly would agree that abstaining is easier in some instances, but it is always on a case-by-case basis.

  • Marvel

    I’m an abstainer about some things and a moderator about others. And something in between about others! If I have chocolate (a big trigger for me) in the cupboard I can look at it and say hi but if I eat one piece I’ll usually eat more than one. And do that for several days until it’s gone. I have to abstain on that one.

    On the other hand, if I have beer in the fridge (and I love beer) I can leave it alone until I consciously decide I’ll have a beer. And I have a beer. That’s it. I’m definitely not addicted to alcohol. BUT, if I’m in a social situation and maybe a bit nervous I can drink several beers, say three or four, more than I need.

    I quit smoking cigarettes 9+ years ago and I know that I must never touch another cigarette because I am addicted to nicotine. No problem. I won’t. But it took a long time to learn that I’m not one of those people who can smoke a cigarette occasionally.

    I’m working hard on quitting the overeating habit, but I’m wondering how to develop moderation with food. Abstaining won’t work on that one!

  • Allyson

    When I first read one of your posts on abstainers vs. moderators, I instantly knew that I was abstainer. The summer after my freshman year of college I lost all of the weight I had gained and then some by giving up processed sugar, alcohol, and caffeine for the summer–except when visiting my boyfriend. My boyfriend–now fiance–is an abstainer, too, so we try to bypass all the issues by just not buying junk. However, his sister, who lives with us, is a moderator, which has been problematic from time to time. I can resist junk food at the grocery store, but on rough days I can only walk past that box of Oreos (a small house without a pantry results in using a bookshelf as a makeshift pantry) so many times without deciding to grab one. That one cookie tastes so good that one becomes three and sometimes five, but usually not more than that. Thank goodness she’s trying to eat healthier, so there aren’t boxes of Oreos to stare down anymore. I just try not to eat processed food in general. I do splurge sometimes, but I try to balance it out with something healthier on the side. And the splurges really do happen infrequently, so I don’t feel as bad when it happens. It is impossible for me to turn down fries at restaurants, but I never order dessert. Sometimes when I’m daydreaming about cupcakes or chips, I don’t say anything about it unless my fiance brings it up, and if he does, it’s happening immediately because by that point, the desire is palpable. My abstainer qualities can get a bit extreme sometimes.

  • Cate

    I’ve just come across this and through someone might be interested… http://www.foodcoachnyc.com/blog/nutrition/why-the-everything-in-moderation-rule-doesnt-work/ The article makes (brief) mention of dopamine as an explanation of why moderation might not work.

  • Kathryn

    The funny thing is, I think I am just now realizing after almost 42 years that I might be a lot better off if I was an abstainer. I have always considered, and conducted myself, as a moderator, but the truth is I’m not very good at it. It seems to be just a way for me to drag the thing out, and I have an excuse for myself at the ready. Is that what it means then to be an abstainer….you really just are not very good at moderating? Epiphany here!

  • Gillian

    Great questions.

    I seem to be basically a moderator with abstainer tendencies. My husband is neither an abstainer nor a moderator (he has a lot of rebel tendencies and self-discipline is not his long suit) but on the rare occasion when he does want to stop doing something, he goes cold turkey which would make him an abstainer. He frequently says that I am too rigid.

    In my moderation, I tend to follow rules like the ones you describe.

    I think I’m somewhere in between abstaining narrowly and broadly. Have to think about that one.

    Having a little bit of something usually makes me want it more – milk chocolate, potato chips, etc.

    Temptation is often related to availability – if it’s in the house, it’s harder to resist. I don’t go out to buy something I crave. In a restaurant, I will have dessert. It’s not about availability; it’s about completing the experience. Going out to dinner or for any other treat isn’t really worth it if you are encumbered by all sorts of restrictions. Not having dessert would be the equivalent to going to a concert and buying the cheapest seats – it radically dilutes the pleasure. If I can’t afford a decent seat, I’d rather not go. If I have to count carbs and/or calories, I’d rather not go out to dinner.

    I generally respect other people’s approaches. Urging someone to indulge in something they don’t want is rude and inconsiderate. If someone says “no thank you”, I assume they mean it.

  • lannabanana

    I’m an Abstainer who sometimes achieves habitual “moderation” after several cycles of abstinence/relaxation. It usually happens when I just decide the thing isn’t as important as I thought it was: if I want to indulge, I trust that it won’t either wow me or hurt me in major ways, so I usually don’t even bother. But I can’t jump straight to moderation: it doesn’t work and I end up feeling stupid and frustrated.

    My mom is a self-controlled Moderator who frames most pleasurable things as “indulgences” or “treats.” This drives me nuts because I like pleasure to be a norm in life, not an exception–which may be a better way to describe our differences than Abstainer vs. Moderator. I’ve come to deal with it by keeping enjoyable things to myself instead of telling her or inviting her to share…which is kind of too bad, now that I think about it. I’ve also stopped telling her when I’m abstaining from something: she thinks it’s unnecessary and/or unhealthy, which tempts me to give up before I’ve even started. (Of course, as a Rebel, I’m also inclined to give up when encouraged! Maybe no input is good input where I’m concerned.) There’s probably a more “moderate” way for me to handle both of these situations…but, as always, I find abstaining is just easier. For my part, I find myself pressing her to do enjoyable things more often and not to call them indulgences. Maybe that’s as annoying to her as her way is to me? I suppose I could abstain from it…

    I’m a broad abstainer. If I substitute away from one narrow category to a related one, it just makes the temptation stronger to do all of it. :-)

    Having a little of something makes me want it more. I get this way about so-called “healthy” things, too…I call it “going on a kick.”

    Temptation is related to availability for me, but in eccentric ways. If we’re talking about something to eat, I won’t want it or even think about it much unless I see it in the store or in the house; I won’t usually make a point of going out to buy it. But if I’m shopping for entertainment (I love stuff), I tend to want a thing more if it seems difficult to obtain, or if I might lose the chance to buy it later. I don’t like eating at restaurants (for many reasons, including the stress of choosing and paying). When I’m there, I don’t use it as an excuse to relax. If anything, I’m more uptight in restaurants because I don’t know exactly what I’m getting or whether I’ll like it.

    I have no prejudices against Moderators. If anything, I envy and commend them. But I don’t like being told that I need to do things their way…of course, I hate being told to do things in the abstainers’ way, too. :-) I also get annoyed when I see someone trying to “moderate” or “abstain” when they obviously go the opposite way: having done this myself, I realize how contorted it can make you. My preferred world would be one in which everyone knew their style, acted on it, and left everybody else alone.