Abstaining Vs. Moderating

Have your cake and eat it, too.

Everything in moderation.

Let moderation be your guide.

These are all some things you’ve probably heard about moderation. In fact, I wrote a couple of articles about moderation earlier this year.

Seems like the ideal solution to all of your healthy eating problems, doesn’t it?  If only you could just have one cookie or one cheese steak or one small serving of bread or one ounce of pasta, then everything else would fall into place, right?

I’m definitely still behind the concept of moderation, but some reading I did recently made me wonder if it's really right for everyone, so I thought I’d share with you what I learned.

Have you heard of Gretchen Rubin? She wrote the best-selling The Happiness Project in 2009, and has written a number of other books, including 2015’s Better Than Before.

That’s what I want to talk about, the most recent book. This book is all about knowing yourself and how you form your habits, and discovering which strategies will work best for you in order to live a happier, healthier life.

Some People are Moderators and Some are Abstainers.

One of the chapters is devoted to a very interesting concept: Abstinence vs. Moderation. Rubin’s theory is that some people are Moderators and some are Abstainers.

As the names suggests, Moderators do better with moderation than they do abstinence. In the world of healthy eating, this means they are easily able to "eat just one," and the idea of giving something up forever (abstaining) makes them feel completely nuts.

Abstainers, on the other hand, just can’t seem to moderate. Perhaps they think they can do so, but it always gets out of hand (one bite of brownie turns into 27), and abstaining completely works better for them.

I found this concept fascinating: I’ve always thought of myself as a moderator, but wondered if maybe I was abstainer, so I tried. For one month, I gave up dessert in order to see if it made my life easier or better and if maybe moderation wasn’t the right way for me.

Here’s what happened: At first it was really easy, and in some ways was, indeed, simpler than moderation. There was no argument over whether or not I’d have dessert, because I just wasn’t going to.

As the weeks went on, however, I started being sneaky about it. I’d mix up some obvious dessert replacement--like a chocolate peanut butter cup made with coconut butter and cocoa powder and all natural peanut butter--and tell myself I wasn't really eating dessert because there was no sugar in it. I was totally eating dessert, I was just doing it under the radar.

Once my month was up, I went back to eating regular old dessert, and I’m happy with that decision. Having something for dessert makes me happy, and abstaining didn’t really work for me.

However, I should say that Rubin points out many people do think they’re moderators when they are, in fact, abstainers. They would have an easier time cutting something out forever, as she has chosen to do (reading one book about insulin and carbs completely changed the way she ate forever, even though she had no health issues she was trying to combat), rather than fighting it until the end of time.

Abstaining doesn’t always have anything to do with food, and you might be an abstainer in one area and not in another. For instance, maybe you need to abstain from checking work email on your phone because you get out of control with it, but can easily limit yourself to five potato chips.

The best way to learn about yourself is experiment, so if it piques your interest, perhaps you’d like to give abstaining a try.

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