Are You an Abstainer or a Moderator?

Have you ever heard a piece of information and had it just instantly resonate with you? That’s what this “are you an abstainer or moderator?” concept did for me.

Once again, Gretchen Rubin has taught me something incredible and I just had to share it with everyone else.

Abstainer or Moderator: What’s the Difference

Basically, when it comes to the way they eat, people can be divided into two groups: abstainers and moderators. Abstainers are people who find it easier to avoid something altogether than to have just a little bit. Moderators are people who need to feel that they can enjoy whatever they want, otherwise they feel deprived.

I’m definitely more of an abstainer. It’s easy for me to say, “No, I’m not having dessert tonight” than it is for me to say that I’ll eat just one cookie or have a bite of a brownie. My brain just doesn’t work like that.

My husband, on the other hand, is more of a moderator. He can take a bite of a cookie, say, “hmmm, that’s good” and then set it down and walk away.

If you’re an abstainer like me, your eyes probably just bulged out of your head a little bit.

I’m serious, though! He just sets it down and forgets about, meanwhile, I’m sitting on the couching staring and that cookie and trying to figure out how one manages to not eat the entire thing and then the rest of what’s left in the bag.

I think it’s pretty easy to determine whether you’re an abstainer or moderator. Is it easy for you to cut out certain foods or food groups? Do you need the structure that comes with avoiding these foods? Or, do you feel deprived and obsess over foods when you’re told to avoid them? Do you need to know that you can have anything, as long as you enjoy the proper portion size?

Why Does This Matter?

I love learning information like this for two reasons. First, it helps us to know ourselves better. Second, it helps us to know others better.

As a personal trainer, I need to know whether someone does better avoiding certain foods or continuing to eat them in moderation.

I’m probably not going to tell an abstainer that they should try to work sweets into their diet on a regular basis (even if they fit their macros) so they don’t feel deprived. Because I know that they’re an abstainer, I also know that it’s easier for them to just not eat sweets at all than to only eat them sometimes.

On the other hand, if I’m working with a moderator, I am going to encourage them to work sweets into their daily macro and calorie goals, as long as they’re hitting their other numbers and aren’t lacking in micronutrients.

I think this information is also important because it’s a reminder that we’re all different and that our differences aren’t good or bad. There’s nothing wrong with me being an abstainer and Sally Sue being a moderator. Abstaining works for me, and moderating works for Sally Sue. The problem comes when I try to force Sally Sue to be an abstainer because it works for me, or when Sally Sue tries to force me to be a moderator because it works for her.

This happens a lot. Someone who’s an abstainer will tell moderators that they just need to learn discipline and self control. Or, someone who’s a moderator will tell an abstainer that they have a bad relationship with food or that they’re moralizing food when they don’t need to.

Is it true that some moderators could benefit from a little more discipline and self-control? Sure. Is it also true that some abstainers do have a bad relationship with food? Definitely.

That’s not the case for everyone, though, and painting with a broad brush and saying that all moderators are one thing and all abstainers are another doesn’t help anyone (I realize that I’m sort of painting with a broad brush by dividing people into two categories, but I’m just about to get to that, hang on).

You Can be Both!

It’s worth noting, too, that it’s possible to be a moderator with some things and an abstainer with others.

For example, I’ve found that I can actually moderate sweet things relatively well — not to the extent that I’m leaving half-eaten cookies lying around the house, but I can measure out a serving of dark chocolate or a serving of peanut butter, eat that, and not feel like I have to keep going back for more.

On the other hand, I cannot moderate when it comes to salty, crunchy things. If I have a bag of popcorn, I’m eating the whole bag. If I have a bag of chips, that whole thing will be empty in about ten minutes.

Be Flexible

I think it’s great to work on developing some flexibility and being able to pass between the two groups, too. If you’re naturally an abstainer, it might benefit you to work toward loosening up and becoming more of a moderator, at least with some things. If you’re naturally a moderator, you might benefit from a little abstention once in a while.

Whatever your natural tendency is, if you feel that you’ve mastered one side of the spectrum, try playing around and getting more comfortable with the other. You might be surprised what you learn about yourself!

Which One are You?

So, all this being said, where do you fall? Are you an abstainer or a moderator? Are you a wizard who can leave half-eaten cookies lying around, or are you a popcorn vacuum like me? Let me know in the comments below!

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