Want To Be Free From French Fries? Or, Why Abstaining May Be Easier Than You Think.

I’ve written a lot about abstainers vs. moderators. In a nutshell, the difference is: abstainers find it easier to resist temptation by giving up something altogether, while moderators find it easier to indulge in moderation.

I’m an abstainer. I find it very easy to give something up, but I drive myself crazy when I try to indulge in a limited way. I wear myself out with “Does this count?” “Today, tomorrow?” “Just one more.”

Every time I write about the subject, I hear from abstainers and moderators alike, and I talk to my friends about this issue all the time (I’m a bit of a happiness bore, I confess). I do believe that both camps exist, and many people are a mix of both. But here’s my latest conclusion:  More people would benefit from abstaining.

Abstaining sounds demanding and rigid; people assume that it’s easier to be moderate. But in fact, abstaining is easier. At least, for lots of people. From what I’ve seen, many people who try abstaining are surprised to find out that it’s easier than being moderate.

Exhibit A is my sister. When I was identifying the concepts of “abstainers” and “moderators,” my sister was my model moderator. For instance, her weakness is French fries, and she told me that she couldn’t give up French fries, but she would eat only half an order, share an order with her husband, not order fries every time she went out to dinner, etc. Those are moderator strategies.

But to my astonishment, a few months ago, she told me, “You know what? I’m actually an abstainer. It turns out that it’s just easier to give something up altogether. ”

I was flabbergasted because truly, she was my model moderator. And since then, I’ve talked (bullied?) many people into trying abstaining, and almost all of them have found abstaining easier than they expected (because again, abstaining sounds so hard), and many have stuck to abstaining in various ways.

But I know something else about my sister. While I find it easy to say “No,” “Stop,” or “Never” to myself, my sister is a person–and many people are like this–who does much better with positive resolutions. (I posted about this difference in Are you a “yes” resolver or a “no” resolver?) So I asked her how she was handling that issue. Because, after all, abstaining means saying “no.”

My sister is so brilliant with words.

She said to me, “I can’t tell myself a negative. I have to make this a positive thing. So I tell myself, “Now I’m free from French fries.”

Free from French fries!

That’s exactly how abstaining feels to me. I’m free from decision-making, free from internal debate, free from guilt or anxiety.  That Halloween candy, that bread basket, that cookie plate at the meeting…they don’t tempt or distract me. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: I give myself limits to give myself freedom.

In my experience, most people assume they’re moderators. If you consider yourself a moderator, I’d gently suggest giving abstaining a try–especially if you’ve unsuccessfully tried moderation in the past. It might be easier than you think.  A while back, someone posted a comment that said something like, “I always thought of myself as a moderator, but after reading your post, I tried abstaining from flour and sugar. I’ve lost 30 pounds, and it wasn’t even very hard for me.”

Again: I’m not saying it’s true for everyone. But I think it’s more true than people think.

I’d love to hear people’s reactions. Would you give abstaining a try? I admit that I’m a 100% abstainer type, and that could be clouding my judgment. You wouldn’t believe what I’m abstaining from these days! That’s a discussion for another day, but here’s a hint: read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes.

  • Linda

    I agree that abstaining is easier. I made it through the entire Lenten season without chocolate a few years ago by abstaining for the ENTIRE time (Sundays included). The year I allowed myself to eat chocolate on the Sundays where a break from Lenten vows is allowed, I found that I would give in on the the other days as well.

  • Thank you for these compelling insights – yes there is value in making a clean break from unhealthy foods (and habits). I read an article recently in Psychology Today – it talked about reframing one’s mind by focusing away from “I can’t eat french fries” to the more productive “I don’t eat french fries” – “I can’t” implies restrictive limits; “I don’t” implies a thoughtful choice to the matter…. this might help folks as they forge a path to “abstaining’ … The article is called “The Amazing Power of I Don’t (Rather Than I Can’t) and here is the link… http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201301/the-amazing-power-i-don-t-rather-i-can-t

  • peachesandcake

    After reading It Starts with Food and doing a 30 day Whole30 (eating strict Paleo for 30 days), I have become an abstainer! I feel the same way. It FREES me from having to try this or that and I can focus on the things that I CAN have and love, like avocadoes!

    • This has been a major revelation for me as well, and doing the Whole 30 this month made it easy to give up the foods that I know aren’t good for me anyway.

  • Ella

    This has been very true for me. Always thought I was a moderator but after I read your post on Gary Taubes (for some reason I read it in August, even though I think it was from March) I gave up flour and sugar. It has been totally life changing, and also surprisingly easy. Every time I try to have “just a little” I have too much and get really sick; much easier simply to abstain.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s the thing, it’s surprising how much easier it is than you’d expect.

  • We recently gave up soda and fast food. While I must completely abstain from soda (I spiral out of control!) I can moderate french fries by only having them if I make them at home in the oven. That way, they are a titch healthier and I have no reason to run through a fast food joint to “just get a small french fry” as that inevitably leads to a medium fry, a shake and whatever else smells good…

    • gretchenrubin

      Is it Michael Pollan who says, “You can eat any junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself”? That puts a limit on it! plus it’s healthier than the store-bought version.

  • peninith1

    It’s becoming clear to me that abstinence is what I need to practice. However, I sure do find myself hesitating on the threshold, even though I know that would be the right path for me to take.

    • gretchenrubin

      Don’t think too far ahead. Try just doing it for one day. Then the next day.

      Also, if you panic at the thought of “never” having something, a helpful trick is that you can indulge in any treat if you PLAN IT IN ADVANCE. “I’m going to my favorite restaurant next week and I’ll have the fries.” Or “I’m going to eat stuffing on Thanksgiving.” That way, you’re in control, and you can keep it very occasional. But no un-abstaining at the moment.

      • peninith1

        Good thoughts!

  • molly

    I think I mentioned before, I once said to my mother in law during a conversation similar to this topic “I am congenitally moderate.” I was fairly proud of it at the time However, after reading Grechen on this topic, I have really questioned the wisdom of moderation in many areas of my life, especially my career and making improvements. We do really need to be vigilant in these areas: if I want to be more self-disciplined, I have to abstain, or the opposite–do it every day. Moderation doesn’t work. Unless perhaps, you set a schedule and said, Every Saturday, I will take the day off from my diet, or not eating french fries, or whatever. My husband did this when he finally resolved to lose weight (allowed himself dessert after dinner on weekends only and took Sunday off from running), and he lost 50 pounds. I have really learned from Gretchen harping on this. (I say ‘harping’ most affectionately! Like a good mom or teacher, one must pile on the same lesson at times!)

  • Sara Stasi

    For me, abstaining is easier. I never would have imagined a few years ago that my own happiness project would lead me to quit drinking alcohol, and soon after adopt a gluten-free vegan diet. It is much more about “I choose not to” rather than “I can’t”.

  • Blaire

    For me abstaining is generally easier, but i can do moderation if i set out specific rules. I am a good rule follower even if they are self-imposed. For example, I’m currently not eating refined flours/sugars and processed foods – but I made specific exceptions before I started – dessert/breads with white flour allowed on Friday night and at one meal out a week. This satisfies my cravings and keeps from being tempted otherwise.

  • Janet

    Abstaining is easier by far. Still, every once in a while I will eat a small portion of a food like brownies or chocolate and not go crazy if I do this consciously and with full intent of limiting myself to once piece. But never when I am upset or telling myself I need or deserve a treat. I am sixty years old and living the rest of my life without chocolate seems so barren and not much fun!

  • Leslie

    I too am an expert and experienced abstainer! It really works when I know that something is bad for me. I became a vegetarian five years ago when I told myself – the hormones and chemicals in meat are bad for me. I tried just eating free range or organic meat, but in the end, it became easier to abstain. Over a year ago, I figured out facebook was bad for me. I only compared my life to other people’s so I deactivated my account. As a woman in my young 20s, everyone I know has facebook and people are flabbergasted when they find out. Friends say they’re “addicted” or say that I should just not do those things, but I can’t! It’s easier for me to stay off of it all together. Ever since then, I’ve felt loads happier and I am much more mindful. I agree, abstaining is best.

    I worry though, is abstaining just avoiding the problem instead of addressing it? I don’t know…maybe that’s okay.

  • As an ex smoker, abstaining is definitely required. As an ice cream lover, abstaining would be too difficult, but would be the way to go if I realized that moderation did not work. I don’t believe there are bad food –

    • gretchenrubin

      Here’s a way to combine an abstainer and a moderator approach, for something like ice cream:
      You can have ice cream, from an ice cream store. No carton in the fridge. If you want it, you have to go make a trip to get it. That way, you get ice cream, but you make it much more inconvenient, and therefore, less frequent temptation.

      • snarktini

        This is how I handle food — I abstain at home, but moderate away from home. If I have snack food in the house, I can’t reliably moderate. It’s just not safe to have it there! And since I will resist leaving to get it, that works out.

        I eat out infrequently and work from home, so the “out” opportunities are manageable. The thing that sinks me is a week with lots of meals out — I am not used to having to moderate that strongly and I end up way overdoing it.

        • gretchenrubin

          good mixed strategy!

      • Marie

        This is why, when I buy ice cream, I buy it from a local dairy, or in tiny servings from the grocery. Either way, the size of the cup limits me and puts a little “break” on my eating. This is for my “addictive” flavours. I can have good vanilla sit in the freezer for months without it calling me.

  • Kay

    I am 100 percent an abstainer and I knew I was the moment I read the two choices. Last year I gave up French Fries for a year and with only one slip up, I thought it would be so great to eat them this year. Meh, it wasn’t really. I’ve pretty much continued to avoid them even though I “can” have them again. This year I’ve given up soda. So far, so good!

  • Are baked fries better?Or maybe Apple fries, sweet potato fries . I just had some fries. I will try to cut down. Thanks.

  • Julie

    I’m so excited that you may in the future use your platform to spread the word about healthier eating. Knowing what food is actually good for me is the single biggest factor in my own happiness! I’m abstaining like crazy these days, too. 🙂

  • Elena

    This is so interesting – I’m really glad you wrote about it. When I first brought this idea to my husband ages ago, his response was, “Well, i want to be a moderator, and i try to moderate, but in the end, i often fail. Ultimately, i suspect abstaining works better for most people, even if we wish we could change through moderation.”

  • Allison

    Sadly I am a Moderator who longs to be an Abstainer. When I truly try, the rebel in me fights back with “you can’t tell me I can NEVER have a brownie again!”. So I like the idea of changing the wording – “free from french fries (and guilt)”. And (per your reader Julie) to say “I DON’T eat french fries” not “I can’t!” Hoping it will make the difference.

    • gretchenrubin

      If you’re a moderator, embrace that and figure out how to work with it. There’s no right way or wrong way, just what works for you. Come up with the rules that you can live with!

  • Andrea

    This is interesting. My husband is a surprisingly good self-moderator, and I’ve tried unsuccessfully to do has he does. So I think I may be a reluctant abstainer. One clue: I had to give up a lifetime diet soda habit after surgery, and to my surprise, I really don’t miss it…maybe once in a while, I get a pang, but I just remind myself that’s over and go on. There are many things I have trouble stopping consuming once I start…perhaps I should just get over it and “free” myself from them.

  • diana

    I read Gary Taubes’ book after you talked about it on your website in Sept and drastically cut back on carbs (and finally lost that mid-forties paunch and can tuck in my tops again). But, I am now more like a moderate abstainer. My mantra is “carbs are a treat” – so I forgo almost all carbs (like rice, potatoes, cereal, bread, etc), but will allow myself the occasional bite of dessert or chocolate. This way I stay thin without feeling hungry but still feel like I am not forgoing my favorite sweets on occasion (which really is an occasion, like a couple of times a week.) I really would be sad to never eat chocolate, but I don’t miss getting rid of most carbs.

  • Carly

    Hmmm – – this one doesn’t resonate with me. Why is it inherently any better to totally abstain from something, forever, than to limit oneself to reasonable amounts? I agree with the posters who have said that living the rest of my life without something I enjoy is a sad prospect, indeed, particularly if it is not strictly necessary to do so.

    As a classic Moderator, going without something for just a little while makes it all the more satisfying to have when I CHOOSE to have it. If you feel you are a Moderator, moderate away!

    • Jennifer

      I think the point is not that it’s BETTER to be an abstainer, but that, for many people, it’s EASIER. For example, if I told myself I could moderately enjoy treats from the vending machine at work, my definition of “moderate” would be pretty liberal on the late afternoons of stressful days. When I tell myself” I don’t eat food that comes out of a machine” it’s just removed as a choice. I don’t even have to think about it.

      • gretchenrubin

        Exactly. You put it so succinctly. Not a matter of what’s “better” but what’s “easier” for you.

        It’s not helpful to think about what a person “should” be able to do, or how they “should” enjoy life.

        I am NOT arguing that people should be abstainers! Not at all. Just that I think a lot of people ARE abstainers, without realizing it – that is, like my sister, they’d find it easier than they expect, and easier than trying to be moderate.

        If you’re a moderator who is very happy being a moderator, there’s no need to consider abstaining. However, seems like there are lots of people who try to be moderators, but actually, find themselves giving in to temptation, in ways that make them feel anxious and out of control. So I’m saying, if moderation is tough, try abstaining, it might be easier.

        • I seriously can’t thank you enough for making this distinction. It’s been huge for me to realize that I’m an abstainer. Moderation just never worked for me.

          • gretchenrubin

            I’m so happy to hear that it has been helpful to you. It sure has been a relief to ME to embrace my abstainer nature!

  • I just concluded a weeks-long experiment. In the past, I had difficulty with temptations of snacks at home, so we decided to ban them. Then some weeks ago, I decided to see whether I could be “moderate” with potato chips. It didn’t work out too well. We finished the last bag yesterday, and are not buying more. One less thing to worry about.

  • French fries are my weakness too! 🙂

    I’ve been a moderator for a long time, but lately I’ve realized that it really is liberating to just completely turn something down, rather than only have half of what I naturally want.

    Maybe abstaining with a the “freedom” mindset shift is the best way to go, even for those of us that naturally gravitate toward moderation.

  • Rachel

    Ultimately, I’m a moderator. However, moderation is much easier and successful if it comes after a period of abstaining.

    • This is true, actually, from my recent experiment. When I went back on potato chips, I wasn’t as bad as before the long period of abstaining. However, I still felt I overdid the snacking, so I’ve gone back to abstaining.

  • Barbara

    Wow, you really nailed this one. Due to cancer my GP told me to limit alcohol to 3x4oz glasses of wine/week…Moderation. What an internal struggle…your discription was precise. Relentless self questioning , planning, constant fighting with willpower. Every outing turned into an self-induced emotional battle. Going out was no longer fun, it was a job! Three months later my Specialist informed me no amount of alcohol was safe so I moved from Moderator to Abstainer. Suddenly everything became so much easier. No decisons, no self control, no planning, no internal battleing required. It was very easy, I just said No. That was May/99 and though my cancer returned several times I am confident I have done everything to prevent it. Becoming an Abstainer released me from potential guilt and the question “did a few drinks cause a reoccurance?”.
    Too bad I can’t totally Abstain from food because dieting is the same battle all over again.

  • theshubox

    so interesting. i am definitely a moderator overall and balk at the thought of abstaining from anything, ever! but when i look a little more closely, i think i already DO abstain from a lot, but it’s just a little more nuanced, based on context, and takes into account pros/cons. this works for me (i.e.: i am healthy and feel pretty in shape) and i enjoy life, so i don’t feel much pressure to change.

    example: i abstain from store bought goodies and grocery store bday cake, but will eat something from a fabulous bakery.

    i abstain from buying white carbs, but i will eat a piece of french bread if out to brunch (esp after a long run!)

    etc, etc.

    • theshubox

      oh, and i think my approach is more the ‘french women don’t get fat’ approach, after reading that book. enjoying wonderful food is really something i enjoy in life, so to give it up entirely — unless it were causing me pain or true harm in some way — just wouldn’t make sense to me!

      • gretchenrubin

        You are great model of a moderator.

        • theshubox

          thank you 🙂

  • Salonee

    i completely agree to your decision from abstaining! i am a very disciplined abstainer as well. Being just 18, i find it difficult to abstain in college from all the fatty foods but moderation is difficult. one u eat part of it, your just so tempted to eat the rest and the guilt trip that follows is really not worth it! am glad I am not the only one with a mind running like that 🙂

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  • Katharina

    “If you just know that you are never going to eat bread (or
    sugar, or wheat, or meat, or whatever) again, because that’s the
    universal food rule you’ve decided on, it can making choosing your food
    much simpler than having to go through the internal mental struggle of
    asking yourself what you want from the entire universe of foods available.” This quote from the articel above sums up Gretchen has stated in her blog post.
    The key words for Ellyn Satters concept of eating competence, that the Fat Nutrionist uses as a foundation for her work, are structure, permission and trust. Being an abstainer provides the comfort of structure but permission and trust seem to be lacking. As the Fat Nutrionist states: “So why do people find these forms of restriction appealing and helpful?
    Well, aside from helping people to negotiate a varied, complex, and
    ambivalent food world, I also believe these things feel comforting
    because we have been trained to distrust our own appetites.” Structure, permission and trust are hard – won and will always have to be created in individually meaningful ways.

  • Katharina


    And I really love this article – it is in my opinion applicable not only to food- because it helps us tune back into what we want, what feels good, what will sustain and nourish us in a way that is based on the trust that we do know what is good for us. This article challenges the thought that discipline and structure are to tame the beast that we all are, instead, structure – if implemented in a compassionate way over time – will emanate from within. This quote sums it all up for me: ” To me, ‘wanting’ something means more than just liking how
    it tastes — it also means considering how it makes me feel. The two
    variables comes together in a sort of split-second cost-benefit analysis, each time I eat, to answer the eternal question, what do I want? No matter what I end up choosing in any given situation, the answer is always the same: I want to feel good.”

  • Alice

    Instead of being either an abstainer or a moderator, how about a third option: compensator? A compensator eats what she/he wants, but compensates for it in other ways. For example, you could eat french fries when you want to, but make the rest of your meal healthier to compensate, or eat a healthier meal later in the day,or make sure you work out that day, etc. This approach is very similar to the one mentioned by another commenter, in the book French Women Don’t Get Fat. I just think that some things are too enjoyable in life, like food, to give up completely by abstaining or to limit yourself by moderating.

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, this strategy of “compensating” is VERY TRICKY to do right! Studies show that people really aren’t accurate with themselves when “compensating.”
      E.g., you can’t exercise enough to “work off” a meal.

      Studies show that people often assume that a meal is healthier if you add a “healthy” food to it – so eating dessert is ok if you have a diet soda. Doesn’t work like that.
      Also, a frequent method of “compensation” is for people to think, “Oh, I skipped breakfast, so it’s ok for me to eat this thing.” But they’d making healthier choices if they ate a good breakfast, and were less hungry later in the day, and not in this mindset.

      But if this approach works for you, then OK. Are you having good success with it? The problem is that many people adopt this strategy, but it doesn’t work at all.

      I’m intrigued with this idea that “some things are just too enjoyable in life to give up.” Along those lines, a friend told me, “Life is too short not to eat a brownie.” I said, “For me, life is too short to be thinking about brownies—whether to eat one, whether to eat two, to feel guilty about it, etc.” For me, it’s more enjoyable to feel good about what I eat overall, instead of focusing on one particular pleasurable eating experience.

      But as I say, I’m an abstainer!!! So that’s where I’m coming from. I’d rather be free from French fries than eat the fries. But that’s me.

      • Ella

        Funny, one of my new year’s resolutions last year was “don’t compensate.” I was compensating in reverse: I would do a demanding exercise class and then eat more – and consume far more calories than I’d burned. I so agree with you – it is very hard to compensate with any accuracy and I think we all give ourselves more “credit” than we have earned.

        • gretchenrubin

          This is VERY common. “Oh, I went for a run, I can have a scone for breakfast.” But those two things don’t balance each other in the way people believe.

          • theshubox

            well . . . i don’t know! depends on the length of the run 🙂 (sorry for hijacking these comments – i just think this topic is so interesting!)

          • gretchenrubin

            There’s a lot of research on the relationship between weight loss and exercise, and it comes as surprise to most people.

          • theshubox

            i completely agree that on a population level what you are saying is true. but in my personal experience, one really does need a few extra calories after a 10 mile run – and i have enjoyed scones in exactly that context without the weight gain that probably would have come if i HADN’T just completed a long run right beforehand.

            that said, i do NOT think that burning off scones should be a reason to run 10 miles. but for those who really do love long distance running/endurance training, it’s a nice side benefit. it STILL does require moderation (there’s that word again!) because i know multiple people who have gained weight during marathon training thinking that it’s a license for free-for-all eating!

          • Alice

            Thanks for these comments guys, it’s helped me to look at this from another perspective. But I wasn’t talking about compensating on such a small scale, like “oh I ate a fattening meal, so I’d better go work it off by going to the gym now.” I think being that particular about calorie counts would make anyone unhappy and doesn’t work. I was talking about making your diet healthy overall and getting regular exercise, so that you can eat what you want without feeling guilty or having to moderate, and then adjusting your diet if you feel you need to. So if you want to eat a burger or mac and cheese, maybe having a salad with it to balance it out. I wouldn’t call this moderating, because moderating is limiting yourself, and you wouldn’t be limiting yourself from what you want to eat in this case. So instead of compensating, maybe I would call it “balancing.” I do agree, however, that the abstaining approach is better for pure junk food like chips or candy, because those things are so bad for you it’s better not to eat them in the first place.

            In French Women Don’t Get Fat, it talks about how French women eat bread, cheese, chocolate, and drink wine every day, but don’t gain weight, because they balance their diet by eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, walking a lot, drinking lots of water, and rarely eating junk food (this is not a sacrifice for them). They also don’t focus on calories or having a this-for-that approach, like “I ate this, so I’ll have to skip lunch or run 5 miles.” I highly recommend the book, because it talks about the different way French people and Americans think about food. French people think that food of all kinds should be enjoyed and indulged in, while Americans tend to think of food as something you should constantly put limits on.

            As for my comment that some things are too enjoyable in life to give up or limit, I think it depends on how much you love food. Some people enjoy food more than others and some people have a true passion for it much like any other activity, like researching and writing for you, Gretchen. To try to abstain from certain foods or limit them would truly take away from their happiness.

            Thanks Gretchen, for opening this up for such thoughtful discussion!

  • Veronique

    Life without fries…can there be life after fries? Kidding. Maybe for some things abstaining works and for others moderation. I have to abstain from chips because one always leads to the bag but I can eat/do most other things in moderation.

  • Laurent

    I am an abstainer/moderator. I gave up bread, cheese and chocolate and I lost immediatly my extra weight.
    But once a week, I have one piece of cheese or chocolate. But just one little piece and I taste it like a very precious and expansive food. Before, I used to eat cheese or chocolate very quickly, without thinking on it. And I just stopped when I felt it was too much.
    But now, I close my eyes and I enjoy the pleasure of the taste. One little piece gives me much pleasure that swallow up full bars of chocolate.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve talked to several people who follow this kind of approach.

      It sounds like the perfect combo! As a 100% abstainer type, it wouldn’t work for me, but sounds like for many people, really allows them to strike a wonderful balance.

    • theshubox

      i really like this approach!

  • Elizabeth

    I’m an abstainer from things I know to be bad for me. I use the AA approach — “one day at a time.” It sounds almost ridiculous to say, but when I tell myself, “Just for today, I’m not doing X,” my mind accepts it and I can forget about it for that day.

    • Thorie

      I totally agree! One day at a time, even one hour at a time. Its a hundred times easier. Be present in the moment and make the right decisions!

  • Syl

    Ok well let me see….maybe it’s a “stage” thing. I truly believe I start as a moderator and end up an abstainer. For example, I don’t drink sodas any more. I started by moderately changing from one a day to three, then two, then one day without really realizing I went without one. Next thing I know I no longer need soda or crave it. Now I can say I’m free from sodas :). So maybe that’s what moderators mean when they say they are really abstainers. Only a true abstainer quits something cold turkey—that’s not me!

  • Nope, being an abstainer (at least in the area of food) just doesn’t appeal to me at all. My diet is super restrictive due to food sensitivities, but I find I can get away with maybe one meal a week that is less so, and I look forward to that all week.

    If I had to eat nothing but my “standard” diet all the time, I think I would feel way too deprived, and a little depressed. The moderator system works very well for me, and I have no weight problems – in fact I’m a bit too thin, and moderating is probably helping to keep a few more pounds on me. And it allows me to go out to dinner and feel “normal” now and then, which I love. I still pay a small price for it, but it’s worth it. 🙂

  • Peipster

    Hi there! We all have differing opinions. It’s far easier (for me) to be an abstainer, but what I really wanted to say is that I do not agree with Gary Taubes at all! I have read his book and thought it was pretty bad. it’s a discussion for another day, for sure, but I have always found that if I limit my caloric intake (and yes, that includes limiting carbs, I grant you), then I lose weight (however little it may be). I think Taubes attacks “calories in/calories out” because it’s popular to do so now. Just my opinion!

  • joy

    I am an abstainer, who tries to be a moderator, who has to go back to being an abstainer. It is way easier for me to give up chips…any type of chips. Then to be moderate with them. When I try to be moderate, I will start by buying a bag and having a true serving everyday (meaning 20 chips a day). But when the weekend comes I forget how to count. So when I abstain and say I don’t eat potato chips I will reach for the carrots instead of the chip bowl. But if I am trying to be on moderate mode, I will be at the party over the chip bowl the whole time! Still working on finding the balance- or bascially this has been my balance. This topic is very relevant because my husband and I are doing a juice cleanse this week. Some people think we are crazy and have said why don’t you just live a moderate lifestyle! Haha I just wanted to say why don’t you just abstain for once.

  • Jackie

    I have read Gary Taubes! I think your sister’s thinking that she is “free” as an abstainer is brilliant. I choose to be free of sugar and flour. It is hard to get away from them, but when you decide to be free you know what your choices are. My abstaining pays off. I feel great, I lost weight I didn’t know I need to lose and I eat whole foods. I would like to hear more about your experiences with abstaining from carbs! More people need to be gently nudged in that direction.

  • Jen

    I used to be a classic abstainer — and it is much easier. You simply always say no to whatever you are trying to avoid — sweets, peanut butter, scary but potentially fun experiences. It’s just easier to always say no. But then I realized that I was missing out on a lot and that by having that cake once in a while when I really wanted it wasn’t going to mean I would eat a whole cake every day. And by trying something kind of scary but that might be fun was good for pushing me out of my comfort zone and didn’t mean I had to go skydiving if I didn’t really want to. I think what you said about a secret of adulthood being that setting limits sets you free is absolutely true. But always saying no isn’t really a limit; it’s an absolute. And you’ll learn more about yourself by actually dealing with the toughness of moderating.

    • Layla

      Wow, i never thought of it that way. Once I stop struggling so much with food, I’m definitely going to add desserts and greasy foods back into my diet!

  • I a a bit of both! Over 30 years ago, I decided to become a vegetarian as I was already an animal activist. It fits who I am and I had no problem abstaining from meat altogether. It is absolutely easier to abstain. I am a moderator though about sweets. I guess it just comes down to everything in moderation including moderation. Best of luck to everyone out there!

  • Helen

    “I give myself limits to give myself freedom!”–
    Brilliant! I love the reframing of “Now I am free from (fill in the blank).” Trying to think through and plan for moderation can be exhausting!

  • Thorie

    A good way to figure out what is right for you is asking your self “Would I still be willing to do this in two years? How about five, or ten years?” It pushes you to see the bigger picture. I myself am an abstainer, I found tremendous relief in giving up the bad things in my life. No more picking your brain over when you should let yourself and what counts. It takes so much less energy!
    Thanks so much for posting this Gretchen, it has opened up a really good discussion!

  • Shankik

    As I was reading these comments, I was thinking the same thing that Alice had written about the book Why French Women Don’t Get Fat. We Americans see food as an enemy, unlike the europeans and asians, and we should. We have become conditioned to eat the unhealthy, processed food surrounding us and think it’s the norm. More and more people are eating out at the cookie cutter chain restaurants, and buying canned and boxed foods at the supermarket, making more of us incapacitated to knowing how to cook real food ourselves, and how it tastes. Example: Green bean casserole as a thanksgiving staple (try real green beans sauted in garlic and olive oil!) Throw in our american psyche that more is more, and there is our recipe for disaster! If this is what we are eating, we should be abstaining! This statement will have some people think I’m a radical, because they can’t see through the downside of the convenient world we’ve created. It’s like trying to convince the ancients that the world is round.
    I love Elizabeth’s “being free’ from something. As William James said, “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will”.
    Here’s a challenge: Free yourself from all the boxed and canned food (this includes the restaurants that serve it), and take the time to make fresh, unprocessed foods without preservatives. The more you do so, the easier it will be to abstain from the convenient foods. That goes for desserts too! Make your own home made chocolate pudding with fresh ingredients, and see if you will ever want to buy a box of pudding ever again.

  • Ok…I am a classic moderator…I think. However this post really resonates with me because I do experience a lot of exhaustion from moderating. I’m going to do some experimental abstaining. I’ll keep you posted.

  • Aoife

    the happiness project inspired me to start my own weight loss/ happiness blog! check it out http://aoifebyrneblog.wordpress.com/

  • Courtney

    This is a homerun, Gretchen! I never really thought about things this way, but after reading this, it explains a lot in my weight loss journey. I lost a lot of weight and kept it off for years as a vegetarian. It was simple: I didn’t eat meat. Didn’t have to think about it, no decisions to be made. If there was a dish that had meat in it, I simply did not eat it. I never “cheated.”

    A baby, a couple of years, and lots of reading later, I no longer think that vegetarianism is right for me. However, my new way of eating didn’t have rules that were as easy to define. Because of that, a piece of cake snuck in at a birthday party (followed of course, by a weekend of binging). Perhaps my diet now is too moderate. I need a set of rules that will allow me to abstain completely from problem foods for me. Hopefully then I will get to my ideal weight without any real struggle, as before. Thanks again for this!

  • Stephnee

    I discovered abstaining by becoming hypoglycemic–I would feel terrible if I ate cookies in the afternoon, so I didn’t. And there was no struggle at all. Same thing happened later with wheat. But the other thing is I’m a moderator by being an abstainer. Example: I don’t drink soda. Except maybe once every couple of months, I’ll drink a soda. I think in my mind, if I say “I don’t drink soda,” then that’s still true if I have a handful a year. But if I start having a soda every week, then it’s no longer true that “I don’t drink soda.” I guess I’m a little bit of a cheater, and cheating on moderating equals not moderating, but cheating on abstaining is about the same as moderating 🙂

    • Jen

      I’m with you on this, I tell myself I abstain, but allow cheating. So I don’t drink soda, with a few exceptions. But I also think it depends on what it is. It’s easy for me to be a moderate on alcohol because I rarely drink anyway. Something like fast food I’d find it easier to be an abstainer because at the end of the day, I don’t really enjoy it, it’s more about convenience. So I need to draw a hard line for myself and just abstain. Then there’s something like chocolate. I probably should be an abstainer, but the thought of never having chocolate again is just too sad and makes life seem less enjoyable overall, so I try and be a moderate. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t 🙂

      • gretchenrubin

        This is a great distinction: is the issue TEMPTATION or CONVENIENCE? Because the approach to change would be very different, depending on why you’re indulging.

  • Mike T

    I’m an abstainer. I’ve tried moderation, and each time I buy the pkg of desserts I tell myself that THIS time I’m going to stretch it out and just have one piece or one handful depending on the item, but it never seems to happen that way. I’m no neurobiologist, but I think it is something about internal wiring and pathways, because there are some items that I can easily stop. Beer, for example, usually ends up going stale in my fridge before I get around to drinking them all.

  • Julie H.

    Hello Gretchen, and once again : thank you for the Happiness Project.

    I didn’t read all the comments, so I am not sure to be the only french woman around (so please, excuse my english).
    I don’t really know all the reasons “Why French Women don’t get fat” compared to American ones, but I think it is because we are generally half abstainer – half moderator.
    We (french girls) enjoy things by little bites. It is true for love as for food in my honest opinion. Although love doesn’t make you fat.
    We can say easily “no” to sugar for example. It is a kind of coquetterie. “Oh no thank you, I am taking care of my silhouette”. This is a typical charming answer we use. In that, we are part abstainers.
    The moderator part would be small portions. Well, plus the fact we prepare our food from fresh ingredients.
    Maybe it is cultural, because of the Gastronomie Française, whitch makes the plate as beautiful as tastefull…
    But the truth is, all that is not applied to French Men.
    They eat alot, drink a lot and seduce alot. Hahaha !

    To conclude, I was a bad moderator myself. After I read your fist blog post about abstainers, I became one (just on Nutella, don’t know if you got that in the USA), and feel very happy about it.
    My body is merciful for that.

    Kisses from the South of France.

  • I am definitely an abstainer, although I have tried to convince myself that I am a moderator in the past. I decided to give up pop this year after trying to cutback/cut it out last year. I noticed that when I gave it up for a month I didn’t think about it nearly as often as when I tried to only drink it occasionally. Then I ended up having one at least once a week. None is better for me.

  • Patricia Carberry

    I have always thought of myself as a moderator – I have a very rebellious inner spirit, who hates to be told no! However, after reading your article about the french fries, I think I will try abstaining on a case to case basis. Beginning with sugar and flour.
    The idea of never having something is very upsetting to me, and some things I can do in moderation with no problem. But sweets and baked goods are something I cannot stop once I start, so I’m going to try to abstain and see what happens. Who knows? I may find this is actually an easier solution, but a part of me is screaming “NO NO NO!!”

    • gretchenrubin

      This is similar to my sister, that’s why I was so surprised when she told me that she found abstaining easier.
      I’ll be very curious to hear what you find!

  • Brilliant post, Gretchen! Abstaining from grains, legumes, refined sugar, and trans fats can reduce cravings and change your relationship with food which can literally be life changing. Gary Taubes does great work! Thanks for posting this!

  • Interestingly, I’ve been having good success the last few months in losing weight by being an abstainer twice a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have a “low day,” where I only eat certain foods: protein shake for breakfast and lunch, fruit or protein bar for snack, and low-cal diet entree for dinner, with a veggie. Calories come out to be around 1100 calories for the day. What’s good about this methodology is that it’s completely doable for me, because I know the next day I can eat (in moderation) what I would like. I’ve tried the abstainer method for dieting full-time, and it takes an enormous amount of willpower to maintain long-term. This requires very little thought or willpower, and uses the best of both methods – abstaining and moderation.

  • More than an abstainer, I’d say I’m an extremists. I’ve found it’s always easier to live up to my goals when I’m going to extremes, and much harder to maintain that momentum when I settle into some kind of moderation.

    • gretchenrubin

      Maybe consider being a permanent abstainer, instead of trying to abstain and then at some point be moderate. People often think this is the appropriate progression, but I think that for many of us abstainer types, moderation just never works very well.

  • I’ve given up/abstained from coca cola (diet) for nearly a year. I’ve done this two other times, and after the year mark was reached, I had a coke and the addiction cycle began again. There is no moderating something that was a learned behavior nearly at birth (my mother put coca cola in my baby bottle when I was a toddler and the soft drink was constantly in our refrigerator in other bottle forms). This time I am sure that coca cola (all soft drinks) and I have parted ways permanently and it does feel as though I’m free. Free at last, free at last, thank you abstaining, I’m free at last!

  • TRob

    A friend and I made a New Year’s resolution to both give up french fries for a year. We both made it! When she had met her goal, she returned to eating her beloved fries. I however found that french fries were no longer a food to me. And, as a side benefit… french fries were in many ways my “gateway food” to all other forms of junk food/fast food. So, now I don’t eat fast food… burgers, etc. So, abstinence works best for me… the resolution we made was over 15 years ago!

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting—give something up for a certain amount of time seems to break some people of a habit, but not others, and for some people (as a reader pointed out), helps them eat less French fries or whatever.

  • Abby

    I used to be an abstainer, and I was really, really good at it. But then I discovered a magical path to moderation. Only enjoy it on the weekends! I abstain from sugar of any kind all week, but on the weekends I enjoy a dessert or two. I’ve found it to be a wonderful trick to moderation. With the guidelines, it makes moderating just as easy as abstaining. And life is a more fun, spontaneous, and happy than it was when I was an abstainer. Also, desserts taste so much more decadent now!

  • Zuupdesign

    Hello Again, http://www.zuup.com/ here, I hope you don’t mind, I will keep on coming back because I really love your blog here.

  • DL

    I am a better abstainer- though I try to think myself as a moderator as I grew up in a Methodist home where we did “everything in Moderation” hence the fact that I am moderately overweight even 15 years after marrying out of the Methodist church- which is lovely church- and which I am not blaming for anything- just using as an example of my family’s “moderator mentality.”

    My actual thought from the article though is that I would like to thank you for your perspective on this that you’re not saying people SHOULD be one or the other. Simply that your experience is one thing, that your sisters is another, and that she surprised you.

    So often I find in articles similar to this authors concluding that because abstaining is easier for them that all people SHOULD do it and then bullying readers to be more like them. Thank you for the refreshing perspective and the kind words.

  • Thanks SO much for this! This totally resonated with me, so much that I wrote a blog post of my own about it to share my personal revelation. My husband is a moderator, and I’m an abstainer. He thinks I’m crazy and extreme; I just can’t moderate without going crazy and eating everything, all the time. It’s all or nothing.

    So I’ve decided to embrace that this month and do the Whole 30. To prepare, I did a countdown detox during the month of January, where I gave up one thing each week so that by the time I reached February I had given up everything I needed to abstain from for the Whole 30. The fact that I’m an abstainer was a huge revelation for me. Thanks!!

  • Ronnie

    This post made me want french fries. 🙂

  • Kate

    I recently tried the South Beach diet and discovered that it was much easier not to eat my kids’ crackers and snack foods when they were off limits in the first two weeks of the diet. It wasn’t like I was trying to only eat one serving or limit myself to five crackers — they just weren’t an option. There was no “just one more” about it. It was surprisingly easy. But I have the same problem that Jen, below, has — I can’t abstain entirely from, say, cake, because I get such pleasure out of it every once in a while. There are a variety of things–wine, chocolate, cheese–that I get pleasure from in moderate amounts, even though in larger amounts they’re not great for my waistline. So it’s a mix, I think.

  • caro smith

    I’m an abstainer. I learned this when I quit smoking eons ago. I just woke up one day and said never again. And that was it. I had done the “cutting back” thing, but that was, for me, a slippery slope. Took a few days, but I never looked back and within 5 days I was more or less “over it”. (Although there were for some years “moments” where I would walk by someone smoking a Marlboro red, and I’d feel the pull again for a moment.)

    Then I wanted to give up diet coke (FAAAAAAR more difficult for me than nicotine), and I had to do that same thing, no more mid afternoon diet lime coke. From one day to the next. (I took some aspirirn the first few days to offset the headache) Since then I have had one soda, ordered literally without thinking at the movies some 5 years later, and it was nice to have a diet coke again, but it was easy not to finish it and I did not think about it afterwards.

    I did not have any soda drink for years (my only vice there was diet coke). Then I found flavored seltzer water. Wow, I loved that stuff. Thought it was ok as it was not soda etc, but have come to learn the bubbles are really no good for you, so have had to let that go too. But its easier for me to let things go now, the diet coke was so hard, everything else pales by comparison. (And I was a one, on rare occasion, two diet coke a day person, but I heard from a dr a year or so later that some of the things in diet soda are really hard to give up.)

    For me abstinence works best.

  • Miriel Thomas

    I think the question isn’t: Is it EASIER to be an abstainer than a moderator — I think the question has to be: which is BETTER? If you asked Aristotle, for instance, he would tell you that the extremes of excess and deficiency are almost always easier to hit than the middle. But he would also say that the middle — the “mean” — is where virtue lies. The thing is that it very well might be “easier” to simply eschew any pleasurable thing than to develop the inner strength to enjoy it in moderation. (Interestingly, Aristotle actually calls this habit or ability “the virtue of moderation” — the implication is that we moderate ourselves, not the external objects of our desire.

    I understand your instinct — that if abstaining is easier than moderating, people who need to gain some control would benefit from that information. But I think it has to be a stopping point on a longer journey (toward moderation), rather than an end in itself. Because anyone who is TRULY “free from french fries” will have the self-control to be able to enjoy them once in a while without being pulled into a vortex of french fry addiction. The person who can only avoid excess by embracing the other extreme — privation — is not as free as the person who has the virtue of moderation.

  • Layla

    “I’m free from decision-making, free from internal debate, free from guilt or anxiety.” YES

    How I felt when I had to study and couldn’t start other interesting projects because I was temporarily busy. How I felt when I gave up sugar for Lent (and maybe I shouldn’t have added it back into my diet…) How I felt when I gave up reading blogs for most of January.

  • Nicole Placek Tankovich

    I wonder how many people use both strategies? What I mean by that: abstaining from one thing, while moderating in others. Or does that not fit the model Gretchen has developed?

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve heard from a lot of people who use both strategies – though I will say that moderation works for everyone with something that they don’t find very tempting. I’m interested in: what do you do with something you really LOVE.

      Also, people sometimes used mixed strategies such as abstaining from TV during the week, watching on the weekend.

      • Annabelle

        I am a complete abstainer, so attempting to moderate is inherently stressful for me. Then again, I don’t want to have none of the “bad” things that I love, so I decided take a global approach and prioritize the very few things that I really want to moderate (very dark chocolate, strong black tea) and just abstain from the other things I find pleasurable in the moment but not within the big picture (alcohol, sugar). This limits my exposure to moderation and makes it feel more achievable (a self fulfilling prophecy – these are big with me), and it’s much less stressful than trying to juggle moderation over several categories.

  • Kay

    Just got here via your latest post. I thought I was a moderator when I began reading the post, but ends up I am indeed an abstainer. It’s just that I haven’t yet chosen to abstain from somethings I probably should “be free from!” But I have absolutely no problem abstaining from a few things that I have, quite unintentionally, named “things of the past.” I don’t say I’m free of them, but I do still attach a positive statement. I just say to myself as I stand in the grocery checkout line, “I don’t eat candy bars.” To me that’s not the same as “I can’t eat candy bars.” It’s a positive decision and a matter of fact. No emotion really attached to it. I also don’t eat donuts. But last night, when my young adult daughter came home with two of them for her father and me and announced that it was National Donut Day, I ate mine. Why? Because I honest had not had a donut in probably 5 years, but, hey, it was the national day and all. So, since i really “don’t eat donuts” I didn’t feel like a failure for eating one. It was just one of those things that you do once in a blue moon. Pardon moi. I ramble.

    I am an abstainer!

  • Dee

    I gave up NUTELLA Dec 2011. I thought i would be able to handle the NUTELLA once more so i bought 2 jars because they were on sale ! I ate 4000 calories of nutella over 36h. i still nee to learn moderation.

  • Andrew Lin

    The reason abstaining is easier is that if you eat french fries in moderation, that means you’re not *actively* not eating french fries most of the time. But if you abstain, you gain freedom from french fries, as you mentioned, and also you’re never not eating anything, because french fries aren’t a food anymore. Just like you don’t crave eating wood or plastic.

  • may

    I comprehend what you are saying. I have been an abstainer for a few years now, while I recognize that trying to be a moderator is simply almost impossible. I love and crave sweets. However, I am an abstainer for soda (including diet soda), processed sweets (candy bars) except for once a year during the month of october. One of my secret to eat healthier is to be an abstainer for things with “corn syrup”, as a result, I am limited in what I can buy and consume. It works as a result, I am not punishing myself. In other words, I am not restraining myself from all sweets rather I can have sweets if all natural. This has been helpful for me, as when grocery shopping, it is tempting to grab a box of cookies or some ice-cream, but as I read the ingredients and discover “corn syrup”, I feel empowered and happy when I put the item back.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a great example of how to use the Abstainer principle in a way that works well for you.
      Free from corn syrup!

  • Hemilover

    I am a registered dietitian who works with a lot of people struggling with this issue. We call it black or white, all or none thinking. For some problem foods and for those who can’t moderate their portions Abstaining is best! For others, learning to substitute, take smaller portions, order less, etc. works great without feelings of deprivation or self pity. I believe that (and teach that) there may be some foods that they choose to avoid. Not worth it types of food. They know what they are. Every one of us will need to reach inside to learn the technique that works best and it may be moderation sometimes and abstinence at others (or when that food just isn’t all that important to waste the calories!). I support each person identifying whether to moderate or abstain from that unhealthy/fattening/decadent treat or drink. Thanks,

  • Yvonne Burns McCarthy

    The quote I use when I try to explain abstaining is 100% is easy, 99% is a b***ch. I censored that myself…I wanted to be true to the quote. I had weight loss surgery 13 years ago after 30 years of obesity and lost 130 pounds and kept it off. The only way I can maintain is to abstain because I found that once I did it….I lost the craving. I can look at a bowl of candy and see cyanide because I can’t do 99% and it only awakens the craving again which would return me to my prison of obesity. I’m so glad someone shared this link with me. I’ll be sharing this all over the place!

  • Lori Myers

    I guess it depends on if it’s a trigger food for me. I can eat French fries in moderation. I can’t handle jelly beans though so I abstain from those.

  • Megan Kelly McQuivey

    Gary Taubes book, “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It” was a life changing abstaining moment for me. Since reading that book, I’ve been sugar free and starch/gluten free for 2 1/2 years. My husband and I embarked on this together. And we never cheat. Never. No exceptions for bread in restaurants. No exceptions for pastries or pastas on our trips to Italy and Paris. A few months ago i had some food allergy testing done and I was required to eat gluten for a week before the test. That was a witness to me that in fact I’m need to behave as an abstainer–once it was OK to eat “some” gluten for a few days, it was all I wanted to eat. It was so easy to grab a bagel or grab an English Muffin. My current menu low-carb items all require cooking, planning, preparation. Nothing I eat is nearly as fast and easy as a piece of toast with peanut butter and jam. And the gluten was so yummy. I knew that I should probably never add gluten back into my diet because of my inability to be moderate.
    The other thing about trying the moderation approach if you are an abstainer is that once you fall off the wagon, you find it very hard to get back on. The one blip becomes the first of many rationalizations about having blown it. I completely agree with you when you said that abstaining gives you more freedom–because you’re not constantly negotiating with yourself about whether this circumstance merits an exception.
    A nutritionist I worked with was a huge believer in the psychological power of being a moderator. She firmly believed that you could damage yourself psychologically from a new eating program by saying the words, “Never.” I don’t think that she understands that not everyone operates the way she operates–with moderation. I attribute this in my case partly to the fact that I’m insulin resistant, so any sugar I eat will result in 3 weeks of sugar cravings I’ll have to overcome, but also partly to my personality.
    Now I know, it’s all or nothing for me.

  • Carolina W

    I think I am a moderate abstainer… for instance, I don’t eat sugar except on the weekend. So during the week I just don’t, and don’t think about it or worry about it. On the weekend, I eat whatever, sometimes I’ll have 2 ice creams (my weakness) on a Saturday. I am also gluten-free, and I often refer to my “gluten freedom” because I just don’t eat it. BUT every now and then I will have ONE bite of something unusual that has wheat and I don’t care to have more; I just want to try it. And its not an issue. But having made the decisions to do it this way makes it very easy to just say no and stick to it.

  • Pingback: Why Can’t You Eat French Fries On A Gluten Free Diet | my gluten free diet()

  • Paul Kemner

    Where abstaining works best for me is when ‘the thing’ isn’t all that good, but you eat/drink it because it’s there. So no cheap, crappy canned beer, sheet cake, or waxy corn-sweetener candy. It doesn’t provide enough pleasure to be worth the calories, and there’s no sense in taking a little bit of it.

    • Amy Hollinger

      That’s a very good idea!

  • Jasmine

    I’m a relapsing abstainer 😉 But turning my internal message into a positive instead of a negative sounds really intriguing to me and I’m starting tomorrow. I’m usually successful when I tell myself the right story.

  • 1964julia

    today day 1 of my Happiness Project

    • gretchenrubin

      Good luck with YOUR happiness project!

  • Amy Hollinger

    Abstaining sounds impossible. No more french fries.


    For the rest of your life, as long as you live?

    When you’re at a restaurant and everyone else orders them? And someone offers to share?

    I’m having a mild panic attack at this thought, although I have avoided french fries for the past month successfully. Abstaining is too absolute. I need flexibility!

    • gretchenrubin


      I love being an Abstainer!


      But not everyone is an Abstainer. For Moderators, abstaining isn’t a good strategy, doesn’t work.

      • Amy Hollinger

        This makes me sad! But good for you. I earn my French Fries after hitting my workout goal for next week 🙂

        I’m discovering I’m such an Obliger (and my willpower is so weak) that I need external factors to help me meet my goals. Almost all of them! But it’s working. I seem to have trouble with sticking with habits in the long term, because I get bored and distracted. Also I can’t seem to hold on to too many habits at once! Your articles are helping me puzzle things out though. Looking forward to the book. 🙂

  • Laura Curtis

    When I first joined Weight Watchers 100 years ago, they had foods called “red light foods,” “yellow light foods,” and “green light foods.” They weren’t the same for everyone, but you needed to learn your triggers. For me, for example, a handful of dark chocolate chips is fine. I have a huge tub of them at home because I bake a LOT for other people, and they mostly sit in my kitchen without a problem. But M&Ms are a total red light for me. If I eat one, I will eat the whole bag…no matter whether it’s a Halloween-sized mini-bag with 5 M&Ms in it or a giant 1lb bag with 5000. I have no control.

    WW has moved on to a different system, but that is one lesson I took with me. I try really hard to remember what things will satisfy a craving without going overboard.

    Generally, I don’t think of myself as an abstainer. I had to give up Gluten for a couple of years due to a bad reaction, and I HATED it. The only way I managed was by constantly substituting other things, which isn’t really abstaining in a meaningful way. I do much better with plans that allow me to go where I want, but do so with care.

  • KW

    I spent years failing as an abstainer only to realize that I’m much better as a moderator! Weight is only one example, but I was always trying to abstain and never getting anywhere, because once I failed, that was it. I failed, because it’s black and white. Moderation led to me a healthy lifestyle and losing/keeping weight off for 9 years. I’m the kind of person who can eat one french fry and put them away. But if you say I can never have them … watch out! Perhaps I don’t like absolutes and do much better when I’m constantly in the middle.

    • gretchenrubin

      A true example of a Moderator!

  • Margo Wootan

    I’ve just discovered you through a podcast, so interesting. I work in nutrition policy, and the assumption is that moderation is the key to healthy eating. But moderation, as you point out is hard.