Do You Want the Tenth Bite of Ice Cream More than the First Bite, or Less?

I’ve been continuing to ponder the abstainers vs. moderators distinction.

In case you haven’t been breathlessly following this line of argument: in a nutshell, when facing a temptation, abstainers do better if they abstain altogether, while moderators do better if they indulge a little bit, or from time to time.

The other day, a friend who is a true moderator told me, “I got a sundae from my favorite ice cream store, and it was so, so good. But after the tenth bite or so, I could hardly taste it anymore. I had a few more bites, then it turned into a puddle, and a friend of mine finished it for me.”

To me, this is a very foreign way of acting. The difference between my friend and me made me wonder if this is a distinction between abstainers and moderators, and I’d love for you abstainers and moderators out there to weigh in on this question.

Moderators, does your desire often  diminish as you eat? Does it drop off in intensity? Or have you not noticed this phenomenon?

Abstainers, do you experience this? Or do you find that your desire for the last bite is just as strong as for the first bite? Or does desire actually gain momentum from the first bite, so you want the next bite even more?

Perhaps this is another pattern that distinguishes abstainers and moderators. Or perhaps not.

If you want to read more about abstainers and moderators, I write about it in Happier at Home, chapter 5. You might also be interested in the post–I must say, one of my favorite posts of all time–about my sister’s experience when she decided to be “free from French fries.”

  • gretchenrubin


  • The first taste is always the best. I’m not sure yet what I am.

  • Donna Deal

    Nothing is as good as that first bite, that first, eagerly anticipated bite. As the meal/treat progresses…its not so good.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I think all would agree that first bite is the best. But what about the TENTH bite?

  • Erin

    To me desire is not the same as tasting. You can still desire the food mentally way after you stop truly tasting it. I read somewhere that scientifically after the third or fourth bite the food starts to lose it’s flavor potency. I’m not sure if that’s because you’re not focusing on it (i.e. really savoring the flavor) or because your taste buds have started to adapt.

    I will say, if I haven’t had something for a long time, it usually tastes better than if I have it every day.

    • Mindy

      I am a moderator, and my husband an abstainer. I told him the concept behind The French Laundry (gourmet restaurant in CA), which is they have a 9-course meal, all courses only a few bites (probably got their idea from the scientific study mentioned above, or something similar). Their concept is for the customer to think, “I wish I had just one more bite of that,” and then the next course arrives, he or she finishes that course and thinks the exact same thing. I thought it sounded like an amazing culinary experience; my husband thought it sounded absurd. In his words: If I have a delicious plate of food, I absolutely don’t want it to end after just a few bites! I want a huge plate of it!

  • Gigi

    I’ve never thought about this before. But, I am definitely an abstainer; without a doubt. Interesting theory.

  • Tiffany

    I’m an abstainer and I like the last bite as much as the first, if not more. In fact, I have been known to make the perfect last bite where I get all the icecream toppings on or the right ratio of sauce to noodle or the perfect piece of meat combined with a bite of salad. It is like a piece of art I am constructing with just the right blend of all the flavors. And I even declare to my family “this is my last bite!” I think it is my way of signing off the meal with a bang. Typing this lets me know just how weird I may be. 🙂

    • JennW

      I am the exact same way! I always make sure I have a good ratio going 🙂

  • Sarah Kerner

    I am an abstainer, and I’d say yes, the tenth bite still tastes pretty good. When it’s something I don’t allow myself to have very often, I am very tempted to go back for a second portion, even if the first one was plenty big! I cannot relate at all to stopping eating an ice cream sundae halfway through. Clearly, this is why I don’t let myself have sweets very often!

  • Caroline Donahue

    As an abstainer as well, I think my enjoyment over the number of bites depends on what I am eating. I am a real salty junkie- being free from french fries forever would be very hard for me. But, it is easier to eat none of them for a pre-set time (like a month) than to just eat them from time to time on an ongoing basis. I must finish them all if I get them.

    But, for sweet stuff, I can just eat some and not finish it. I’ve had a bite of a piece of chocolate and left the rest for later. Or half a cupcake. It’s the salty treats that just build momentum as they go…

  • Trina

    I’m a moderator, and I find if I actually go for what I desire, then I am satisfied with less. For example, when I lived in NYC, I could buy a few cookies each week from a favorite local bakery. I could eat one cookie each evening with a cup of coffee and be totally satisfied. Desire satisfied with moderation. If I have a taste for something sweet and crunchy where I live now, I know better than to buy a packaged product because, if I eat a little and am not satisfied, then I will only want more; there I have to become an abstainer.

  • Cindy

    I’m a moderator, and I would say the bites become less satisfying as I go. I always attributed it to the economics concept of diminishing marginal utility! But since abstainers are saying they think the 10th bite is as good as the first, maybe Gretchen’s theory explains it better!

  • Christy King

    Moderator. First bite is best. I hardly ever get ice cream or a milkshake unless I have someone to share it with, because I do lose interest.

    Many years ago I decided to give up red meat for various reasons and started having cravings for hamburgers, which I don’t even like that much. If I have a burger once in a blue moon, I’m happy.

    Abstaining doesn’t work for me.

  • JennW

    I’m an abstainer. It all tastes good!

  • Ada Otter

    I definitely find this pattern to be true- I enjoy and anticipate the first bite way more than subsequent ones, and will stop midway through as pleasure diminishes. And U would identify as a moderator!

  • Angela

    Moderator. And I completely identify with your friend, and I stop in the middle of meals or sweets often. I’ve started keeping a little fold-down bento box with me most of the time so that I can keep leftovers from restaurant meals without having to ask for (usually horribly environmentally-unfriendly Styrofoam) takeaway boxes because I so rarely find that the serving sizes are right for me. And then I can have another wonderful first bite later, when I actually want it!

  • Katie of

    I’m an abstainer. I notice that if I think I’m going to “satisfy a craving” by eating a little ice cream, for example, it’s like a dopamine storm begins in my brain, and then I want every little evil thing in a 10-foot radius — the rest of the ice cream plus a bag of chips! But the less I give in, the less I care to. I’ve been working out and eating a near-perfect diet, and my willpower feels ironclad (for the moment!)

    As for the commenter and the bakery vs. packaged cookies, there is something to be said about packaged foods causing cravings. If you read The Shangri-La Diet, by Seth Roberts, he talks about how eating packaged foods will up your appetite considerably, and after learning this, I have absolutely found it to be true.

  • Leslie Ellen Miller

    I’m an abstainer and I find myself wanting it MORE as I’m eating it. I find that I also want everything else that’s in my pantry, too.

  • Janice Robbins Culp

    This really struck a chord with me. I want to be a moderator but looking at it from the “10th bite” perspective, I am abstainer through and through.

  • I’m an abstainer, but I find that if I try to abstain from too many things at once that I fail. Last year I gave up diet soda, and this year I gave up real soda. Five months in to the year, and I still haven’t had a taste. I think my success has been to focus on a few things at a time, and build on that success.

  • opinionovator

    I fall into a disordered middle hybrid category. I am generally an abstainer. But for regular foods from which I don’t abstain or cravings that I indulge on occasion, I am unable to stop until the whole thing is finished – even though I really don’t want any more after the first few tastes.

  • M

    Is it crazy to suggest that you could be an abstainer in some areas of your life and a moderator in others? With food I have no problem being a moderator (first bite is absolutely the best and I never finish a sweet dessert) but with other negative habits (too much facebook) I find it easier to abstain totally.

  • KristiJo

    I agree about the last bite. it’s kind of like a reverse bell curve – great at first, goes slightly downhill and then gets better as I get towards the end (typically it’s a bowl of ice cream). I would have to be an abstainer.

  • Amy

    Abstainer – not only is the last bite just as good, I feel a compulsion to finish, whether it’s a bar of chocolate or a whole bag of chips.

  • Eve

    Moderator here– yes, by the 10th bite I usually don’t feel that strongly about it anymore. Often I will keep eating the pleasurable thing if it is there, but I wouldn’t be sad about its being gone.

  • mebrightwell

    Although this isn’t exactly on topic, I’ve noticed that with my two children, one consistently defaults “No.” As in, “No, I don’t want to go to a new park, try a new food, meet a new friend.” It’s not that that she’s pessimistic, she just isn’t interested in expanding her current knowledge with a new experience. The other (my younger) child consistently defaults “Yes.” He’s always up for a new experience, taste, acquaintance. I wondered if this somehow correlated with their natural abstainer/moderator tendencies, but they’re a little too young to fully experiment with that idea. My husband (who is a classic moderator) is also a “default No” person. My understanding this personality trait has significantly improved our marriage. He can try new experiences, but he’s never going to say, “Hey, let’s try the new restaurant that just opened on the Plaza.” (We’re Kansas City, MO people!)

  • Holly

    I’m an abstainer because it’s easy to go into mindless eating mode. Truly 2 forks full of cheesecake are all I ever want, more than that becomes to much. But with the full piece of cake in front of me, I’ll eat it even though I’m no longer enjoying it.

    One way I’m learning to moderate is to put 102 forks full it in a small disposable cup (like a 2oz-4oz size). I’m satisfied and get a thrill of tossing the cup–which makes me feel like I was in control of my eating.

  • Heidi

    I’m pretty sure I’m a moderator, and the first bit is usually the best, or sometimes the second. The tenth one, or the last one, is never the best.

    But ice cream may be a special case, especially if it’s very cold. After my mouth gets cold, I can’t taste much of anything, even something new. I think cold taste buds just don’t work as well.

  • Heidi

    This abstainer / moderator thing could explain what the low-carb diets always say. They claim that we crave sugary stuff because we eat sugary stuff, and if we never ate it, we’d never crave it, and we’d all be skinny and in perfect shape. What a load of nonsense! (meaning the “all” part of that statement. It apparently works for some people.) I tried the South Beach diet a few years ago, and lost a bunch of weight, but it made me crave sugary stuff that I’d never cared much about before. When I went off the diet (because you can’t actually live that way long-term) I gained back all I had lost plus another 10 pounds, because the sugar cravings lasted about 6 months. And it’s not that I started craving sugar again after the first bite. I started craving sugar after about a week on the diet, and it never let up, only got worse throughout the diet.

    I do much better eating all things in moderation.

    • gretchenrubin

      Very interesting. Another moderator friend had a similar experience – trying to be an abstainer made her focus on food in an unhealthy way that she’d never done before.

  • Tara

    Totally a moderator like this story – I find that the first few bites are the best. Often I will divide a dessert into 3 or 4 sections, and eat one section per day until it’s gone. There is no temptation to eat the whole thing at once because I know I won’t really enjoy it after a few bites and it will just make me feel sick and dissatisfied.

  • Joan Entwistle

    I am an abstainer, but can occasionally moderate. I always have to finish my plate of yummy food, even when it’s way more than I initially wanted. And I find that after the small bowl of ice cream, I definitely want seconds. When I smoked, I had a hard time quitting cold-turkey, but could not moderate either, so resorted to bumming cigarettes until I got past the addiction, then quit for good on a long weekend when I would not be around any other smokers. At first I felt strange, but after a few days I felt free, knowing I would keep my resolve to never smoke again.

  • JCT

    Just weighing in: As an abstainer, I never feel like I’m getting the “best bite” I always think “just one more will be the best one”….and then I’m stuffed and feeling guilty.

  • Helena

    I’ve noticed this lately about myself. I often don’t want more than a few bites of dessert–the first couple bites really are the best–but because I hate to waste food I feel compelled to finish what’s on my plate whether I really want it or not. And if it’s too much, then by the end of it I almost wish I hadn’t gotten it in the first place. The solution is to get a small serving or, if I’m at a restaurant, make sure I have someone to share with.

  • James

    With alcohol, I think of this as positive and negative feedback, moderated by what somebody remembers once they’ve started drinking. I remember that I don’t like being hung over; some of my friends remember how much fun they had last time, before they stopped drinking. I drink only small amounts, and they drink either nothing or lots and lots.

  • Jenny

    Moderator – after the first few bites I loose the desire but I always love to try everything. That’s why I love ordering with lots of people in a restaurant when you get lots of different things for everybody on the table and everybody just picks whatever he likes.

    Normal portions are usually to big and I hate to waste it. When I am done with my main dish that doesn’t mean I don’t have room for a little dessert. When I switch to a different flavor I can eat a little more. I hardly ever finish a meal though.

    For my husband it is the other way round, he always wants the last bite the most.

  • urwa


  • urwa

    i want to buy this plz tell me how can

  • Kevin Cuccaro

    Late to this post but loved your talk at WDS and enjoyed talking with you briefly afterward. This HuffPo post reminded me of the abstainer/moderators. Maybe you could find some examples of each and get some brain imaging done before your book 🙂

  • Lori McKee

    No one commented on this? This is a favorite topic of mine as I try to lose about 30 middle aged pounds. I’m down 20 already and so proud. Weight Watchers is what did it for me, but now the weight is creeping back up and I’m not sure why – I’m still trying to track as best I can. Would love to lose another 10 but could probably be content to just maintain.

    ANyway – I always say – it is easier for me to not take the first (corn chip) – than to stop after a moderate amount. I’ve started setting my phone timer when I get to the Mexican restaurant – and put off starting on the free chips and salsa for 5 minutes. Then I go for another 5, if I can stand it and my meal hasn’t arrived. I figure I save 10 minutes of stuffing chips in my face this way! Better than nothing, right? Also once my meal has come, I don’t have to focus on the chips so much. (and I can enjoy that meal I paid for instead of being full on chips!)

    ANother way I heard it (Weight Watchers quote?) is – “1 is too many and 1000 is not enough” – oh – just googled it and it’s apparently an AA quote!

  • Lori McKee

    PS – Very excited to read the Habits book. LOVE your books, Gretchen. You think so much like me! haha!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Ashley Barbee

    I have read so many times that the first bite is the best, but I have always strongly disagreed. I even try to be conscious while eating a particularly unhealthy food to see if the first bite really is the best and its not! I can never get enough of a good thing and I usually find myslef savoring the last bite becasue I know its my last (unless I go back for more, haha!). Definitely an abstainer here. I’d rather not have it at all if I can’t have all I want. I do beleive “all things in moderation” is a healthy mentality, so I allow myslef to “pig-out” but only occasionally. The rest of the time I try to stick to healthier options.

  • Cheryl Gajowski

    To night I just finished some – delicious – ice cream and that last mouthful was delicious,too. I filled my dish twice because I wasn’t satisfied. But then I stopped and that’s that.

    I think that what I have eaten during the rest of the day is more of an influence. If I have eaten -mainly- sufficient protein in meals — I can sample and stop. If I have been foolish or lazy about meals and have not eaten some fish or meat or chicken – or tofu – the cravings can explode. And anyway, I have tried to refocus entirely on eating enough of what’s good to eat each day, not on avoiding what’s “bad” to eat.

    I have tossed a certain amount of self blame and other internal trash – at least about eating – in order to allow get eating to be – just eating, most of the time for good health.

    SO I guess I am a moderate. Or something in between. If junk food is in front of me I mindlessly grab it – so don’t usually bring it in the house. But some things I really like – or have a craving for – like that ice cream – I will buy and eat when I want it.

    I just went on my first cruise — and to my surprise, after all I had heard, I didn’t overeat at all. Lots of food – no inclination at all to “pig out” or even to snack .I wondered, why? Actually, I found the main courses to be too large, desserts small sized. It was easy to get vegetables and fruits. We ate regular meals – with other people- which I also think meant I was never ravenously hungry, never lonely when eating, in a very social setting, never stressed out at meal times. Wow – that eliminates most triggers for out of control ‘addictive’ behaviors including eating.

    So I suspect that if we can manage our food intake from a positive side – and not allow ourselves to be isolated or awash in anger or loneliness ( not so easy to avoid all the time, really I know or I wouldn’t be reading this) ) I think that eating becomes something that can be nice and not an interior battle.