Abstinence versus moderation

Friday, June 21, 2013 Permalink

Happiness doyenne, Gretchen Rubin, often writes about the concept of abstainers versus moderators.

My mum, for example, is a moderator. She can easily open a packet of biscuits and just eat one or two. She keeps all sorts of exciting foods on hand in the event of visitors – and remains immune to their allure. I have friends who are the same. Chocolate will remain in their fridge for days or weeks. Packets of chips or crackers hang around until bored in their pantry.

I’ve mentioned the notion before and believe that – on the whole – I need to be an abstainer.

Even though I’m trying to not-diet and put boundaries and parameters around my food, there are certain things I’ve placed off-limits.

The logic behind this probably makes sense only to me. For example, I can mostly eat whatever I want for meals and snacks, but I just can’t buy my trigger foods (chocolate, corn chips, rice cakes and so forth). If I go to someone’s house and they have them, that’s fine. I can partake, but in essence if they’re in my house I KNOW they will be eaten in a binge-like manner (and perhaps set off something worse). No question about it.

I know I need to be an abstainer because – quite honestly – I just can’t control myself around certain foods. And sometimes bingeing comes as a relief because I KNOW that after days and days of indulging in as much as is humanly possible, the infamous lightbulb will glow and I’ll feel compelled to turn my life around, going on the-diet-to-end-all-diets. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt!

When it comes to ‘binges’ or the notion of self-control, I’m far ‘better’ than I once was. Just a few years ago I could not keep flour or sugar. IF I had a combination of both (even if I had flour and sachets of sugar / sugar cubes) and I had butter, eggs or milk on hand, I COULD make biscuit batter. And I’d make it over and over again. Until the ingredients were gone. And unless I was resolute… I’d buy more.

Back then, my only option was to stop buying flour.

I now have flour. I probably even have sugar. But… my binge behavior is obviously improved on what it once was as I’m not likely to binge uncontrollably on biscuit or cake batter.

Thank god for small mercies. Etcetera.

The thing that intrigues me is that I find abstinence acceptable with some things and not others, particularly given my ‘all or nothing’ and black/white thinking.

Going without carbs or placing other things off-limits sends me into a tailspin: the notion of deprivation makes me ponder on the point of life. In general, I am anti-abstinence.

I must confess I like that I can (mostly) be honest with myself about this stuff. It’d be nice to attempt moderation with my trigger foods and buy a bag of caramello koalas; telling myself I’d just eat one or two. But even now I know I’d eat all 12.

Twelve caramello koalas wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’d probably go back to the store tomorrow and buy another bag. And then THAT wouldn’t be enough. I’d need more. Two bags at least. Rinse, repeat.

It seems I’m (mostly) self-aware enough to recognise when moderation is possible and when I need to abstain. So, I’ve realised it’s time to add yet another food to my DANGER FOODS list: Vanilla Diet Coke.

How many times have I given up the demon drink? Lots.

Screen-shot-2014-01-27-at-6.34.40-PMIt takes some doing, but after a few days I’m okay. There’ll be occasional cravings, but I survive.

Two years ago I’d essentially quit the stuff for months, until my dad got sick and I started buying a bottle enroute to the hospital each day. Earlier this year I’d given up, until I got sick and needed a caffeine pick-me-up (OR SOMETHING) to make me feel better.

However… on the VDC front, I’ve tried moderation and it doesn’t work. I’ve ‘tried’ to stick to 500ml/day or similar, but the moment I feel stressed or need to ‘focus’ I turn to the caffeine-laden fizzy stuff.

So, if my Facebook updates or tweets sound grumpy over the next day or two you’ll know why!

Have you detoxed from caffeine or another fave substance? 
Were you hell to be around?

PS. In case you’re wondering how my digital detox went; it was great. The first day I constantly reached for my phone and wanted to tweet, Facebook or Instagram stuff. I needed to tell someone things, whether it be to share funny photos or my enlightened thoughts. By the second day I was mostly used to it and actually wanted to stay away longer. Alas… the real world beckoned. 



  • Char
    June 21, 2013

    I will NEVER give up coffee. NEVER!!! But then again I can be self-limiting with it. Too much caffeine gives me a racing heart and palpitations and I can’t sleep so I will have one a day – two if I feel like living on the edge.

    I can’t have an open packet of chips in the house, though. If I open it, it’s all gone in one sitting so I only open chips when I know there are people to share them with.

    • Debbish
      June 21, 2013

      I thought I could do the moderation thing with diet coke – and I wasn’t doing too badly (500ml a day or so), but really increased my intake over the past couple of weeks and kinda ‘used’ it when I needed to sit at my desk. Although a little bit is okay, too much just makes me feel… not great. My stomach gets really gnaw-y and I get very bloated. I’d much prefer moderation where it’s concerned but just don’t know that I can do it. (Wish I drank coffee / tea!)

      Re the chips.. yep! I hear ya!

  • Thehungryma
    June 21, 2013

    I was just thinking about this today. We had pot luck salads at work as a goodbye party. We all brought different ingredients to make three different salads. The theme was strawberries so we also had strawberry San Gria and one of the salads was Go Fruity with strawberries, mango, papaya. Dessert was, you guessed it Strawberry Shortcake. It looked delicious. But I decided to abstain from it. My attitude is if I want to lose weight, why bother?

    • Debbish
      June 21, 2013

      The abstinence thing is an interesting one for me. On one hand I’m telling myself that I’m not feeling deprived (about avoiding my trigger foods) because I’m not ‘dieting’. I haven’t put everything ‘unhealthy’ off limits. So… I’m seeing it as a psychological thing – my ability to ‘avoid’ my danger foods. I’m thinking that ‘not-dieting’ works – for me, anyway. I’m able to avoid binge eating because I don’t feel deprived. In that sense I feel like it’s the mindset side of things working, rather than the behavioural.

      BUT… it does occur to me that each time I go grocery shopping I have to very purposefully decide NOT to buy those trigger foods or something similar. I’ll see chocolate on sale and think, “I have to buy it.” Cos otherwise I’m missing out on a bargain. Right?! (Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense!)

      But I have to consciously stop and NOT pick up the things I know I shouldn’t have. So realise that it’s sort of a behavioural thing as well… the abstinence. It’s like at every moment, you can make a decision (ie. in your case, to have the shortcake or not) and it is a challenge each and every time.

      PS. That may make no sense at all. Just my way of saying that I completely understand….


  • Jess
    June 21, 2013

    I am exactly the same way with diet coke. I quit for months. Have one innocent drink at a restaurant and I want everyday trillion times a day again!

    • Debbish
      June 22, 2013

      Yes… I’m going to try to hold off. The fortunate thing for me is that I don’t like normal diet coke only the vanilla diet coke which is hard to get. But… I keep going back to it. Time after time!

  • Jo Tracey
    June 21, 2013

    I can leave chocolate or sweet things in the cupboard/fridge with no issue. An open bottle of wine is another thing entirely- but my ultimate naughty indulgence for all of my real food absolutism is, wait for it, that kraft cheese spread that bears no resemblance to cheese & leaves the sort of dreadful chemical taste on your mouth that makes me then crave sugar- which I’ve given up.

    • Debbish
      June 22, 2013

      Oh yes… I suspect I have certain things that then make me crave others as well. Diet Coke for eg, makes my stomach gurgle and makes me feel hungry, even if I’m not!

  • Satu
    June 21, 2013

    You know my take on this. I’m a an abstainer turned moderator and it has taken me 2 years of practice to get where I’m now (but I don’t think I’m quite finished yet). I can now have all kinds of stuff in my cupboard if I want and it doesn’t bother me – unless I’ve skipped a meal or two and end up grazing mindlessly.

    I think you’ve made great progress during the last two years and I hope you will eventually find your way around food.

    • Debbish
      June 22, 2013

      Oh thanks Satu. I can see light at the end of the tunnel, if that makes sense!


  • Danielle
    June 21, 2013

    Pepsi Max!!! It was horrible. The cravings, the headaches, the moodiness! But the worst part was I broke out in the worst cold sore attack I have had in years! It’s funny, but after going through all that (especially the cold sores) it was never worth having another Pepsi max. Every time I had a craving I thought about the reaction my body had (and the way my face looked with those cold sores…SCARY) and I never had another one. It’s been a year now and I used to have at least 2 600ml bottles a day, and had been doing so for about 10 to 15 years. On the upside I have lost 10 kg and my skin looks WAY better then it used to, and I just feel better. However I didn’t give up caffeine as ive heard its even harder to give both up at once (skim caramel lattes yummmmmmmm) and I also started drinking tea…and not just black tea but an array of different flavors to keep it interesting, from green tea, peppermint, hibiscus and rose, chamomile vanilla honey, cinnamon…and I’m still discovering more (maybe replacing one addiction with another but at least this one is better for me!) I cant do moderation at all and people who can really blow my mind. I just cant understand how people could only eat 1 caramello koala from a pack of 12. I swear those koalas sing “eat me, im delicious, eat me”.Good luck! It’s rough but worth it!!!!

    • Debbish
      June 22, 2013

      Danielle, I’m the same with moderation when it comes to my fave foods or trigger foods. My mother told me the other day that 4 chips/fries are all you should eat with a meal (as I was eating a plateful). I don’t get those who can eat ‘normal’ or small amounts or ‘stop’.

      I actually can tell my face looks less puffy and haggard when I’m not drinking diet coke as well. I know the amounts I drink can’t be good for me. If I could drink a can a day or have a glass (equiv to a cup of coffee) that would be fine. But I can’t. Alas…

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy
    June 22, 2013

    I am definitely a moderator. For years I totally banned things from my diet and I just ended up binging on them. So now, I moderate them and it works so much better for me.

    • Debbish
      June 23, 2013

      I’m wondering if abstinence followed by moderation works. ie. If I go without vanilla diet coke long enough, I’ll be able to just have a bit and that’ll be enough!

  • Dorothy Q. Burnett
    June 23, 2013

    I think its really good that you are stepping away from one of the foods you consider yourself addicted to. The psychological pull of VDC matters as much as, if not more than, the actual impact of the VDC on your health/eating. VDC doesn’t control you.

    • Debbish
      June 23, 2013

      Oh… so very true and the psychological side is probably as important for me as the physiological! Sometimes I barely even taste the VDC and sometimes it tastes flat or stale, but it’s probably just as much the fact that I KNOW I’m drinking it!


  • Dutch
    June 27, 2013

    Losing weight has been a struggle for me since I got a desk job 8 years ago, instead of running from one place to another and lifting and moving a lot. You hardly notice it but the pounds add up gradually especially when you are not active in any sport , and than someone tells you, wow you are getting bigger. I hated it.

    Now I tried this new diet called “MyDietFormula” and I must say it works for me. It is not a way to lose weight fast but you will lose it steadily. I am so impressed that I begun to promote this diet and many friends and others are very happy with this program. (see link at the bottom)
    A new and better diet then you ever tried before.
    A diet you have been waiting for. It works!
    This simple approach translates into turning your body into a fat burning machine.
    Shed those pounds slowly, easily, naturally…, and permanently.

I'd love to hear your thoughts