Are you an abstainer or a moderator?

I enjoyed the discussion of these terms in Gretchin Rubin’s Better Than Before but they were not new to me. I have always identified as a moderator. When Santa leaves a bar of dark chocolate in my stocking I have no problem doling out one square at a time for a tea time treat. Since the very beginning of my journey I have practiced the 80/20 rule and have encouraged others to do the same.

What I started to realize when I became a personal trainer and health coach is not everyone is like me. To abstainers a chocolate bar lurking the cabinet is like a grenade ready to explode. Once the wrapper is off all bets are off. I thought with time, and patience, however that I could change abstainers to moderators. That by educating them on the virtues of clean eating I could help them brake the craving cycle. I thought that by teaching them how to strengthen their willpower and build new habits that nothing had to be off limits.

With time, experience and age comes wisdom. I realize that my assumptions were wrong. It’s time to stop fighting it and approach the journey in a way that makes sense for them. After all, successful habit change requires setting up a path that requires the least resistance. If you’re fighting how you’re hard wired, you’re setting yourself up to fail. For habit change that is lasting, follow these tips in accordance with your abstainer or moderator nature (as well as where you fall in the Four Tendencies).

If You’re a Moderator:

Practice delayed gratification.

If you tell yourself the chai latte is off limits you will think about nothing but the chai latte. Instead tell yourself you won’t have it today but you can enjoy it Saturday morning while you stroll the farmers market or while you read a good book.

Go for quality not quantity.

Some moderators feel more satisfied with a daily splurge. Buy the best quality dark chocolate you can and enjoy a square a day. Create an experience out of it, tuning out social media and television and savoring each bite mindfully. Make whatever your splurge is a special occasion.

Only one thing, not all things, in moderation.

If you’ve set up an evening indulgence of dark chocolate that means you need to say no to the cake at the office birthday party in the morning. When you go out to dinner, pick the wine or dessert but not both. Moderation doesn’t mean you can have it all, it means you can enjoy an occasional small but satisfying treat.

If You’re an Abstainer:

Don’t bring trigger foods in the house.

If you have one bite, you’ll eat it all. I am not saying you can never have another chip again (although for some this could be the case) but if it’s in your pantry you will eat.

Set clear rules.

Establish boundaries by making firm rules for yourself. When the rules are clear (I don’t eat cake, I don’t drink soda, I don’t buy white bread) it requires less thought and willpower and leaves little room for negotiation. Saying I DON’T vs I CAN”T affirms this is your choice. Declaring these statements to others also sets up a system of accountability.

Beware of transference.

French fries may be your trigger (like Gretchen’s sister Elizabeth) so you swear them off forever. Slowly potato chips start sneaking their way into your daily diet. It’s easy to justify (or ignore) a new bad habit when you’ve completely sworn off another one.

What if you’re both? It’s all about knowing yourself. If you can have just one, then don’t be afraid to treat yourself. If eating one cookie sends you down the rabbit hole you know that they have to stay off limits.

What are you? Abstainer, moderator or both?

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