If you’ve spent any time trying to lose weight, you’ve likely heard that you should give in to your cravings and that anything is ok in moderation. You’ve may also heard that you need to eliminate x, y, and z if you really want to be successful.

So which is it? Can you be moderate with your diet and still see results? Or should you abstain completely from certain foods?

Like a lot of health-related things, the answer is: it depends. This article will help you identify whether you should give something up altogether or indulge moderately.

The Case for Moderation

Food is not inherently good or bad. Some foods are much more nutrient-dense than others but there’s no food that you need to completely swear off in order to be thin, healthy, or happy. Any food can fit into your diet, maybe just not in the quantities that you’d like.

If a life without chocolate cake isn’t a life worth living, by all means, have some cake. After all, the goal for all of us should be to live the healthiest lives we enjoy. If you can have a slice of cake, enjoy every bite of it, not feel guilty, and then resume your diet that’s full of lean proteins, veggies, fruit, and unprocessed fats and carbs, awesome!

Indulging moderately in your favorites will not hold you back from reaching your goals. In fact, if you’re a Moderator, abstaining may make you want to rebel against the “rules” and indulge just to prove a point. Indulging in moderation may just keep you sane and prevent you from feeling miserable on your diet.

But what if you can’t indulge moderately? What if one piece of cake turns into the whole damn thing?

The Case for Abstinence

For some, it’s a lot easier to give up chocolate cake altogether than it is to try to eat it in small amounts. This might seem unnecessarily strict or rigid to people who are able to indulge in moderation but those with more of an all-or-nothing temperament will understand.

If you’re an Abstainer, attempting moderation can be a slippery slope. One piece can turn into a second until you’re left with an empty plate and heaping pile of guilt. You may end up bargaining with yourself about what qualifies as “moderate,” whether this instance actually “counts,” or trying to justify your indulgences.

In this case, eliminating options may be a lot easier to wrap your head around. Instead of trying to justify or talk yourself out of a small indulgence that has a good chance of getting out of hand, you just decide that certain foods are not options anymore. By making them entirely off-limits, you can stop thinking about them and allowing them to take up space in your brain.

Which Is Right For You?

You may already have a pretty good idea which resonates more with you just from experience or reading the descriptions above.

Gretchen Rubin, who popularized these terms in her book, Happier At Home, suggests the following questions to help decide which approach is better for you:

You’re a moderator if you…

– find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure–and strengthens your resolve

– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something

You’re an abstainer if you…

– have trouble stopping something once you’ve started

– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits

Is There a Middle Ground?

This might be hard for Abstainers to hear but it’s possible that you are a little bit of both.

You might be better off abstaining completely from some foods but able to eat others in moderation. 

It might be the right decision to abstain right now but work on reintroducing certain foods in moderation over time.

My Experience

I never tell myself that I can “never have this again.” Instead, I decide that right now I am choosing not to eat this food. Whatever decisions I make in the future are TBD and I trust they’ll suit my goals at the given moment.

I’ve had the best success with abstaining completely from certain things for short amounts of time and then deciding individually whether I think learning to indulge in moderation is in my best interest.

If you try this, don’t be shocked if your first attempts at moderation don’t go well.

I still have some foods that I will not eat because I know I cannot do so without eating way more than I should and it just feels easier to not get involved.

My relationship with other foods has evolved over time and I’m able to have modest amounts of many of the foods that posed a major challenge years ago.

How To Start

If you’ve been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole all these years, now is the time to make some changes. Whether you’ve identified as a Moderator or Abstainer, try aligning your eating habits with your personality style and seeing if this whole weight loss thing starts to feel a bit easier and more natural.

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