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What Is the Best Way to Diet: Moderate or Abstain?

See Which Diet Category You Fall Into — It'll Change the Way You Eat

We recently had a casual conversation with Brooke Barnett — a woman we interviewed last year who lost over 100 pounds — about eating habits, healthy tips, and wellness philosophies, and she dropped a little knowledge on us. Apparently, there are two groups of people: moderators and abstainers. According to Brooke, determining which one she is was fundamental in her weight loss journey.

"I'm an abstainer," she told us. "I would love to actually be a moderator and to be able to moderate my intake, but that's just not how I'm wired." She explained that it took her a while to understand the way her brain and body work, but once she did, it was life changing. "The concept was introduced to me, and it wasn't like a light switch; it was actually a gradual understanding and acceptance after continuous trial and error. Once I was able to accept it, things clicked."

The concept comes from Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author and happiness philosopher. On Gretchen's site, she describes the following two categories of behavior, which includes how you eat:

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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

Where do you fall? Do you have a better time limiting your treats to small portions or do you have to throw out the ice cream in the freezer in order to survive?

It's easy to preach "everything in moderation" and "it's all about balance" — but the truth is, it's not that simple if you're an abstainer. What happens when moderation isn't an option, and one bite, one treat, or one day of eating whatever you please snowballs into a cycle you simply cannot break?

"Once I started experimenting with the idea of abstinence [from food], I realized that having none was often easier than having one," said Brooke. "I no longer had to use mental energy or willpower to play the 'Should I? Shouldn't I?' game of moderation." Does that scenario sound familiar to you? In that case, you should adjust your diet accordingly.

"Now that my body has weaned off its drug-like response, I don't really crave sweets or snacks and I enjoy eating real food."

Everyone is wired differently, and everyone's body is different — it's the reason why there's no cure-all diet that works for absolutely every single person, and why it's hard to find nutritionists and dietitians who can agree on every single topic. If you're a moderator, maybe it's time to quit the elimination diets for good. And if you're an abstainer, perhaps that's a better option for you. "We are all different and our bodies tolerate or react to things in different ways," Brooke told POPSUGAR. The best thing you can do for your health and diet is get to know you, your habits, and your relationship to food better.

If you think you fall into the abstainer category, don't freak out. "It seems extreme," said Brooke, "because it goes in the face of moderation — this elusive idea that isn't really measurable and is hailed as balanced and healthy living. So this idea of complete restriction seems like a terrible, terrible idea." But if you can give it a shot, you might have massive success like Brooke did.

"After abstaining from foods like sugar and refined carbohydrates, I no longer have the same taste for them, and not eating them is a nonissue, whereas moderating these foods felt like a constant struggle. Now that my body has weaned off its drug-like response, I don't really crave sweets or snacks, and I enjoy eating real food."

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim
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