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“But what about chocolate?” she asked.

What about it?” I said back to her.

“Dark chocolate is good for you and in moderation, it can be part of your day.”

What’s moderation?

She responded, “I struggle with that concept.”

I had to take a step back before I answered. Moderation for me is intuitive. It’s “just a little bit.” There’s no quantification. It just is. I asked her what moderation meant for her and she said something that I hear quite often, “I just need you to tell me what to eat. Tell me how much.”

That’s not how I roll as a health coach. The goal is to offer guidance and support to clients to create healthy habits to achieve their goals. My clients need to come to a place where, with education and guidance, they find habits that support them. If I tell her she can have one ounce of dark chocolate every day, then I’m making the rule.

I’ve learned, as was the case with this client, that some people simply cannot regulate their own intake of some foods. They are abstainers.

What is an Abstainer?

If someone gave you a pint of ice cream, your absolute favorite flavor, and said, “you can eat this but only have two bites a day” — could you do it? Or would it be easier just to never have ice cream?

Abstainers struggle with moderation. If someone says they can’t have a particular food,they’re better with that approach than if they’re allowed to have a little bit. Having a chocolate bar in a drawer and being told they can only have a little bit will result in them thinking about that damn chocolate bar all day and having “a little bit” several times throughout the day until the bar is gone. When the bar is gone they may be filled with both guilt and relief. Guilt because they ate the whole thing, but relief because now the bar is gone and they don’t have to think about it anymore.

Abstainers do better with healthy habit formation if they create absolutes for themselves. “I can’t have sugar” is easier than “I can have sugar on Fridays” for example.

What is a Moderator?

Moderators struggle with absolutes. If you tell a moderator they can’t have something then that something is all they can think about. They feel deprived with absolutes and instead thrive when they can have “a little bit.”

If that chocolate bar sits in the drawer of a moderator’s desk, they’re perfectly capable of eating one ounce of that chocolate a day and enjoying that moment. They’re able to put the bar back into the drawer and forget about it until the next day.

For a moderator who is trying to shift their health habits, this is important. Making a food “off limits” hurts their progress and may make them feel like they’re weak or a failure if they rebel and eat the food.

Moderators do great with “cheat days” or “cheat meals.” It gives them the freedom to stick to their plan 95% of the time and to take time off from their plan.

Abstainers do great with absolutes. They don’t want to have to decide or to have to control themselves. They do better with black and white rules. No sugar, no grains etc…

Most people know right away if they’re a moderator or an abstainer. You know if you prefer to have a little bit or if that is too much temptation. When creating new healthy habits for yourself, pay attention to your innate personality. Embrace it, don’t fight it.

We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”
― Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives


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