Don't Let's Call It a Diet

Abstain or Moderate?

It’s been on my mind since last summer. There seem to be two roads to weight loss, two philosophies among the programs that generally seem to work for people: abstinence and moderation.

I grew up in a political household, and I often heard my father labeled as a "moderate." I’m not sure what this meant to the people who called him that. I’m guessing he was really pretty liberal for his time and place, but people who liked him wanted to call him something less frightening to those at the other end of the scale. To me, being moderate came to mean being someone who did not jump to conclusions based on other people’s opinions; it meant being someone who considered all the ramifications and came to a sound decision.

This was based totally on my dad, so I had no idea whether it had any basis in political reality.

It occurs to me that I might want to look up "moderate" in the dictionary, since that was so often my dad’s advice. Here goes:

1 a: avoiding extremes of behavior or expression : observing reasonable limits <a moderate drinker> b: calm,   temperate
2 a: tending toward the mean or average amount or dimension b: having average or less than average quality : mediocre
: professing or characterized by political or social beliefs that are not extreme
: limited in scope or effect
5: not expensive : reasonable or low in price
of a color : of medium lightness and medium chroma

You all know I’ve been using Weight Watchers as my food guideline and support system since late last June, and it’s clearly a program that promotes moderation, as in #1a. (It’s also #5 compared to many weight loss programs.) If you pay attention, you learn portion control. And if you listen to the leaders I’m hearing, you get encouragement to figure out ways to still have the things you love, but to learn to limit them appropriately, whether that means having that Dairy Queen Blizzard once a summer instead of every day, or rewriting your favorite recipes to make them fit, or even recognizing that there is some other way to get the effect that food had on you.

Because, seriously, food has an effect on us. As Pure Luck suggested, I’m a different person when I’ve had a little chocolate. Some people struggle with salty snack desires, but I am more inclined toward sweets. Not that I wouldn’t have eaten your corn chips, mind you. But once I saw how many "points" they cost and compared them to other things I would rather have, they ceased to be tempting.

Ah, temptation. What’s your tipple? I love baked goods. I love chocolate. I’ve considered certain kinds of candy to be my best friend at difficult passages of my life; wrap chocolate around caramel, and you have a bar of dangerous bliss.

A moderation-based plan allows for those blissful moments. I enjoyed some Fun Size Milky Ways back around Halloween. I calculated the points, and I did not go crazy, and I did enjoy them. If I had eaten more, I probably wouldn’t have felt too great. The trick, I guess, is knowing what that limit is not just in terms of points in a calculator or words on paper, but in how you feel inside.

I’m not much of a drinker. I think I can count on two fingers the number of times in my life I’ve had more than two drinks, and even two drinks is not more than a once a year occasion.  I didn’t drink at all for many years when my children were young, and I didn’t miss it. I know what one drink feels like, and I know that halfway through a second drink is a point of silly gleefulness, and at the end of the second drink is a crash through the floor into an uncensored attitude toward the world, which is all very amusing if you are my husband and already planning to drive home, but not so great if you wake up the next day and think, "I wish I hadn’t eaten so much dinner" or ‘Why did I think *that* was a smart thing to say?"

I have it figured out where alcohol is concerned. What I want to know is whether I can get to that place with sweets. Because at the moment, although I am all over the portion control, I find myself terrified by the thought of abstinence from sweets, even for one day.

I’ve been going along telling myself it’s okay, that as long as I don’t go down the road of a binge, or even if I recover well from bad eating and pull it back together. But my resistance to living without sugar worries me, especially the adamant nature of my thoughts when I wonder about being abstinent rather than moderate.

Abstinence, by its very nature, is extreme, right?

I decided to look this one up, too.

1: voluntary forbearance especially from indulgence of an appetite or craving or from eating some foods
2 a
: habitual abstaining from intoxicating beverages b: abstention from sexual intercourse

Voluntary forbearance: it doesn’t sound so extreme when you put it that way. It sounds like a discipline.

It’s not the big piece of cheesecake or the Christmas desserts or even the Thanksgiving pie that worries me. I think my days for regularly eating big desserts are most likely behind me. It’s the daily desire for "a little smackerel," as Pooh would put it. Moderation would say, "Have those little smackerels, dear, just know what they are and how they fit into the overall day." Abstinence would say, "Learn to live without them, dear. You don’t really need them."

The underlying metaphorical question is this: what am I trying to sweeten? Myself? My experience of the world? My busy schedule? Or is it so habitual that the root desire is indefinable or even irrelevant?

11 thoughts on “Abstain or Moderate?”

  1. But there are sugar and fat free sweets in abundance these days that you could have, right? Mind you, you want to go moderate on them because too much there is also not good. I have a diabetic friend who enjoys chocolate covered things and cheesecake and baked goods without sugar or fat.
    Just sayin.
    (I go for salty AND sweet. Fritos and glazed buttermilk cake donuts are my Achilles heels) (but not together, oh no)

  2. My indulgence is Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate squares. Just the right size…about 55 calories, 4g of fat, maybe, and plus dark chocolate is an antioxidant, and is even good for you!!!
    I treat them like my daily vitamin pill (or maybe my twice daily vitamin pill). 🙂

  3. Songbird, you bring up some things I have never thought of! In terms of moderation and food – thank you.
    BTW, I sure do want the oreo chocolate mint Blizzard right now. Might have it after weigh in on Thursday. A small one.

  4. i thought i couldn’t live without the sweets… but haven’t indulged in sugar or corn syrup, except in trace amounts, since january 2nd. and it feels good. i wanted to be free of an addiction. and i think i am…

  5. Well, for me, the abstinence is the key. Just as it is for an alcoholic. When I can stay sober, I am in control of it. With my history of using it as solace and balm, the danger is always lurking that it can again control my life. Not a good thought. When Swiss Cake Rolls are involved, one is too many and a hundred is not enough. It’s worked for me for the past eight years. I can’t go back to allowing myself to indulge at all. Too slippery a slope.

  6. Great questions. I think some people can do moderation all the way and some may also have to abstain from some things. The latter’s the case for me.
    Peanut butter. I just have to abstain…I seem incapable of eating normal amounts. Very sad. I love it.
    Real butter, ditto. Most good bread, the same.
    If I am offered these sorts of things, I say, “Thanks, but you don’t have enough there for me.”
    There would never be enough.

  7. I think about this a lot. The thing is, I can’t abstain from food. The question is, can I abstain from my triggers or can I learn to manage them. I see you’re wrestling with the same thing, as well as the harder question of WHY they are triggers in the first place. Meh.

  8. Perhaps it’s not a food issue as much as it is a control issue? Self-control, in your case, Songbird. But I know a lot of people who use self-imposed food restrictions to try to control menus at family gatherings, etc…

  9. At our house, we are struggling with the needs of a loved one who is an adult anorexic. Recently widowed, the ever-present ghost of her eating disorder has come to life as she copes with her grief.
    Watching her, I have learned that harsh self-control, abstinence, and equating your sense of worth with your diet is poison, no matter what you actually eat. Let your heart be your guide and let your discipline be gentle. You’re trying to construct a rule of life, not a landscape full of traps and opportunities to fail. Abstinence? Moderation? Choose the one that, for today, makes you feel whole and present to your life and loved ones. You’ve already come so far in understanding your hunger.

  10. I don’t know – you are so right about how changing your habits forces you to deal with stuff. I’m starting to know what anxiety feels like for the first time! And no comfort eating! Bleh!

  11. Patti, that’s a tough one. I’ve never taken regularly scheduled medication for anxiety; I’ve only used bowls of cereal! It’s a strange feeling to remain empty, or relatively so, at times of emotion. Everything vibrates differently, doesn’t it?

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