Moderator or Abstainer?

Ever since I’ve read Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, I’ve become fascinated by peoples habits, specifically in regards to helping people with their nutrition goals.

I think one of the most important questions you can ask yourself when creating a nutrition plan is, are you a moderator or an abstainer? Gretchin Rubin describes each of these as…

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

What I’ve seen from working with clients is that most people are abstainers when it comes to hyper-palatable foods, because they are designed to make you not want to stop eating them. Think chips, ice cream, etc. However, even with things like ice cream and cupcakes, some people (moderators) can have a couple bites and be done (I wish). Then, there are people like me (abstainers) that have a bite of a cake, and then the rest of the cake.

Knowing this was a complete game changer for me. After doing Whole30 and realizing that gluten made me feel like crap, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to eat gluten in moderate amounts because I’m an abstainer. If I told myself I could have gluten once a week, I probably wouldn’t follow through. For a moderator, that probably invokes some anxiety, however for me, it’s extremely freeing.

As Gretchen Rubin puts it, “There’s no right way or wrong way–it’s just a matter of knowing which strategy works better for you. If moderators try to abstain, they feel trapped and rebellious. If abstainers try to be moderate, they spend a lot of precious energy justifying why they should go ahead and indulge.”

I love not having to choose which day of the week I could have a little bit of gluten, which would probably end up in a lot of gluten, leading to feeling really crappy. I love not having to have self-control around cookies, cake, cupcakes, etc. Since I’ve already decided these are not an option, I can smell them bake in my office all day and not be tempted (for real, they make cookies daily at work).

Another way this can play into nutrition is with macros. Say you’re planning out your macros and you want to add in donuts, milk shakes, etc every once in a while. If you’re a moderator, no problem, you can probably have that treat and be done. However, if you’re an abstainer, having just a little bit might spin you out of control and leave you wishing you never had the first bite… so don’t! It seems harsh, but if you truly want to change your relationship with food, you’ll probably have to cut things out that you feel like you don’t have control over. Maybe not forever, but for the time being.

If you want to read more about abstainers and moderators, you can check out Gretchen Rubin’s website or check out her books Better Than Before and The Four Tendencies.

Are you a moderator or abstainer? Would love to hear if anyone has read these or if anyone can relate!


  1. Definitely an abstianer. Is there any guidance on how to get out of the rabbit hole of continuing to eat things that you know aren’t worth it when you feel like you can’t stop? I have a hard time falling off the wagon with clean eating and it takes me a while to reign it back in.

    1. Everyone is different, but finding your triggers is one of them. If you do that when you’re stressed, sad, etc. then you can start working on dealing with those emotions in a different way. Keep notes on when you feel like you’re doing this… is it at home or in social situations? If it’s at home, then don’t keep it in the house and if it’s in social situations maybe you need to set stronger boundaries with yourself. There isn’t one trick that works for everyone, but start exploring! 🙂 Good luck!

  2. I am an abstainer and my partner is a moderator. How do we manage our different styles in one household?

    1. I am not an expert by any means– but this book linked below will shed some light on that issue. Also, in terms of food, try having separate drawers for food. If your partner doesn’t eat the same, they can keep their food in a drawer you don’t go into and you can keep yours in a different one. It doesn’t solve the issue of having it in the house if that’s hard for you, but at least it’s out of site!

      Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life

    1. I find a lot of people in the Whole30 community are abstainers, which makes sense haha!

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