Are You The Abstaining Type? (And What To Do If You Are)


21 Flares21 FlaresYou’re sitting in your favorite armchair, reading a book. It’s been lovely to sit there for an hour, just relaxing with a cup of tea, the sun on your face, the plotline of your book giving you just enough of a thrill to keep yourself from falling asleep. You’re warm, peaceful, and all is right with the world.


But then your roommate/spouse/child comes home, banging and crashing their way through the various doors, bags rustling, keys jangling, balls bouncing. Your peaceful reverie has been disturbed. They come in with a bar of chocolate, they offer you a some, but because you know it’s “not paleo”, you decline. They shrug, take a couple of pieces and without even folding up the foil, put it down and leave it on the side, walking away unconcernedly. You marvel at their discipline.


Adjusting yourself in your chair, you try to settle yourself down and regain that feeling of buddha-like magnanimity with all who inhabit the universe, whoever they are. You turn your attention back to your book, looking to pick up where you left off, but the sunlight’s strong in the room and it’s glinting on the chocolate foil. Your attention keeps being drawn to it. You collect yourself and summon up your willpower (again) to refocus back on your book. But the glint on the foil catches your eye (again). Your thoughts turn to chocolate and you push them away. You shift in your chair. The sunlight is still sparkling on the damn foil. You go to move it away from you and into the cupboard.


But you know about it now. You start making small justifications to yourself. “A little won’t hurt”, “Can’t I have a bit of fun?”, and then the voice becomes more insistent, “I want some”, “I deserve it”, “If I eat some, this tension will go away.” You go take a couple of squares, but before you’ve even swallowed the second one, you’re back up again to get some more. You pause a second, think some more, then…unwrap the whole bar and devour it like you’re Woody Woodpecker felling a tree.

Which type of person are you?

Were you like the roommate who could put down the chocolate after only a couple of squares? Like your coworker who can make her candy bowl last a whole month, and to heck with the dust? Or someone who “nibbles” things? Or are you someone who can’t eat just a small amount? Who keeps taking a candy each time you pass the bowl? Who feels deprived and antsy unless totally satiated? Perhaps you even roll your eyes at those who nibble… Self-awareness when it comes to our eating habits is so important. It is by noticing the patterns that we can start to dig around looking for the supportive and sabotaging behaviors that make up our habits, our consistent ways of doing things.

Determine if you are the abstaining type

One vital piece of self-knowledge is to identify yourself as either an “abstainer” or a “moderator” when it comes to certain foods. Answer these five questions to determine if which type you are:
  • Do you keep eating until a food is all gone regardless of the little voice in your head telling you it isn’t wise?
  • Do you feel stressed when you try to limit eating amounts of favorite foods?
  • Is the tension relieved when you eat to satiety?
  • Do you lose track of time when ploughing through your favorite foods and find yourself regaining consciousness later with crumbs and wrappers strewn all around you?
  • Is it easier for you to not eat a single bite of a food that triggers this behavior than it is to limit the number of bites?
If you answered any of the above questions with a “Yes”, you are an abstainer.

“Everything in moderation.”

What a terrible piece of advice this is and, usually, raised only by those for whom moderation is easy. It truly does not work for the abstainers of this world. But we hear it as wise words from many sources, so we follow it, and put ourselves on the merry-go-round of health ups and downs because of it, losing our self-esteem as we fail repeatedly. Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project describes moderators and abstainers thus: 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 If you are an abstaining type, the key thing is not to start eating a food that causes all your food boundaries to come cascading down. You may find you have an individual tolerance level, a point at which you can stop, but beyond which all hope is lost. For me, I can eat one very small bite, a nibble really, of a sugary food item but more than that and I’m a gonner, even now after all this time of being paleo. By testing yourself and observing your reaction you may discover your own limit, but otherwise it is necessary to abstain completely or suffer the consequences. So which are you? Let us know by voting in the poll below.

Are you mostly an abstainer? Or a moderator?

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Does this trait apply to any other parts of your life? Tell us in the comments?  

Are you struggling to sustain a paleo lifestyle change? Or not sure how to start? Or perhaps those around you are resistant and you’re feeling undermined and unsure. The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo provides practical tools to ease the transition to a full-on paleo life. Each chapter includes strategies, tips and checklists to identify the actions to power you on your paleo journey and create sustainable change. Buy it at


Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

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