If you were marooned on a desert island with just three kinds of Halloween candy to last the rest of your days, what would you choose?
There was a time when I couldn't imagine denying myself anything. But the fact that I dwell on questions like these – and now live under those very same self-imposed limitations – means I've joined the ranks of the “abstainers,” according to Rachel, one of the informal dietary advisers in my postfat life.
“Abstainers find that it's easier to give up something entirely,” explained Rachel, who learned of the concept while reading the blog of Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of “The Happiness Project.” Moderators, on the other hand, limit portions but find it “nearly impossible” to give anything up, she said.
Rachel, one of those infuriating ”foodies” who are always trying new recipes and restaurants yet never seem to gain an ounce, considers herself a moderator.
“I can't imagine giving up a particular food,” she said. “It kind of scares me just to think about it. However, I know abstainers who know that one scoop of ice cream results in an entire pint eaten in a single sitting.”
According to author Rubin, knowing which camp you're in reduces anxiety while increasing your chances of dietary success.
An abstainer herself, Rubin found she was much happier cutting Halloween candy out of her life altogether rather than trying to control her intake.
“Whenever I try to be moderate,” Rubin writes, “I exhaust myself with endless debate: Should I have dessert today or tomorrow? But if I tell myself that I can never do something, I simply don't think about it.”
It sounds simple enough. But my eating was so out of control that initially neither strategy would've worked. My sugar addiction trampled over every random act of would-be discipline. Allow myself one Snickers bar every Saturday? I couldn't wait. Give up M&Ms forever? Unthinkable!
Once I finally committed to a weight-loss program, I initially used moderator strategies to avoid feeling deprived. Tracking intake and weighing in once a week made it easier to limit treats to modest amounts at set times on specific days. If I had a Reese's Cup, I'd follow it up with a big serving of veggies to change my channel. If I wanted M&Ms, I'd eat them three at a time instead of by the handful.
Eventually, like Rubin, I came to realize it was easier to cut some trigger foods out entirely. But it wasn't simply a matter of telling myself “no.” Once I cut back on M&Ms, I took a closer look and realized that candy shell was similar to the coating on a gumball – and I hate gum. I decided to cut out M&Ms and substitute chocolate-covered peanuts. But since that kind of candy isn't part of a marketing blitz, I'm rarely reminded of its existence.
As I look ahead to this Halloween, feeling more confident and less tense than ever before, there are at least three key factors that help keep my “abstainer” force field in place:
•No matter how good the sale price, I never buy Halloween candy ahead of time. It's just too risky.
•The day after Halloween, we get all the treats out of the house. For the last couple of years we've put the kids' loot, along with any other leftover goodies, in our “candy locker” at the gym.
•The “desert island” scenario has helped reduce temptation not just at Halloween, but all year long. Much as I love chocolate, did I really need to be distracted by every candy bar on the planet? I was surprised to discover the answer was no. And what convinced me was replaying memories of the days when I used to raid the kids' treat bags.
Studying those the way Peyton Manning analyzes game film, I realized that what once seemed like chaotic behavior actually unfolded in a methodical pattern: I always filched the Reese's Cups first. When those were gone, I moved on to Snickers, followed by snack-size M&Ms and then, finally, Hershey bars with almonds. My satisfaction level dropped way off after that, though I usually kept up my raids until the chocolate was gone.
M&Ms were already eliminated, so my desert island lineup was clear. Now I don't even look at a candy bar if it's not in my top three.
Some would say my island is boring, but I think it's peaceful. And isn't that what island living is all about?