Why Abstinence Is Easier Than Moderation

When It Comes to Eating, Abstinence Is Easier Than Moderation

As many of you know, my husband and I have been “grain-free” for about a month now.

He suckered convinced me to try this with him after bringing me to a lecture by Wheat Belly author, Dr. William Davis.

Now, I’m a pretty strong-willed person. (Some might call this trait stubborn.)

But I’m also a pretty sleep-deprived-over-committed-typical-mom-of-three-kids. I do a lot and sometimes, I reach my limit. When that happens, I like to eat. And I almost never think to myself, “Hmmm, I’d really like to eat a cucumber right now.”

Oh no. I think, “Macaroni and cheese. Cookies. French fries.”

And then I think that I want to wash it all down with a fountain Coke.

Often times, I just skip the food and go straight to the Coke.

Yes, that’s my weak point. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t have many vices at all. But the way that I treat my body with food and fountain beverages is not always kind.

So, when my husband brought up this whole grain-free thing, I was pretty dubious: How was I going to function for a month without bread?

Wasn’t there another option he wanted to try? Maybe silent meditation in a cave for a month? That might be easier, I reasoned.

But no. He seemed convinced we needed to try being grain-free.

And so we jumped in.

Not gonna lie. The first four days sucked.


I had fierce cravings, horrid headaches, and monster mood swings (actually, they weren’t really “swings” so much as prolonged periods of agitated hostility punctuated by moments of hopeless surrender).

But I’m nothing if not stubborn (see above). Plus, I’d blogged about it, so I couldn’t totally wimp out.

Somewhere around day 5 – 7  it started to ease up. The cravings faded significantly. My headaches, which had been a daily occurrence, almost totally disappeared. {I’ve had three headaches over the past month – twice the day or day after I ate challah for Shabbat and once after eating grocery store sushi (who knew it was laden with chemicals and high fructose corn syrup).}

I’ve lost 6 lbs without counting calories. (Although, let’s be honest. What is there to count? I’m not eating any wheat, people.)

I overall have more energy, wake up a lot less groggy, don’t have that 3 pm brain fog anymore, and generally feel lighter and more optimistic.

I’m eager to attribute these changes to removing grains from my diet. But even if it’s just the side effect of taking action on something, I’ll take it.

So now that our month-long trial is almost over, I’ve been asking myself: What’s next?

Can I reintroduce grains in moderation, I’ve wondered?

My gut reaction: A big fat no. (Actually, my gut is a lot less fat, thanks to this grain-free thing, but you know what I mean!)

I know that some people out there are really self-disciplined and can handle moderation. They’re probably the ones who made up the saying, “Everything in moderation.”

Other people — me, for example — can not.

There is no such thing as one cookie in my world. I eat one cookie, I eat the whole sleeve. And if I’m lucky, I stop there.

Even just the bite or two I have of challah on Shabbat and I find myself eying foods that a day before would have held no appeal.

Going cold turkey was brutal the first few days, but now? So.much.easier.

Despite the conventional wisdom about moderation, I’ve actually discovered that abstinence is far easier at this stage in my life.

By completely abstaining from a whole bunch of foods, I’ve not only learned to enjoy different foods, but I’ve also realized that 9 out of 10 times, the cravings I had weren’t for a specific food, but rather a category of food: Comfort foods. Sugary foods. Carby foods.

Without that categorical crutch, I’ve had to find that comfort elsewhere. Or just tell myself to move on without the 1,000-calorie wallow.

Full disclosure: There have been some MAJOR stressers in my life this month, so I’m not saying that it’s been easy. But the remarkable thing was that I didn’t want to eat my way through that stress. In fact, just the opposite: It motivated me even more to keep pushing forward.

Sure, I had a few moments where I craved some comfort food, but that was tied to my, um, well, you know (ladies) — and not the above mentioned stress. Which as far as I’m concerned is a major victory.

Despite this overwhelmingly positive first month, I’m not making any “for the rest of my life” declarations. That’s just not the kind of person I am. Plus, I certainly know better than to think that one month of doing something makes me a champion. Or an expert.

Bu it has made me realize that when it comes to food – and the way that food makes me feel – the black and white of abstinence is far more manageable than the grey murky zone of moderation.

Anyone else out there in the middle of a grain-free experiment? What have your experiences been like so far?

When it comes to self-control, do you relate to my preference for abstinence over moderation?

Image credit: loskutnikov / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. Good for your Mara!!!! I did a three-week challenge (no gluten, no processed sugar, no dairy) in Jan 2012. Nine days in or so, I decided I never really wanted to go back to the way I had been eating. I am far from perfect. Lattes with almond milk are torture for me, so I still have a modicum of dairy, and I still have challah on Shabbat. But other than that, I am able to maintain.

    I have noticed substanial improvements in my joints and my tonsils which were alwasy large and inflammed are barely visable anymore. That is proof enough to me the inflammation I was causing my body. I can ony imagine what was happening at the cellular level that I was unable to see with the naked eye.

  2. I think moderation is more manageable when you have a clear definition of your limits (i.e. no more than 2 squares of dark chocolate a day).

    • Oh my, I could never do that! I have just gotten to the point of being able to count how many almonds (my evening treat) I eat! I can’t even have the chocolate in the house. Kudos to those who can moderate!

  3. I agree. I found it much easier to abstain, but I do try to be moderate now. This does result in some cheating. Then,after some chocolate, I feel nausea. That is the price I pay. It is always a mental debate.

  4. One month already? That’s awesome!
    Totally with you on the abstinence aspect. As difficult as it is, when I do moderation, I end up eating way to much of the bad stuff. It’s certainly not easy to abstain. I’m constantly around so much good food, but I know that I feel better when I abstain. My energy level is so much better when off grains.

  5. I gave up bread etc. a few years ago because I was feeling awful. The change was almost instant! I was very strict for about 4 years. These days I will “cheat” if there’s a pizza in the room but I feel no desire to eat things like bread or challah anymore. In fact, after 4 clean years eating pasta or a roll makes me feel bloated and horrible! Keeps me honest!
    Stick with it! You won’t regret it and it will get alot easier!

  6. Over a year without wheat. I do eat some brown rice and oatmeal. Feel so much better. No irritable bowel, very few headaches, and no bloating. Did not substitute with anything just stopped bread, pasta, cereals and try to avoid foods with wheat. Best thing I ever did and it was cold turkey after reading about the wheat belly. Dropped from a 6 to a 2 and about 12 pounds. Easy after first week. If I would cheat I felt sick. It is now a life style.

  7. Mara, I am one of the lucky ones. I left all grain behind except for the requisite amounts of challah on Shabbos three weeks ago and had nary a twinge until this morning when I wanted some kasha and had some with minor negative repercussions. However, I’d been off most sugar, high fructose corn syrup, antibiotic’d eggs and such for a while with infrequent (but devastating) lapses. I can say that I could not do moderation ( which word is a synonym, I believe, for “halfway measure”) successfully but I had to get here in steps of food type elimination. I hope I am making the distinction clear.

  8. I have been eating grain free for two weeks. I have not had any cravings for the foods I gave up! I an going to stick with it for a while and see how it goes. I am not ready to have a “cheat day” or even moment or try moderation yet. For me right now, its all or nothing. I do well with that. I had a dream that I had a piece of challah and then another and another. I’m scared that might happen!!!!

  9. We are mostly wheat-free and the difference is amazing. My husband can’t give up my challah. I have one child who is truly allergic to wheat, so we have been a rice, millet, rice pasta and quinoa family for a long time.

    When I stay away from wheat (and dairy and peanut products), I have very few headaches and am not bloated. I feel so much better. People tease me that bread is the staff of life and how can I live without it. I tell them everyone is different, just please respect my choices.

    You go girl!

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