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Planned exceptions for abstainers
Do they work?
Sunday Scales were -3 lbs | Total loss for 2023: 18.0 lbs
This is a special week for me, the ‘hat-trick of love’ as my husband calls it! Today is Valentine’s Day and tomorrow I celebrate my 60th birthday and our 18th wedding anniversary. Yes, we got married on my birthday and it was fabulous.
When a German friend of mine said she wanted to bake a birthday cake for me, I initially rejected the sweet offer because, you know, I am abstaining from refined sugar this year. But then I remembered how much I always enjoyed that German tradition of ‘Kaffee & Kuchen’ for birthdays, how special it felt, and how lovely that she wanted to do this for me. So I changed my mind and said “Thank you, I’d love that!”
I decided that for these two days I will allow some sweet treats. Right now, for instance, I am sitting at my favorite coffeeshop by the sea, enjoying a caramel macchiato and small banana bread loaf. I am savoring every bite and sip, and there are no feelings of guilt, just permission and delight.
Food is fuel but it is also pleasure, always has been. We celebrate with food, always have done. And I don’t want to take that away, ever. Perhaps this is also why I’ve shied away from the extreme forms of Intuitive Eating that are strict about only consuming food to satisfy physical hunger. I think it’s ok to eat beyond satiation if something tastes really good, or to stop when we’ve had enough. Or to have delicious birthday cake on your birthday!
Now, I have tried ‘exceptions’ before and they often catapulted me onto the slippery road back to my old habits and increased sugar consumption. This usually happened when I was calorie counting and decided to stop it for a few days while I enjoyed the treats, and then I had a really hard time getting back to tracking my food.
This time feels completely different in this regard. There is no calorie counting to go back to and after my two days of enjoying some sweet treats I will continue abstaining from sugar come Thursday. I feel neither resentment nor resistance about this, it’s simply what I will do.
“Sometimes people tell me, ‘I’m an abstainer, but I don’t want to abstain for the rest of my life. Is there a way for an all-or-nothing abstainer to enjoy the occasional treat?’ Absolutely! We abstainers can use a planned exception, when we can mindfully choose to make an exception to a usual habit by planning a limited exception in advance. When we plan an exception we feel in control of ourselves—we’re not breaking a habit willy-nilly, or invoking one of the loopholes at the last minute, to give ourselves excuses. And we feel happier when we feel in control of ourselves and our actions.”
Interestingly, I also don’t feel any ‘pressure’ to eat as many treats as I can in these two days, which is what the good old last-supper monster would have had me do in the past. Like right now, I enjoyed my banana bread and caramel macchiato and it was enough. I don’t have any cravings for more, not even a desire to go and buy some peanut butter cups.
Planned exceptions should be rare, they are exceptions after all. In many ways they are the perfect tool for someone like me, who wants to abstain from sugar for my physical and mental health, but who is also not a black & white kind of person.
Tomorrow is the big day and we are having lunch with our Canadian friends in Vancouver, and then dinner out with local friends in Bellingham. Both are at favorite restaurants with ocean views and I am so looking forward to spending this special day with my wonderful husband and close friends.
Happy Valentine’s Day ❤️