Some people read romance novels or mysteries to escape. I choose self-help books instead. When I was getting ready for my recent vacation, I was torn between the two depressing novels I had on loan from the library–one had a suicidal protagonist and the other a miserable family–and a self-help book with a snazzy cover from the New and Notables shelf. To maintain my no-depression travel zone, I chose the light reading, i.e., the book with the snazzy cover. I have long been known to judge a book by its cover.
This self-help book focusses on people’s difficulties changing their habits and provides strategies to help them to do so. Its author is completely unqualified to make broad statements about behaviour change, but her book is compelling nonetheless. Critical psychologist that I am, I read the book as much to feel superior–I could do a better job of writing this book, I told J.–as to learn from her commonsensical ideas.
I have been thinking about one of the book’s core concepts, because even mediocre books can have interesting ideas. The author distinguishes between what she calls “abstainers” vs. “moderators”. Consider these terms with respect to chocolate consumption, my favourite habit of choice. An abstainer is someone who cannot just have 1 square of chocolate; she is tormented by the remaining 19 squares and will obsess about them until she eats what’s left soon after that first square. A moderator, on the other hand, has no trouble with chocolate stashed around the house because she can have just a bit and leave the rest. I am an abstainer, J. a moderator. She doesn’t understand why I can’t have just one bite, and I can’t understand how she can stop at one.
But I don’t like the word “abstainer” because it suggests people do not consume their forbidden fruits at all. In truth, when they fail at abstention, which they do by definition, they binge. “Bingers” is a better descriptor, don’t you agree? Think of an alcoholic, for example. An alcoholic can’t just have one drink, since one will lead to another and another, until she has drunk to excess. A person who does not have an alcohol problem, i.e., a moderator, can easily stop after one or two drinks.
This leaves Jelly, who defies simplistic categorization. She is a moderator when it comes to playing with her toys–she’ll race around the house with her favourite toy in her mouth (you know what that is) for a while and then get tired and take a nap–but she’s 100% binger when it comes to kibble. She binges on her kibble, her bestie’s kibble, food on the counter, food on the floor–Save money on a vacuum! Get a dog!–food on the ground (can’t forget the scrumptious rabbit poop). Need I go on?
When if comes to food (dog food, human food, anything she can get her little teeth on), does she sound like an abstainer or a binger to you? I rest my case.